Friday, March 16, 2007

Flashback: As Danville Passes an Open Housing Ordinance Quaker Announces its Decision to Build a Cereal Plant There. And a Call from Washington, D. C.

[A memoir of fifty plus years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

The next day after hearing from the harried mayor of Danville, Illinois, Al Gardner, I drove there. We grabbed lunch at a small restaurant on the main street. The colloquy went:

He: “Let’s review the bidding. First let me say this was the dangdest experience in my life. You guys walk in without an appointment. You introduce me to that very nice guy who is the…what is it?...chairman of the board of Quaker Oats…and both of you tell me that you are seriously thinking of building a big cereal plant in this town—which sorely needs new industry. Then you tell me I can’t say anything about it—following which you say that an Open Housing ordinance would help the town’s prospects toward getting the plant. But even with the passage of such an ordinance it’s not a sure-fire thing. And you wind up by saying that I shouldn’t use the new plant as a pretext for passing the Ordinance. That puts me in a difficult position, you know? We are a city that hasn’t had any racial difficulty or violence or anything like that—unlike your hometown of Chicago, may I say.”

He paused for that to sink in. It did. I told him I understand the point very well.

“Okay. For me to go to the city council and say—right out of the blue—I am going to ask you to support an Open Housing ordinance…they’ll think I fell out of bed and hit my head, you know what I mean? It’d help me an awful lot if I could indicate that good things were to happen after passage of the Ordinance, good things in an economic development sense.”

I can’t let you say that, Al because that would be in the nature of a promise and I can’t promise that because that would be misleading. Your people just have to want to accomplish it on their own. And following that, there might very well be an announcement that would be helpful to your economic development program.

“I can tell you that I’m a lay minister and I have never had any difficulty, nor has this town had any difficulty, with people of color. There is no more, how you put it, segregation than there is in your home town of Chicago which has the reputation of being the most segregated city in the north.”

I understand. Al, if this makes a lot of trouble for you, just tell me and we’ll consider going somewhere else.

“Did I say that? I don’t think I said that. I’ll say this: I’ll take a whack at it and I think I’ll get it passed. Pass the butter.”

One other thing.

“What now?”

We don’t want anything to get in the local newspaper ahead of time…sort of unofficially, like a leak…that would grease the vote.

“Now did I say I would do that?”

No, but I’m just telling you that if that happened, it might be very unfortunate.

“I said I’ll take a whack at it and I think I’ll get it passed. Any other restraints on my legislative or administrative rights?”

None whatever.

He did get it passed. He did what I would have done. He didn’t leak it to the papers but passed the word discreetly to the Council members. Even so, it was a gamble. The day the ordinance passed, Quaker announced its decision to build the cereal plant in Danville. While Danville had a 14% nonwhite population that year, in 1968, it now has a 20% nonwhite population. From all reports, the plant helped the town’s employment level. But it didn’t help Al Gardner get reelected. He lost and lost again when he tried to run for the state senate. But the ordinance didn’t do it. From all reports, what cost him was his decision—made by many other mayors of the time—to turn the main street into a mall, shutting off the traffic. That same decision made by Chicago mayor Jane Byrne…in accordance with the latest fancy theory of urban planners…turned State street into a garden patch—a deserted garden patch—before it was reconverted to a street. But Danville mayor Al Gardner, who died at 80, was a great mayor for the town.


Lillian and I were in Washington, D. C. on January 20, 1969 for the Nixon presidential inaugural, the second one for me: the first being John F. Kennedy’s eight years earlier when everyone braving the snowy drifts and saber-tooth winds had to endure the world’s longest invocation by Richard Cardinal Cushing, the archbishop of Boston and lifelong pal of the Kennedy family. Everything bad had happened at the Kennedy inauguration which I partially filmed with my new movie camera until the oil in the wheels froze.

First the unconscionably long invocation from a prelate with Irish brogue but in the final stage of decrepitude. Then in the middle of the Cardinal’s prayer, the rostrum suddenly burst into flame from an electrical short-circuit on the portable heater which Vice President-elect Lyndon Johnson put out by beating the flames with his hat. Finally when the poet Robert Frost, well in his 80s, was helped to the rostrum to read his poem, the glare of the sun and the whiteness of the atmosphere gave him snow-blindness. Again Lyndon Johnson to the rescue with the self-same hat—holding it over the rostrum, casting a shadow so the old man could read it in his whinny New England voice.

