Friday, March 2, 2007

CHICAGO’S SUPREME SOVIET DEMOCRATIC PARTY 32% Turnout Provides the Same Old (Yawn) Results as Apathy Dominates. Belief Grows that Change Can Only Come from the U. S. Prosecutor.

[A column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly...with some elaborations and variations on the theme I did earlier on this web-site].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—If you’re too young to remember the old days of the Cold War when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was in the grip of one party, don’t worry. The system is alive and well in miniature in this city. Last week it reelected…who else?...Mayor Richard M. Daley, the pro-abort, pro-gay marriage Catholic, for a sixth term. It gave him more than 70% of the vote of a miniscule 32% turnout. But enough to return him despite a plethora of scandals that would unseat any other incumbent. And with it enough political strychnine to kill a horse. But scandal and theft never deterred the original Soviet—lack of leader inspiration did.

The victory duplicated the old Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. Voter participation was `way down—to an all-time mayoral low --and why not? Where’s the change to vote for? No matter: Fresh from the computer-run ballots (managed by a machine minion who bought the electronic system from of all places Venzuela), onto the parapet of the Hall of the People came the bulky figure of the winner. Acknowledging plaudits from the patronage and contractually hired crowd, he said nothing mmorable. He never does. Daley, at 64. is a figure of no inspiration. One of the least colorful of the city rulers since the “push-cart revolution of 1931” which captured the city for the Soviet-style Party. And has held Chicago in a vise ever since.

Daley was once a pro-life state senator. But he sold out his Catholic heritage without a murmur when the culture became liberal. Because he sold out, he was returned without breaking a sweat. He had the support of the two socially liberal newspapers here and only minor dissent from the liberal electronic media. A few years ago the largely fictitious two party system of Chicago was abolished. It was supplanted by the single party system masquerading as “non-partisan.” With the Democratic Party booming with its “non-partisan” mayor, Daley easily defeated two African Americans with no money or political organization.

A few years ago, there could have been a contest. Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a bright young leader touted reform and unveiled plans for a third airport financed entirely by private money which gave Richie the hiccups. Jackson noised it about that he might run. But in a meeting with this Wanderer reporter a few months ago, he confessed the money was not there for him to campaign. Two reasons why not: (a) local big business was in Daley’s corner and (b) out-of-state money had been drained off by Jackson’s own father. Known as The Great Pout, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson soaked up all the national liberal money for his creation, Rainbow-PUSH coalition. What didn’t bring father and son to an understanding was that the old man was not willing to sacrifice his own booty for young Jesse’s mayoral adventure. Familial love goes only so far with the senior Jackson. And that is when his progeny threatens to divert his own political funding.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., far brighter in economics than his old man, could have well have won, had he possessed the usual resources. But without this contest, Daley was reelected smashingly in testimony to a hoary Chicago fallacy. Most Chicagoans believe he is solely responsible for the city’s good times. This despite the fact that the same good times are rescuing New York, Boston, San Francisco and even Newark, N. J. without Daley having anything to do with it. Still, this city has bought hook, line and sinker the idea that prosperity is tied to corruption. Or, when you purify the pond, the lilies die.

That myth causes Chicagoans to shrug as the Soviet-style leadership here has awarded $100 million in city affirmative action contracts to companies run by the mayor’s old allies. They are the Duff family, once good drinking buddies whom the mayor now refuses to acknowledge as friends. James Duff, white, was charged with racketeering in 2003 and pled guilty in 2005. A tissue of corruption has extended to families owning private trucks hired by the city, some of which have stood idle. In any other town with a two-party system—or even a viable democratic one party system—there would be critics rising from sunrise to sunset to denounce the graft. Not here. In fact, Daley was endorsed for reelection by two former severe critics—Cong. Bobby Rush who ran against Daley last time and Cong. Luis Gutierrez who was viewed as a possible opponent this time.

