Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Personal Asides: Jim Thompson at the End of the Trail…er Trial…Mercy! Mercy! Hillary Clinton Speaks at a Mercy Funding Luncheon but Don’t Worry, It’s not a Political Stop says the Cardinal…Mark Kirk Likely Treading the Path to a Primary Challenge.


Jim Thompson.

The “Sun-Times” photo told it all: Jim Thompson sitting dejectedly on a bench outside the federal courtroom waiting to testify in the Conrad Black trial, before he acknowledged that he “skimmed” important documents…admitting he wasn’t told about more than $31 million to Black although Thompson was chairman of the Hollinger Board audit committee…stating that he asked for an industry precedent for executives being paid personally to sign non-compete documents with the buyer and, receiving none, signed off anyhow…acknowledging that in 2002 and 2008 he signed financial disclosure statements that said individual directors had approved $15.6 million in non-compete payments to Hollinger executives from U.S. sales when they hadn’t.

Asked why he signed a document that was not true, Thompson said, “because I didn’t see the paragraph”—noting that he had only “skimmed” the documents although as a director he was paid $60,000 a year…acknowledging that Hollinger International had paid to send Thompson and his wife on an expensive junket to London where they stayed at a luxury hotel.

The questioning was rude and personal. It centered on a charge that may well have spelled the answer, that Thompson was too “dazzled” by serving on the same board with Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle and wanted to look good in their eyes. My own view is that Thompson is incredibly lucky in the whole embarrassing mess—that he should have been one of the defendants in the case. The mystery is how a man once acclaimed—and correctly—as a brilliant U. S. attorney with the intellectual capacity to be a great governor and beyond, including president could have fallen to such a low estate. On my radio program Sunday, Brad Cole, mayor of Carbondale who comes from what would be charitably called the “moderate wing” of the Illinois GOP (Cole was deputy chief of staff to George Ryan and was untouched by the experience as well as brave enough not to stab his old boss in the back to save himself) said that in his estimation it is obvious Thompson’s once keen intellect was failing in recent years.

Others who have known Thompson over the years seem to have devolved another theory. I knew Thompson fairly well as U. S. District Attorney when he cooperated extensively with Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) on vote fraud cases and spoke often at our briefing sessions and fund-raising efforts.

Then he was rightly seen as more than a formidable candidate for governor but as one who, with superb political, oratorical and forensic gifts, could go all the way…and at least make a powerful case as a candidate for the presidency at a future time. After all, he won a conviction against former Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. for his benefiting from improper influence from the racetrack industry. He tried and convicted many of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s top aides including the enormously powerful and influential Tom Keane, chairman of the Finance committee, on various corruption charges. He made his clean-up bipartisan by convicting the Cook county Republican chairman and Cook county commissioner, Floyd Fulle, state Senator Ed Scholl and supposedly a rising star of the Illinois GOP, William Rentschler. He married late in life …coincident to his first campaign for governor… to lawyer Jane Thompson who had been an assistant to state attorney general Bill Scott, and the couple had one child, a daughter.

Thompson’s debut to the governorship was helped by the Cook county Democrats’ torpedoing of their hated governor Dan Walker in the Democratic primary in favor of stolid machine regular Michael J. Howlett. Howlett was never an effective candidate for governor. Thompson’s celebrity and his ready wit got him elected governor at age 40 with 65% of the vote and reelected in 1978 with 60%.

In 1978 Thompson seemed to come to the conclusion that he would not run for president or vice president although publicly he had been listed as an incipient president—as every successful Illinois governor had been…William Stratton, Dwight Green, Adlai Stevenson, Frank Lowden (Stevenson and Lowden were active contenders). It was an ironic decision to forego the effort since his childhood and early youth seemed to have been bound up in his running for president; indeed his high school yearbook noted that the presidency was his dream. True, 1978 had a pile-up of Republican candidates (Reagan, Bush, Connally, Dole, Baker, Anderson, Crane) but at his young age, 42, Thompson could have been in the running for vice president. Moreover, with Reagan and G. H. W. Bush he could have been considered for the cabinet, say Justice.

