Monday, May 14, 2007

Personal Asides: The Trinity of Eddies…The Eddie Charisma that Attracts Both Women and Men…The Giuliani Factor.


Trinity of Eddies.

Cowboy Wally asks a good question in Reader’s Comments. He says there were three Eddies who were allied against Harold Washington. Indeed there were: Eddie Vrdolyak, Eddie Burke and Ed Kelly…aka “Coach Kelly”…the head of the Chicago Park District and 47th ward Democratic committeeman. Of the three, the first two Eddies were far more potent in opposition to Washington.

The Eddie Charisma.

My support of Eddie Vrdolyak last Friday elicited a good response from readers—but there is more to say about this fascinating man. Nothing I wrote implied that he was infallible in the handling of his politics and ethics. In fact, I believe—and he has acknowledged—that he was wrong politically on the bitterness with which he and the second Eddie handled Harold Washington. On ethics, he agreed to a suspension of his law license, acknowledging that he over-billed on some occasions as a lawyer. Strategically, I think it’s pretty clear that if he hadn’t gone to the Republican party when he had, he could have been considered for mayor and may well have won the nod. Whether he would have been a great one cannot be known—but what can be assumed is that he would have been an extraordinarily memorable one. Still none of the foregoing matches Eddie in élan: he stands alone.

Eddie’s imperishability is linked to the perception of him not as a Democrat but a classic neighborhood political leader categorized as a representative of “Chicago working class conservatives” not withstanding the fact that his law skills made him rich. In Chicago history Eddie is one of those who never became mayor but who was more colorful than many who did. You could list working class conservative John Hoellen, liberal-turned-conservative Bob Merriam, socialist-turned-urban pragmatist Paul Douglas, Vito Marzullo (who had a 4th grade education) in that category; also the brilliant Leon Despres (although Despres, nearing 100 years old now, was and is a liberal and didn’t have the finesse to “get a dog out of a pound” according to Marzullo who assuredly did).

There is a national standard for men like Eddie…with a kind of pirate’s flair and brilliance… as well.

Nationally, I would identify him with John Randolph of Roanoke, the debater and rebel who would stride into the House wearing riding togs and spurs (his horse tethered outside), became a Republican (in the Jeffersonian sense of limited government) and who broke with Jefferson because the party was embracing nationalism with too much fervor.

Probably in urban governmental history, Eddie could be compared with New York Mayor Jimmy Walker (excepting, of course, Walker’s skirt-chasing). Walker, born poor, began as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, became a lawyer, elected to state House and Senate, later Democratic majority leader of the Senate, an ally of Al Smith who became mayor of New York in 1926, winning reelection by defeating both Fiorello LaGuardia and socialist Norman Thomas, lost his popularity during the stock market crash when, although married, he was running around with chorus girl Betty Comden. Patrick Cardinal Hayes, the archbishop of New York, said he was an insult to Catholic family life.

Hayes’ condemnation meant a lot in those days. In the heart of the Depression, the Cardinal said that Walker’s personal immorality as well as his toleration of girlie magazines and casinos brought down the wrath of God on New York! The grossly unfair denunciation saw Walker became an object of church and political opprobrium which led to the politicians of the state, including the governor, FDR, trying to take him down. Forced to testify to the Seabury Commission, Walker resigned. He left the country and married Betty Comden in Europe. No indictments which never came, actually--but it was clear that he offended some public sensibilities in those Depression-somber times. Even today New York legends record that the fun and zest of being associated with Mayor Jimmy Walker is still unforgettable, renewed when Bob Hope played him in the film “Beau James.”

Vrdolyak’s flare for leadership…the capacity to draw others to follow him…can’t be erased because of too abrupt, short-term snap judgments and political mistakes…and if he beats the rap on the Patrick Fitzgerald indictments (as he well may) his name in Chicago politics will not be diminished.

One other thing about his oratorical abilities and phrasing. He is probably the best communicator of his era and has a particular resonance to the working class. When I had a daily show on WLS-AM I once played contrasting audio tapes—one of Frank Sinatra doing an interview and the other of Eddie talking on his own show. The verbal phrasing of both were identical. In fact I played them over again and it was remarkable how similarly they sounded. Both have the very same appeal…Sinatra from Hoboken who mastered a jaunty air, Vrdolyak the same.