Only a few hardy journalists have the guts to call the turn on Daley. One is the best of them all, John Kass of the Tribune. Another is Dennis Byrne, a free-lance writer who appears in the same paper. A third is Ben Joravsky who writes for an alternative weekly, The Reader. While Daley was being lauded as the greatest mayor in the nation, his top patronage adviser, Robert Sorich is preparing to serve four years in prison for supervising a hiring scheme that rigged tests and interviews so that Democratic favorites could get jobs. A U. S. attorney is digging into it and the corruption is so spectacular as to even challenge Chicagoans’ cynicism.

But meanwhile, the mini-Soviet Union government cruises along on a river of co-optation. One critic, seen as a future mayor, has been state senator Miguel del Valle, an Hispanic leader. Many in the Chicago USSR feared del Valle could be the one to knock off Daley. But then there came an opening for del Valle to be assumed into the womb of the machine. An old-line Irishman, a Daley regular, got convicted for major fraud as city clerk. His being led to jail in handcuffs provided an opening for a young leader. Daley offered the job of clerk to del Valle and poof that was the end of the possible challenge. They were elected together last week and appeared arm-in-arm on the front pages. Del Valle may be the first Hispanic mayor but if and when, he’ll be owned by the USSR-style machine.

Oh, yes: there’s something else. While the nation’s liberal Democrats are thrilling top the gauzy rhetoric of Barack Obama, Bambi secured Daley’s support for his run for the presidency—in return for which Bambi warmly embraced Daley for reelection. Thus in this microcosm of the old Soviet state, things have worked out.

The belief that corruption must be accepted as a down payment for prosperity started in Chicago. But long before that, there has been the belief that purity in government is bad for business, bad for folks. Even some scholars of ancient Rome justify it. In doing so, they relate the story of the Roman Emperor Publius Helvius Pertinax as chronicled in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Pertinax, a gallant general and senator, came to power in A. D. 192. He followed a ogre of corruption named Commodus and vowed he, Pertinax, would launch a new day of cleanliness. First, Pertinax determined to save money for the Roman treasury. But there came a rubv. The Praetorian Guard expected a generous reward for whipping its members to support Pertinax. But Pertinax told them they didn’t deserve more dough for just doing their duty. Right off, the bloom started fading quickly.

And there was more. Pertinax sold off his predecessor, Commodus’ property and told Commodus’ concubines they should look for honest employment which did not go over very well. He kicked Commodus’ hangers-on from his courtyard. Then he sharply reduced the number of wagons distributing free bread to the poor and cut down on the circuses.

That was bad enough but he also launched a crusade against corruption. That’s what did him in. Corruption was regarded in Rome as the grease that caused the wheels to turn without squeaking. That idea was rejected by Pertinax. The vegetable sellers who paid for choice spots in the market by bribing soldiers who guarded the square were told that henceforth things would be on the up-and-up. They would pay no soldier to save their places for them but would have to show up very early each morning to line them up without graft.

The vegetable sellers spurred the outrage. Everybody else joined in. They could make no headway with Pertinax so three hundred soldiers surrounded him, severed his head, mounted it on a spiked pole and marched it around Rome. Then the word got out that there was indeed a new day dawning, all right: a day remarkably similar to the ones where they had luxuriated under Commodus.

And predictably, Pertinax’s success as new emperor decided to revert to the good old days. Yes, soon there was guilt engendered by the bleeding hearts over the sad fate of Pertinax. But that was quickly cleared away. The new emperor not only praised his memory but designated the late Pertinax a Roman divinity. And decreed that there should be two days of celebration in his memory with games, free bread and fun for the kiddies—a wonderful incongruity: a bacchanalian festival in honor of a reformer kill-joy. Everybody reveled and felt better over Pertinax’s sad fate. Total time in office for Pertinax: 86 days.

That was what happened to a too-virtuous emperor. Chicagoans don’t spend a lot of time reading about ancient Rome but somehow the Pertinax lesson has trickled down through the centuries and took root here in Chicago. Nobody around here wants to have happen to him what did to old Pertinax. But still, the thought of reform should be cherished. So, I would not be surprised if Mayor Daley might soon announce a few days celebration at Soldier Field in memory of old Pertinax, the too virtuous politician.