Finally the address by the newly sworn-in president. As he jabbed a characteristic forefinger and said that the torch had been passed to a new generation born in the 20th century, I cast a look at Dwight Eisenhower who, hands shoved deeply into his overcoat pocket, looked like he had been administered a physic. Newly-demoted private citizen Richard Nixon had a spectacular ski-jump nose anyhow but in the below zero temperature it had turned so red it looked like it might fall off. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, already in failing health, sat like a statue side-by-side with old Harry Truman while he thumbed through the program (he would be dead by the following November, never having been opposed by any Republican in that impregnable Texas district which now is as solidly Republican as it was Democratic). House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (Cokie Roberts’ father) stood up at one point unaccountably, just to stamp his feet to see if he could feel them.

The inauguration of Richard Nixon was much different. Favorable weather for one thing. The Speaker, Carl Albert of Oklahoma, well fortified with scotch was unusually convivial (somewhere distant his longtime, aging admirer, a once gorgeous, now, sadly, no more, red-haired waitress in the Senate dining room, waited as she had for a decade for a hurried back-room encounter before he was rushed away for ceremonial duties). And the two bourbon brothers: Sen. Thruston B. Morton of Kentucky (who didn’t want to succeed Everett Dirksen as GOP Senate leader because it would be too much work) and Rep. Rogers C. B. [for Clark Ballard but which he insisted stood for Chesapeake Bay] Morton of Maryland, well lubricated and cheery. And Louisiana’s Sen. Allen Ellender, the appropriations chairman, who narrowly missed tumbling down the entire Capitol step-way and rolling into the Marine Band which was blaring loudly, his unsteady gait worsened by late morning pre-inaugural lubricants.

There was Gerald Ford—a future president…in fact the very next president--the House minority leader regarded as a right-wing wacko because he had done yeoman’s duty trying to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren…speaking of whom, there he was, a fellow Californian who hated Nixon’s guts, having to swear him in, having decided privately to retire that same year: his wife, Nina, still golden-haired and California-looking (who died in 1991 at 101, long after her husband was filed away). And there were the Warren family members, including a daughter, Virginia, the second wife of John Charles Daly, host of “What’s My Line,” the hottest TV show of the period, dapper Daly, celebrity, more actor, more Broadway boulevardier than newsman, more radio announcer than analyst, a native of South Africa who had the most pleasantly attuned British-toned voice of upper-crust status in broadcasting—he having broken the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the death of Franklin Roosevelt to the world on CBS, even now a closet conservative—unsympathetic to civil rights as could be expected from his South Africa background, ending up doing moderating chores for the American Enterprise Institute. Wheezy Everett Dirksen was at one end of a row, having chosen it deliberately to set himself apart from the man he despised, Chuck Percy; white-thatched John B. Anderson of Rockford, Ill., chairman of the House Republican Conference, God’s angry man who was moving quickly from Right to Left, soon departing the GOP for an independent presidential candidacy and ultimately the Democratic party.

At the Illinois reception (in the old Patent Office, built in the time of Abraham Lincoln), the Nixons arrived; Pat had gone home to bed and the president was accompanied by his daughters, Julie and Tricia. As he walked past me it struck me that he had just missed—narrowly missed—being good looking. Standing in the glare of the klieg-lights, side by side, was the president and his blonde Tricia, and as they turned for the cameras Lillian nudged me, citing the identical tracings of their noses—the famed Nixon noses—sweeping down their faces and then swerving upward.

The fun of inaugurals is to meet old-time friends. One was Jack Gleason. He had worked in the House years ago when I had been there. Now he was working there again—sort of. What do you mean, sort of?

“I’m working informally with a new guy from Texas, George Bush—his secretary is a friend of yours, Rose Zamaria.”

Rose Zamaria? Yes. She and I worked for years together for Al Quie. What’s she doing?

“She’s Bush’s administrative assistant.”