When I saw Eddie last week, two days before the indictment was announced, I found him older looking but still wiry and jaunty. I will not name her but some years ago Chicago’s ranking senior woman editor who served on both “Sun-Times” and “Tribune” and who received a Pulitzer prize…a woman not known for entertaining anything less than an orthodox liberal view and who could be counted to look down on neighborhood types like Eddie…went to a City Club function at which Eddie was the speaker. A somewhat sedate, married woman of middle age, she told me that Eddie has a magnetic hold on women (and confessed on herself) and found it phenomenal that among her acquaintances, he had an equally magnetic hold on men. Usually, she said, a man who is attractive to women is not beloved by men. I thought about it and agreed with her.

Very few men whom women admired also appeal to men. Women adored Tyrone Power; men despised him (too pretty; they were right as it turned out); same with Cary Grant. Men like John Wayne; most women feel he was a klutz. Probably the only actor who had an equal pull on men and women was Bogart.

Much has been made in the news media prior to the indictment…a push given by Channel 5…that as his law firm represented Cicero, Eddie made a great deal of money—something like $3 million—representing the village which came from overbilling. That story was given a great push followed by oohs and ahs. I don’t know anything about how he billed Cicero but I do know that this community was awash in legal problems. And I do know, basis my earlier experience in business, that extensive work with law firms doesn’t wash down easily. At Quaker we had an inside corporate law office that cost millions to try an historic cereal oligopoly case along with outside firms that cost millions as well. We were pitted against the FTC which had an unlimited public budget. And the billing went on for years, when court was in session or out. If we were in public life then perhaps someone would have questioned the bills from blue-chip firms.

Maybe he over-billed Cicero although this hasn’t been proven. Certainly he did when his law license was suspended earlier this year and for which he repented. But a TV anchor getting $1.2 million a year for simply reading the news that someone else writes and who feigns disgust at payments to his law firm for undeniable legal troubles besetting Cicero is a little too much for my usually iron-clad stomach.

Vrdolyak assuredly had…and to many still has…that magnetic pull over both men and women. Understand now when I talk about a magnetic pull over men, I’m not talking whatsoever of the fruity kind that engages gushy effeminates—but real manliness qualities. Remember when the great big lumbering Texas transplant urban radical Slim Coleman jumped over the railing of the council chamber and Eddie smiled coolly, raised both fists expertly and said, “com’on ahead, sweetheart!” My colleague Pat Hickey wrote about it very well. That’s the kind of man men instinctively want to recognize and follow…and the same quality that mesmerized the sedate woman Pulitzer prize-winning editor I talked about earlier.

Another story I just heard today deals with his quickness of repartee. Some years ago, Channel 2 featured a two-man anchor team of Bill Kurtis, a nice appearing guy and Walter Jacobson who specialized in purveying a snotty liberalism. Bill Kurtis saved a child from drowning in a lagoon and was awarded a medal for heroism from the City Council. After the mayor bestowed the medal and great praise for saving the kid from drowning, Eddie piped up and said in a voice heard across the chamber: “He ought to get another one for keeping Walter Jacobson afloat all these years!” I’m told that prima-donna Jacobson burned.

That’s what I mean. That’s the fun-quality that will never die.

The Giuliani Factor.

Rudy Giuliani has taken the stance that he will by running on a (a) pro-choice and (b) pro-gay rights charter…and that he will defy the Democrats to match a Republican party which has a tent big enough to embrace pro-life, traditional social values and his own. Well and good. That will allow us to make a definitive choice…and of course that leaves me out of any Rudy campaign until and unless he is nominated which will require another scrutiny at the two party choice.

Several things remain clear, however:

  • The GOP cannot afford a lot of internecine arguments given the status of its health and the fact that George W. Bush’s low popularity ratings will play a decisive part in determining whether the party wins or loses next year.

  • There is no doubt that Giuliani, still the poll-leader, has been wandering all over town taking alternately one position and then another on abortion…saying a good number of confusing things—that “Roe v. Wade” being the law of the land, public funding of abortion is a constitutional right. Then when the absurdity of that position became clear, saying that he supports the legal right to the procedure but abhors it. So if he’s formulated a definite stand, all the better.

    Given the Democratic party’s stance on all issues that concern me, if Rudy is nominated, I’ll probably cross my fingers and vote for him. But I doubt seriously if he can be nominated with his liberal social views.
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