Why he seemingly foreclosed these opportunities has never been stated not studied. But it is clear that 1978 was the year he abandoned thought of national office it for personal reasons. Unlike the case with other governors, there were no side trips to New Hampshire, no heavy speculation. The matter of the presidency was a dead issue as was any prospect that he was interested in the vice presidency or cabinet post.

It was at that time that he took on two anti-political characteristics: (a) rather impetuously liberal and un-circumspect, laying aside governmental thrift and efficiency and launching expensive spending projects akin to the Egyptian pharaohs and (b) deciding that he would make the savor the maximum comfort and status of the job and hugely enjoy its luxuries.

In 1978 when his first term ended (of two-years duration as Illinois moved to off—years for gubernatorial elections), he had an easy time cruising to reelection over a nonentity, state school superintendent Michael Bakalis. Four years later after improvident spending, U. S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III challenged him. The race was hot and it bore down on Thompson’s spending, his use of his office as a traditional harbor of largesse, his rather flagrant personal habits in lifestyle, his acceptance of Teamster money which had been delivered in cash which he then turned back. For a time, it looked like Thompson would lose. Stevenson came within 5,074 votes of defeating Thompson. Even then the outcome was not clear and was decided by a ruling of the state Supreme Court where a Democrat, Seymour Simon by casting his vote for Thompson (an odd occurrence that seems to defy an answer) short-circuited the Stevenson case. None other than Jane Byrne, who was mayor, told me that she cooperated covertly to swell the Thompson vote margin. What the word “swell” meant was anyone’s guess. When I asked what she meant, she declined to specify.

Once reelected, Thompson continued to rule sloppily and irresolutely which negated future national attention. He hid the sad shape of the Illinois economy and budget but once returned to power yet again hiked taxes, regarded by most observers as a cynical dodge. Emboldened, Stevenson tried again against Thompson with Mike Madigan as his campaign chairman—but a wild card misfortune entered the play as followers of Lyndon Larouche, a radical sect of paranoid politicians mixing left and right, captured key slots in the Democratic ticket. Stevenson was forced to abandon his party’s ticket and accepted the nomination of a third party, the Solidarity, which guaranteed his defeat. After his reelection, Thompson, according to formula, veered back from his earlier declaration that the condition of Illinois government was sound to declaring that it was now in a fiscal emergency. He asked for and received two state income tax hikes plus an assorted hike in liquor, gasoline and highway taxes. In 1989 in a surprise switch, the unfathomable Madigan, Speaker of the House, rammed another temporary income tax hike through which Thompson signed.

Thereupon Thompson made no pretense of being different than run-of-the-mill liberal governors and relied on his ingratiating personality and campaign skills to accommodate himself. He was mediocrity personified. Throughout his early gubernatorial career, his personal tastes centered on the tony life including collecting art and expensive antiques. His taste in architecture was surreal-ugly, unrealistic, extended to the construction of a garish, glass ultra-modernistic new state office building, initially impossible to heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer without expensive overruns. The building, abstract in the extreme, is fashioned along the lines of the psychedelic with a white doughnut shaped sculpture standing outside which he grandly named after himself in the style of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Sloppy in personal ethical behavior became his identification: he accepted four gold Kruggerrands from a labor leader which he had to turn back, vetoed at midnight a legislative pay raise which he had planned would be overridden (a crass gesture worthy of a low rent ward boss), pushed for his wife’s application for a federal judgeship while he was governor, not willing to admit her legal qualifications were less than sketchy, support he was forced to withdraw when bar leaders objected.

