Thursday, April 5, 2007


Ex-Mayor Flirts with Disaster as He Endorses Public Abortion Funding

By Thomas F. Roeser

The latest column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly.

CHICAGO—Political potpourri.

1. The GOP Presidency. A sudden change in poll numbers last week showed the volatility in the presidential race. In the USA Today-Gallup poll, Rudy Giuliani has slipped from 44% to 31%--still leading the GOP contenders but not as strong as he was the week before last. Why? Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) is the reason. The tall, conservative lawyer-actor, star of “Law and Order,” stands at 12%--with those numbers taken directly out of Giuliani’s hide.

The same thing with the well-regarded Rasmussen poll. The week before last, Giuliani was at 35% among all the Republican contenders. Last week he slipped to 26%. The difference: Thompson who emerged between the two polling dates and stands at 14%, most of which numbers are peeled off from Giuliani.

The emergence of Thompson gives hope to some social conservatives who have been dissatisfied with the so-called Big 3 contenders thus far: Giuliani, a pro-abort although he says he’d name conservative federal judges, came out last week in support of public funding for abortion which is a no-no to conservatives. Mitt Romney was a pro-abort as governor of Massachusetts and just switched to a conservative point of view shortly before he announced for president. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while pro-life has been all over the lot on issues that are attractive to social liberals.

Thompson’s Senate record has been socially conservative, not only on pro-life and gay rights but on the 2nd amendment. The only defect was to vote for the McCain-Feingold bill which restricts free speech immediately before election. But many conservatives say they can forgive that indiscretion.

What the polls mean is that while Giuliani is ahead and others like McCain and Romney are static, Thompson, the social conservative, could give everybody the race of their lives and could well become the GOP nominee. His assets: a relatively fresh face, the stance of a tough prosecutor on “Law and Order,” and a pretty impeccable conservative record on social issues and the economy. Some drawbacks: he’s not a workaholic; but then neither was Ronald Reagan who took the presidency which Jimmy Carter said was too much for one man to handle and turned it into a part-time job through shrewd powers of delegation while he took leisurely afternoon naps.


2. Obama-mania. Youthful exuberance, a fresh breeze of decency, a rebel against the old system of blind partisanship, straight-shooter, the essence of the new spirit of fair-play that should animate all our politics, giving voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless, fighting for a level playing field.

These are the clichéd phrases that much of the national media utilize to describe U. S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the refreshing non-politician who will reform the old ways. Even Chicago journalists who know better are echoing these exciting descriptives. But when you dig down deep, Obama is just more of the same—utilizing old-fashioned city ward tactics to get his way that were patented in this town by machine mayors-- Democrat Anton Cermak and Republican Big Bill Thompson.

The movie version—probably soon to come at your TV or DVD store—would have Obama coming here from Hawaii after a transient youth and an earnest search for identity, with a talent for listening, confident but self-effacing, working as a community organizer here while Harold Washington, the first black mayor, stirred his hopes and dreams. The film would trace the idealistic goals of the young activist who sought to include the community instead of working behind the community’s back. Even to the extent of including people you don’t like sometimes.

Working in the tradition of Saul Alinsky but supposedly without Alinsky’s grit. Obama symbolizing a new breed of youths applying what they called “faith-based organizing, seeming to be a bridge-builder, avoiding personal confrontation (unlike Alinsky), comfortable in dialogue with people, always retaining civility.

Sounds good and is a major part of the image now being constructed with the $25 million Obama has raised in the first fiscal quarter, rivaling Hillary Clinton. But a look at his recent history (rehashed by the Chicago Tribune last week) shows little if any difference between the way Obama rose to power as a liberal insurgent and the way the bosses knifed their way up from the streets.

In the Illinois state senatorial district where Obama worked and lived—a mélange which in 1996 consisted of Hyde Park (the middle and upper-middle class area, dotted with mansions, subsidized by the University of Chicago), South Shore middle class and the grinding poverty of the Englewood neighborhood—the incumbent was Alice Palmer. She was an outstanding black progressive, a Ph.D, lifelong community leader and anti-poverty fighter. She tried for an open congressional seat after Mel Reynolds, the incumbent, went to jail and said that if she got nominated (tantamount to election in Democratic South Side Chicago), she’d support young Obama for her job.

But she lost the congressional primary to Jesse Jackson, Jr. . When she turned around to reclaim her state senate seat, a group of newcomers were trying to snatch it away from her, including Obama. Nothing evil with that but Obama did with aplomb what partisans have been doing in Chicago elections for decades—not only challenged Palmer’s petitions but the petitions of all the others. All told, there were four candidates fighting for Palmer’s state senate seat that Obama wanted. Obama sent volunteers into a hearing room run by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and challenged hundreds of signatures on technicalities filed by Palmer and thousands of others filed by others including every single one of his four Democratic primary rivals were kicked off the ballot.

Old man Daley (the late Richard J.) would have been proud of that teamwork as would Big Bill Thompson and Anton Cermak. The Tribune concludes “The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field but by clearing it. One of the candidates Obama bumped off the ballot was Gha-is Askia, a long-shot contender who nevertheless says Obama’s bare-knuckles effort belies his image as the savior of the little guy. “Why say you’re for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates?” asks Askia. “He talks about honor and democracy but what honor is there is getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free?” The answer is that if Obama can use time-honored practices to rid the ballot of competitors—and the effort is legal—nobody should kick. But it shows that he is more Barack Hussein Obama than just fawn-eyed Bambi.