Yeah, I knew that I guess. She used to be a Democrat, working for Albert Thomas the Congressman from Houston. Her husband, Tom, a friend of mine. He retired from the U. S. Army and works for General Services.

“That’s right. Now she’s a Republican and Bush’s top person.”

What does that have to do with you, Jack?

“Well, you see, he’s really connected for a two-term House member. His Dad was Prescott Bush: you know, the former Senator from Connecticut? The whole family is pretty well wired into politics. George—George Bush—is doing some spade-work for Nixon. I’m not actually attached to the House. I’m working with a group of other people in a townhouse and Bush and Rose are kind of helping. I’m paid by the Nixon campaign. We’ve been in the townhouse since the day after election, trying to find the right kind of people to work in the administration. We coordinate our stuff with him. What about you?”

No, got a good job at Quaker.”

“Nobody’s asking you to quit your job for keeps. Taking a job in Washington’s a kind of investment, especially if you’re in public affairs like you. Ultimately you return with broader contacts. Think about it.”

I have. There’s only one job I would consider taking.

“Which is…?”

Assistant secretary of HEW for legislation. Having that job, being in charge of the HEW agenda, would be terrific experience. I couldn’t imagine anything that would be more fun.

“Would help you when you would go back to the private sector as well.”

Anything else, forget about it. I had a friend who had that job under Ike. His job was to help Elliott Richardson pass a whole raft of legislation and it gave him the equivalent of a doctorate in congressional procedure.

“You want me to see if there’s an opening?”

Well, yeah but that job’s usually reserved for people who have worked full-time in a campaign. I didn’t. Not saying I’d take it—or turn it down. But it’s the only one that interests me.

A few months later, my phone rings at Quaker. Jack Gleason.

You still working out of the townhouse?

“You bet. Rose Zamaria says hello. You come to Washington regularly?


“Let’s set a date. I got something you might be interested in.”

The next week he said, “I got something here. But it’s not assistant secretary of HEW.”

Ok. Goodbye.

“No-no. In some ways—in some ways—it’s better.”

How can that be?

“You remember when Nixon talked about Black Capitalism? He wanted to encourage blacks and other minorities to have the same opportunities others have to start their own businesses?”


“This would involve you starting your own agency. In Commerce. Assistant to the secretary.”

Assistant secretary?

“Sorry. Assistant to the secretary. Not assistant secretary but get this: you’d be able to start your own agency of the federal government, from scratch. And the president is deeply interested in it because he feels it’s a golden chance to (a) do good and (b) help the Republicans with the black vote. Why I think you’d be better than anybody else is because you’re a political expert and…and that’s a big and…a corporate guy…and—another big and—you are well known in Chicago in the minority community, probably the only Republican some of them think hasn’t got horns. You’ve done a lot of stuff in the black community. We checked you out already.”

What about the downside?


The downside. Are you going to tell me?

“No downside.”

Yes downside. The secretary of commerce is Stans. Maurice Stans.


He’s a Minnesotan, remember? From Shakopee. I’m a transplanted Minnesotan. Talk about somebody who is a…

“Well, he is a [scatological description of genitalia]. I’ll give you that. But don’t you think that the experience of starting your own agency is better than assuming a job that’s already there like assistant secretary of HEW?”



Two weeks later my phone rings.

“Jack Gleason here.”


“Listen. I took the liberty of floating your name and he’d like to see you on your next trip.”


“Stans. He says he never met you.”

He’s right. But I know his reputation.

“What’s wrong with meeting the secretary of commerce? Aren’t you in the business of trying to meet people for Quaker. You going to turn down a chance to meet the secretary of commerce who in the future might be able to help you and your company?”

I’m sure Bob Stuart knows him. And knows him well because Stans was Nixon’s finance chairman and Bob and his family have been generous givers.

“Not talking about Stuart at this point. Frankly, this puts me in a tough spot because Stans would like to talk it over with you and I don’t want to tell him that you told me you don’t want to talk with him—don’t like to even talk with him. That’s a helluva note to tell a cabinet officer.”

All right. I’ll drop in and see him.

“Gee, we little people are very grateful for that, Roeser.”

No, I don’t want to be snooty. I just don’t want to mislead him, that’s all.

We got together the next week.

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