As a political leader, Thompson neglected his party with almost wanton disregard. The entire Reagan Revolution…lower taxes, reliance on middle class virtues, upstanding conservatism…passed without any application in Illinois. There was never a philosophical statement in a Thompson administration other than routine acquiescence to that of regular Democratic practice. He shunned reform, espoused patronage (which he restated at the funeral of his great friend Donald Stephens). Under him, careerists moved from law firms to state posts and back to law firms where they lobbied shamelessly, fitting in the two parties without any ideological differences. When he retired to the Winston & Strawn law firm, Thompson himself set the tone by becoming the state’s most influential lobbyist, taking on clients without much regard for circumspection. He got involved in a questionable deal to benefit a liquor client in Chicago; he contributed funds to Democrats while still regarding himself as a Republican leader.

His last significant Republican action was to steer the nomination and election of George Ryan, his lieutenant governor, as governor. Taking a leaf from Thompson, Ryan campaigned as an all but hollow vessel where he appealed to publics from all sides but mischievously had cut the cards with liberals on key policy issues without telling his old allies. The ruling party philosophy was lurid pragmatism, the jettisoning of social values and concentration on patronage, jobs and contracts.

When Ryan ran into trouble on the issue of commercial drivers’ licenses as secretary of state…in a scandal that maimed his subsequent election as governor…he called upon Thompson to help him. Thompson as chairman of Winston & Strawn allowed more than $20 million of the firm’s resources to be spent on Ryan’s pro bono defense—tying up the firm’s biggest rainmaker almost exclusively on Ryan’s behalf—leading many to question if Ryan was holding something over Thompson’s head for that unnatural act of supreme generosity by the law firm Thompson headed. Thompson continued the pro-bono work for Ryan while in the next gubernatorial election contributing money to the Democratic nominee, Rod Blagojevich. After Blagojevich’s election, Thompson served as co-chairman of the Democratic transition committee. When Blagojevich ran into ethical trouble in his term, his administration hired Winston & Strawn for counsel; Thompson then formally separated himself from any support for Republican candidates. He contributed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and Jane Thompson has been a major contributor to Barack Obama’s presidential effort.

After George Ryan was convicted on major counts despite all that Winston & Strawn could do, Thompson stepped down as firm chairman, purportedly in response to pressure from his fellow partners, yet joking all the while that he had served enough and didn’t want to stick around until he were to be carried out. In the meantime, his service as chairman of the Hollinger audit committee was questioned; sloppiness again was charged as he traveled on behalf of the company but didn’t say a peep about supposed looting of the newspaper’s parent company.

Disillusionment and mysterious abandonment of a goal that he had set early on for himself—the presidency—led to disillusionment that precipitated excess, a love of influence and trappings that have soiled a once brilliant career. If there is any idealism remaining from a once illustrious career, it is hard to visualize. I am sure in Jim Thompson’s private thoughts he feels his potential has been wasted by either unavoidable circumstances or his inability to change them. The mystery of why he abandoned thought of high office which led to his sad denouement is unanswered and will always be so.

Mercy! No Politics Here in Hillary’s Speech!

Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Clinton, a fore-square supporter of abortion rights including partial birth abortion (whose ban by the Supreme Court she denounced) spoke at a fund-raising meeting in behalf of the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls Monday as Catholic Citizens of Illinois and other pro-life groups protested. Despite a policy document issued by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that called on Catholic institutions not to have pro-abortion speakers at their formal functions, the Mercy Home solicited Sen. Clinton to speak “on education.” Fr. Scott Donohue, its president, has been regularly soliciting Catholic donors to support his institution. But Fr. Donohue is not alone in upholding the abortion senator’s appearance. Cardinal Francis George’s office said the prelate asked about her appearance, evidently had some doubts, but approved it because, as his spokesman said, “this was not a political stop.” As often occurs with the cardinal when he tries to reconcile a caving in, the response flies in the face of credulity. Facile of tongue but unfathomable nonetheless, he assumes he can bull it through—but the answer lies in a timidity, a deferral to secular authority that is ingrained through many years of practice and cannot be changed.