As earlier described, rulers of Chicago have chosen to follow the old Soviet model. The newly-reelected Daley, a figure of no inspiration nor with ability to utilize the English language or even butcher it as did his late father, plans more public constructions for the possible winning of the summer Olympic Games in 2016 (when he would be 73). This would require the building of a huge new amphitheater and extended new boulevards and parks. But continuing to build to get more contracts and jobs is not leadership. Just more of the same. Like bread and circuses.

Thus even when he is proposing this big plan, Daley is a remarkably colorless figure. His father was a pinwheel of color. He could make a point by shouting, jumping up and down on his tip-toes, his ruddy cheeks glowing, saying “my enemies are crucifying me! They are even criticizing me!” Not his son. So it is not surprising that because Chicago is being run like the old Soviet Union, it’s mayors are being equated with former Soviet leaders. Take Daley for example. He is our Gorbachev. Gorbachev was truly a man without courage: he wanted to like capitalism but worried that the old system could not survive it. He dithered, wanting to save socialism but would not use force to do so. He looked longingly at China which under Deng Xiaoping flung open the doors to the free market—but Gorby couldn’t bring himself to change. That, in essence, is the problem with Richard M. Daley: he knows the system is corrupt, knows the feds are looking over his transom, but he doesn’t have the will or guts to change.

Gorby was a good enough man but a man without fight; never a leader like Vaclav Havel, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Deng Xiaping. They had destinations in mind; Gorby had projects; Daley has projects. And in the end, Gorby tossed in the cards for his ideology as well, declining to use force. For this he got the Nobel prize but no cigar of leadership.

All other Chicago mayors in the Soviet tradition have USSR counterparts. Eugene Sawyer, an African American elected from the city council who was known as “mumbles,” spoke so indistinctly that reporters kept saying “what? what?” and comparing each other’s notes and tape cassettes—which kept the newsrooms in a continual state of uproar and tension over what he meant. He was our Georgy Malenkov who was deposed because he distrusted the Party as much as it did him.

Harold Washington, the first black mayor could deliver eloquent, unscripted, bright and witty attacks on the majority 29 of the city council which was pitted against him. He was our Leonid Brezhnev and about the same size with the same failings, wolfing down cheeseburgers in the middle of the night and washing them down with milk shakes. Too fatty foods killed both. Jane Byrne, the first woman mayor, never smiled, resembling one who was for a time the most powerful Soviet woman of all, Ana Pauker, the never-smiling Communist boss of Romania who like Byrne attempted to moderate a number of Stalinist (Daley) policies and paid with her job when the boys downtown deposed her.

The droll, mechanistic Michael Bilandic, a bachelor until his mid-50s, never wanted the job. After succeeding to the job following the death of old man Daley, Bilandic amazed his friends twice: first by swiftly squiring a fetching, good-looking blonde whom he married and second by siring their child. Aside from that, he did nothing. He was our do-nothing Yuri Andropov. Before him the irrepressible Richard J. Daley who loved the job, who launched frenetic assaults on the language, shouting that those who were making allegations were “alligators who should be told to shut up!” Old man Daley was our Nikita Khrushchev—emotionally charged and funny. The similarity ends there because Khrushchev was deposed but deposition was probably in the cards for Daley who died mercifully as his electoral numbers were fading and his popularity oozing away.

The bachelor, white-haired multi-millionaire Martin Kennelly, a daily communicant who ate sweet rolls after weekday Mass with the nuns, any one of whom was probably savvier from dealing with the politics of the convent than he with the Democratic party was our pleasant but ineffective Konstantin Chernenko. Edward J. Kelly who ran both city and Party for a long time but who became weighed down with a legacy of rudeness, distraction, corruption, arrogance, megalomania and old age. A much-feared man—the most feared politician of his time-- he was our Josef Stalin.

Before him, the Vladimir Lenin of the Party and city who set into place the Democratic organization that has thrived since 1931—“Pushcart Tony,” Anton Cermak, a religious agnostic and free-thinker Czech in a largely Catholic city, with very little education, a round banker’s face that gave no hint of the depths of calculation, ambition, love of power, jealousy, cruelty and ability to generate fear of retribution that lurked behind the façade. He was the theorizer of the machine and implementer of the same, the architect of the Council of People’s Commissars that set the pace. He it was who devised the many generations-long policies that caused his party to endure, which historian Paul Green describes as “rewards equal performance. One either delivered or was out. One was answerable to the board of directors, the [Democratic] central committee” with a passion for detail that extended to the public school system and the board of education.