The answer is, of course, that by the use of hard-eyed practical pols, Obama did what he had to do to get elected—which is fine, except it flies in the face with the Bambi image. Asked now about what he had to do to clear the field, Obama says with a soft smile—as any other politician would—“I think they [the voters of the senatorial district] ended up with a very good senator.” Alice Palmer sits alone in her apartment now, looks out the window at unemployed, high school dropout youth, congregating on her block, and hasn’t decided whom to back for president.


3. The Tribune’s Future. Speaking of the Chicago Tribune, it has a new owner. A little guy who never wears a tie, has a reddish-greyish beard, the son of immigrants from Poland—and a real estate billionaire named Sam Zell. Zell stalked into the late Colonel Robert R. McCormick’s throne-room like office suite at Tribune Tower and wisecracked that it would be a good place to park his motorcycle. Will there be changes at the Tribune which has long departed from McCormick’s brusque conservative editorial style to produce editorials which are whimsical and often conclude: Who can tell? But one change is clear: Zell will sell the Chicago Cubs. Another is possible: Zell, the real estate mogul, may either sell the gothic Tribune Tower and lease from the new owners a long-term stay for the paper…or sell the Tower entirely and let it turn to condos. As the Tribune’s own namby-pamby editorials frequently summarize: Who can tell? Sam Zell. Stay tuned!

But the thought that Zell will turn the venerable paper over to the forces of the Left were somewhat dashed last week when he announced that his favorite columnists are Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. Not exactly Colonel McCormick’s cup of tea (he was a pioneer tub-thumper for an isolationist foreign policy, which he called nationalist) but by today’s standards, two are neo-conservatives (Krauthammer and Brooks) and Friedman is a follower of free-trade economics. Maybe with Zell the editorials won’t wind up asking questions anymore.


4. Tough on Daley. While the Tribune has a new fat-cat owner, its rival, the Sun-Times is having gigantic financial troubles—but last week it took a king-sized wallop at the city’s gigantic Democratic icon, Mayor Richard M. Daley. The paper stressed that Daley has acted like a tyrant—which is old news to most Chicago political followers but was refreshing nevertheless to see the idea floated in the popular press.

First, there was the August 5, 2003 midnight strike at Meigs Field, the once convenient lakefront airport that was a boon to business and private pilots, enabling them to land downtown rather than many miles away at O’Hare. Daley had long wanted to turn the airstrip into a park but was restrained by a number of people including Republican governor Jim Edgar. But at midnight on August 5 he sent demolition crews to the field which dug up the runway. He did it without fanfare and as an extra-legal act; the blissful Bush administration grumbled but later sanctioned his midnight steal. It was the first phase of a $1.5 million project to break up the runway and replace it with top soil. The once convenient field is now called Northerly Island by the mayor.

It is supposed to be a lakefront park but not many people go there. However making it into a lakefront park was the wish of Maggie Daley, the mayor’s wife, who is a green-thumb environmentalist. There was a lot of kicking from special quarters but as the mayor was reelected by 70% of the vote, a park it stays.

Next have come autocratic delaying of bad news until after the dance. The Sun-Times’ excellent city hall scribe Fran Spielman who calls them as she sees them reported eight episodes. One, Daley promised not to spend “a dime” of public money to host the 2016 Olympics before election but now has “persuaded” the city council to put up a $500 million guarantee….two after denying his administration’s patronage abuses will cost money, he has set up a $12 million fund of taxpayer money to compensate victims of the City Hall rigged hiring system

Three, the police superintendent has quit after several episodes of off-duty policemen beating up people in saloons—including one where a female bartender was slugged because she denied an over-served cop a beverage and another where a drunken cop was weeping over the demise of his father and was enraged because a nearby pool player, not knowing he was a cop, said, “oh shut up, you pussy!” The melee was worthy of a Hollywood cowboy saloon brawl. Both battles were captured on video tape. The offended cop who was called a pussy was joined by other off-duty cop patrons in the bar while one cop stood outside and waved policemen away while the beatings occurred, indicating that this was a strictly private affair of discipline in which the police were involved. Commenting on it, the police superintendent (who was probably the most effective in Daley’s tenure) said that if he had been there he would have calmed the place by going after the offending cops “with a baseball bat”—comments that didn’t help Chicago’s reputation as a safe drink harbor.

Four, a group of city building inspectors were accused of taking bribes to look the other way on issues involving building safety…five, a former Streets and Sanitation commissioner who ran a clout-heavy Hispanic offshoot of the Democratic party was indicted for allegedly trading jobs and promotions in reward for political work and personal favors. And six, the first widely hailed “open competition” for lucrative news and gift shop concessions at O’Hare ended with a 7-year extension for the clout-heavy incumbent.

Nothing has changed with the Daley style of doing business. But no matter what happens, George W. Bush’s admiration continues unabated for the man he says is the best mayor in the country. Which may explain why Bush’s Justice Department listed U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald—by any measure the most effective district attorney in many decades and who is prosecuting a number of Daley aides--as “mediocre.” This almost servile love affair that Bush has with Daley is…well…what can I say? What’s behind it?

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