If you believe that Mercy is not a political stop…with Sen. Clinton criss-crossing the nation in the company of political reporters, image-makers and commentators recording her effort to win the nomination…if you believe that her appearance at Mercy Home was not a political stop…you have already indicated any pat answer will satisfy you so long as it comes from a spokesman who succeeds in keeping his face straight. A spokesman for Mercy (double entendre intended) said that he is pleased that “a high profile” person as Clinton would address the organization.

What does the flagrant exception to the ruling of the U. S. Conference of Bishops mean? Simply that the archdiocese believes no principle should be allowed to stand against pragmatic political accommodation. It will be of no use to write the Cardinal: letters will go into the parsing machine where sophistry reigns. Rather, I would suggest that those Catholics who read this rather contact Fr. Donohue who has the responsibility for running the place and raising the money to make it go. He is where the problem began in the first place. Tell him that for the time being…maybe for longer than he would imagine…there will be no future contributions from you. The withholding of checkbooks is the only retort he is capable of understanding…and in the last analysis bank balances and deficits will accomplish more than your angry letters to the Cardinal. It is a tragedy that those who will make the sacrifice will be the kids but perhaps it won’t be too long when the message comes home to the accountants and they have to dip into the royal treasury to pay the bills the lesson will be learned.

Mark Kirk.

Congressman Mark Kirk had a tough time getting reelected over the Democratic opponent, Dan Seals who looks like a re-stylized Barack Obama who is a blunter speaking version of Bambi. He frightened Kirk to death last year when he appealed to wealthy North Shore white liberal narcissists i.e. not because they are so liberal but “by supporting Seals people will think more highly of me so that I will be identified more surely with upper social class to which I passionately aspire.” Rather like joining the right country club. For one thing, Seals has something going for him that Obama hasn’t. Seals speaks with firmness and precision, not emitting vaporous dreams of being…let us all grimace to think of it…being black in Hawaii! Being black in Hawaii as Obama was in his youth: how awful!

In order to position himself properly in his socially liberal district, Kirk bought into abortion and gay rights. He was not just for embryonic stem cell but supported creation of a bio-med program for it in his district. Some people were ready to cut him some slack on the issue if it balanced a prudent position on foreign-defense policy. This used to be the case: no more. So frightened was he by his close call in the election that once the votes were counted, Kirk announced he would not support the president’s surge in Iraq. Now he has defected not just from the Bush foreign policy but has signed on as co-author of the politically correct throttling of the 1st amendment, the hate-crime measure passed by the House that extends coverage to people “victimized” by criticism of sexual orientation, “gender identity or disability” which is attracting opposition from Christian leaders—and which the president has promised to veto.

The onus of the Kirk bill is clear. If a pastor dares criticize the sin of homosexuality…and it can be alleged that violence occurred from such a sermon…the pastor can be silenced and a chill of political correctness will descend similar to what has happened in Canada. Kirk says this won’t happen but any allegation can be leveled and the pastor…indeed the Judeo-Christian tenets…can be placed in severe jeopardy. All this because Mr. Kirk is worried about saving his neck and has offered himself as willing token to the politically correct lobby.

The bill passed the House 237 to 180 with Illinois Republicans Judy Biggert and Ray LaHood voting aye; the conspicuously rich Biggert has always been a social liberal; LaHood is slowly turning that way. But no one has moved farther leftward than Kirk who is a proud co-sponsor. He is also very dumb in that he is making the same mistake many overweeningly ambitious Republicans make when they ignore their base…deciding they don’t need conservatives…and are moving heaven and earth to co-opt liberal support. Three wannabe statesmen who yearned to stand tall in Georgetown come to mind—Chuck Percy who ignored his Republican base to woo more exotic groups and who got for himself a costly primary in his last go-round which contributed to his shattered front allowing Paul Simon to triumph…John B. Anderson who veered leftward, picked up costly primary challenges, then became an independent and is now a cranky Democrat in Florida retirement…and Paul Findley who became a wild-card on foreign policy, weeping for the Palestinians so copiously that he resembled Arafat, splitting the base and leading to a national Jewish subscription of funds prompting the rise of arch-opportunist Dick Durbin.