Multi-ethnicity as concocted by Cermak welded the Irish, Germans and eastern Europeans together under the nostrum “to each according to his political strength and delivery and from each according to his wish to remain viable.” That dictum became the glue that held the coalition together—and still does, as African Americans are added to the quotient and as the tactical promise to Miguel del Valle to join an Irish mayor on a ticket that would guarantee the grease to allow the machine to roll on.

The Supreme Soviet lies dead in Moscow but in Chicago its glory continues apace. Still, the current General Secretary of the Supreme Soviet, Daley, wears an uneasy crown, worrying that a federal prosecutor from New York city, Patrick Fitzgerald, could easily indict him: Daley’s goal, then is to elect a Democratic president who would be secure enough to replace Fitzgerald (as Obama, conceivably also under the gun) certainly would. And for a party that has engendered much political color, Daley is neither colorful, not black nor white but grey. He pales before the truly colorful mayors of the early 20th century: Republican Big Bill Thompson, Capone’s friend who nevertheless built the famed Outer Drive; Democrat William A. Dever, the only political reformer to hold the office and that for only one term and the pro-William Jennings Bryan anti-Wall Street populist, William A. Dunne, the only one to serve both as mayor and governor.

With the USSR-style election last week came some change but elitist. Added to the city council is beauteous, stylish Sandi Jackson, wife of the Congressman—a woman who belongs on the Ebony magazine fashion boardwalk, who lives in Washington, D. C. and not in Chicago. An old-fashioned ruddy-nosed hack alderman who is a little nuts—trying to mandate diapers for the trendy near-north side horses who pull tourists’ carriages—was licked by a predictably opaque, faceless machine-made bland, Irish-monikered creature. A venerable old warhorse, aged 79, is involved in a runoff. A Jew, he sent an anti-Semitic slur to himself and released it to stir up his troops. Good thing he did because he survived until a runoff next month.

But the old town is Soviet grey, its politics a colorless hue. To match that of the mayor. Even now the long line of portraits of past mayors hanging in a city hall corridor look more vibrant than the current office-holder. He has made government, even politics here, boring while corrupt: a difficult feat.

The winner, Richard M. Daley gives no inspiration, no inkling of reform despite the cesspool of misfeasance. He was “reelected” as head of the Supreme Soviet by cheerless people with no one else to turn to because generations ago, Republican business interests, sold out their own party for the most venal of reasons. They believed it was cheaper to have only one party rather than two. Why waste their contributions when the Democrats are willing to do their bidding? Why own two parties when owning one will do?

The funniest comment on the election came from the “Chicago Sun-Times” editorial and was not meant to be a joke. It mentioned the low turnout and asked if this doesn’t reflect on Chicago’s “democracy.” Chicago’s what? The answer is, it does reflect on the public’s attitude toward the city’s Supreme Soviet. It doesn’t mean that if the feds indict Daley—and they just might--an old fashioned populism might not sweep in and wash the Supreme Soviet out to the farthest reaches of Lake Michigan. Take a look at where the original Supreme Soviet is now.

1 comment:

  1. Mayor William H. Thompson was much maligned for tolerating corruption and refusing to curb Prohibition Era crime. Some of the criticism is merited, but Anton Cermak epitomized far worse corruption. Cermak was a double agent who served as a legislator and lobbyist for the liquor interests simultaneously without any concerns about conflicts of interest. Cermak actively sought to bring control of the beer and liquor trade into City Hall and may well have been targetted by gangsters after he failed to have Frank Nitti killed by special police officers. It is worth noting that it took the Great Depression to allow the Cermak's Democrats the opportunity to seize control of Chicago and Cook County government. In 1928, Cermak was defeated soundly in a bid for the US Senate and the Democratic Party was nearly broke in Cook County.