All the factors are in place for Kirk to get tough primary opposition next year—and he has brought it on himself. Not that a primary battle that unseats Kirk would result in one who might beat Seals—but there is something about an incumbent who jettisons principle that produces a chemical reaction in a constituency like Kirk’s that alienates liberal independents as well as conservatives. If this happens to Kirk, he has himself to blame.


  1. Here is the announcement from the Illinois Democratic Netowrk for this "non-political" appearance by Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton

    "Senator Hillary Clinton is coming to Chicago to be the Keynote Speaker for a luncheon for Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.

    Beth Kaveny is on the Mercy Home Leaders Council, the organizer of the luncheon, and has reserved two tables. Tickets are $150 each. If you are interested in attending email Beth. Additionally, contact Beth immediately if you/your firm would like to purchase your own table. Meet-and-greet and photo opportunities with Senator Clinton are available for sponsors at the $10,000 and $25,000 levels, as is press coverage."

    This from Illinois Dem Net


    The Archdiocese has had problems for a hundred years + now of mixing politics and religion, in some cases acting as an auxillary of the Democratic Party.

    Given the amount of awareness to this issue, it would be a real breath of fresh air to have the Archdiocese restrict ALL political campaigns from Church facilities.


  2. One notices that you do not quote the Cardinal's office, but rather "report" what you say were told. You haven't attributed the conversation so you ask readers to accept your version of a story that no one can check out. In particular, I am interested in your choice of the word "approved". Is that actually and precisely what the Cardinal said he did?

    I try to think about what in the world you feel you accomplish by your remonstrance. Do you intend to try to influence the Cardinal? Or are you simply detracting?

    I imagine that the commenters who follow will, if you decide to allow publication of this comment, deride the idea that this wise, thoughtful, and holy man deserves better than having comments he manifestly did not make -- you're not quoting anyone directly and there is nothing here from which readers should infer that you actually spoke to the Cardinal -- mediated by you and then judged.

  3. I think that renaming of the Helmut Jahn architectural monstrosity formerly known as the new State of Illinois Building for James R. Thompson actually occurred after Jim Edgar took office as governor. The joke was that Edgar wanted posterity to know which governor was to blame for the building. Another major flaw as to the building is that it lacked sufficient office space to house state employees on account of its grandiose atrium and balconies. The building was truly a waste of space. As a result, the old State of Illinois Building (renamed for Michael Bilandic) could not be closed or sold.

  4. Remember all those grandiose spending plans introduced by REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS like Build Illinois, etc.

    Also, I always felt that they were in it for the connections and the big bucks that come from spreading one's self around the big corp or big law firm community after the term was up.

    In other words it was BUCKS over Idology and thus you get the WORST kind of Republican who bends with the PC and desires intellecual and media love so as to get that post term pension and big bucks from connections and consultancies.

    I get a very tired of the politicians who dump ideology for BUCKS. The kiss up to the media leads to mushy moderation and downright adoption of the Liberal Agenda and thus a RINO "Republican In NAME ONLY" is hatched!

    Again I am sick of such people infesting the Republican Party! It is time to overturn the tables of these money grubbers!

    The big problem is that these people keep crawling back into one campaign after another so as to get back into the big bucks. It is time to show the light of truth on these political cockroaches no matter who they are or who they are connected to!

    Sadly the Republican Party in Illinois needs to be flushed of a number of RINOS both in public view and behind the scenes.

    This state needs then to refocus on the economy so that it does not end up like other Rust Belt states such as Michigan.

    Count Blago is doing a lot of damage to the business environment in this state. Also the high real estate tax problem needs to be addressed and the IEA needs to be outsourced!

    It is time to take this state back and shape it up for the future!