Monday, October 29, 2007

Flashback: JFK Wins Narrowly and After a Scare (the Polls Showing Him Ahead by Only 2 Points) Hubert, by a Landslide, Nailing Down Senate Whip Post. All the While Gene Chafes at Humphrey’s Regularity and Makes Fun of Kennedy.

[Fifty plus years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

No Chance Nixon Could Have Won a Recount.

As the world will never forget, John Kennedy won election on November 8, 1960 by an eyelash….JFK 34,220,984 or 49.7%; Nixon 34,108,157 or 49.5%. JFK, 303 electoral votes (269 needed to elect); Nixon, 219.

His victory was ground out, some historians say, by only 8,858 votes in Illinois gained from a massive…almost half a million vote…plurality in Chicago. There is a great deal of romance about vote-fraud in Cook county giving Kennedy the presidency and as one who later became chairman of Chicago’s anti-vote fraud organization, Project LEAP [Legal Elections in All Precincts] from 1974-77 I can testify first-hand that vote fraud has always existed in Chicago and does now continue to exist. In the days when I headed the group, Republicans teamed with independent, IVI-style liberals in opposition to Richard I. Now all have been co-opted by Richard II and there is no wedge issue dividing liberals-- so vote fraud has died down as a media topic. And so there is no privately-funded anti-vote fraud watchdog.

One thing outsiders may not understand about Cook county vote fraud and the Democratic organization then and now is this: local contests have always been far more important to Cook county than the presidency, Especially was it true in November, 1960. The Democratic machine could have lived with a Republican president but dreaded a second term for a Republican county prosecutor. In November, 1960 a Democrat-turned Republican, Benjamin Adamowski, was running for reelection as Cook county state’s attorney. In his first term he had triggered the Summerdale police scandal which shattered old man Daley’s composure and reputation. And Ben Adamowski was gunning for Mayor Daley with his second term. To defeat him, the Democrats were running (as they always used to do when the heat was on about their corruption) a pure-as-snow candidate for state’s attorney, the former dean of DePaul’s law school, Daniel Ward. But this is sure: While Mayor Daley was interested in seeing that Kennedy carried the state, he counted it as a matter of survival that Adamowski not win.

There were several factors that helped Daley, hurt Adamowski and perforce Richard Nixon in Cook county. The Republican governor, William Stratton (Billy the Kid) was seeking his third term and in serious trouble. There was intra-party feuding with the GOP concerning Stratton. Former House Speaker Warren Wright who had sought the U. S. senatorial nomination over Samuel Witwer and lost, pledged to give Witwer the same support Witwer had always shown to Wright—nothing at all. The victims of all this in-fighting were obviously Richard Nixon and Ben Adamowski.

In a smashing effort to draw out as many Democratic votes as possible to crush Adamowski…and only peripherally to elect John Kennedy…Daley hosted a huge pre-election rally on Nov. 4, featuring a massive torchlight parade down Madison street from Michigan avenue to the Chicago stadium with more than a million people either watching or participating in the parade. It had 175 drum and bugle corps and 110 entertainers including Vic Damone, Joey Bishop, Tallulah Bankhead, Myrna Loy and Gene Kelly. At the stadium more than 25,000 heard Daley promise a 500,000 vote margin for Kennedy in Chicago and a 400,000-vote majority in Cook county. He didn’t stress Adamowski as a stratagem.

The prediction was right on the money. When the balloting ended, 1,679.804 voted in Chicago and 2,445,269 in the county. Was there vote fraud? I’m sure there was—but the myth that Daley elected Kennedy with vote fraud here is overrated: such vote fraud as occurred was for Ward not Adamowski. The huge turnout was to crush Adamowski. Dan Ward hammered away at what he called Adamowski’s dismal conviction record (actually Ward hugely overdrew the charge). Adamowski charged that Ward was a front man for the worst element of the machine—and he was right! Ward was on the ballot to appeal to middle class city and upper class suburban voters. Just before election, the “Sun-Times” straw poll (greatly effective) found Ward leading Adamowski 51.82% to 48/18%.

Adamowski (whom I knew later on when I became president of the City Club) was an excellent campaigner but was detailed by the state GOP to help save the state for Stratton and Nixon. He spent too much time on that effort, convinced he would be reelected. Too late he discovered the Ward surge and got back to home base. In fact so intent was the machine on defeating Adamowski, that the machine thugs were hustling votes on election day all over but made one big mistake. In the 62nd precinct of the 45th ward (Democratic territory) a Kennedy vote tabulator on a voting machine failed to operate all election day while precinct captains were busily totaling up numbers for Ward over Adamowski. By the end of the day Kennedy’s total read 000. Since Nixon’s total was 188 and the total vote for six other races ranged from 369 to 377, it was clear that Kennedy lost at least 190 votes. But that didn’t unduly concern the precinct captains: beating Adamowski was their first task.

Result: the line that Nixon was so much a statesman that he refused to try to overturn it is just that—a myth. Not that he was a wuss or laying down. As to whether the presidency would have changed hands had Nixon pursued a total recount, it would not. Astutely, Nixon took the high ground by refusing to contest, saying the nation and the Free World could not afford a continued battle of vote recounting with no determination for many months over who had won. By doing that he obviated the “sore loser” moniker and lived to have a second go-round at the presidency and allowed the “Daley stole the election for Kennedy” myth to grow until this very day. .

Why was Nixon’s choice to nix a recount smart?

As of December 1, 1960 after the canvassing and re-canvassing, Nixon just might... with stretching…count on 222 electoral votes (instead of his 219)—47 electoral votes short of victory (269 needed to elect). A win would require reversals not just in Daley’s Illinois but LBJ’s Texas—or conversely in one of the two states and two others. Suppose even if you would have luck in Illinois; you would not have a ghost of a chance in Texas so you’d have to go shopping for some dissident southern electors. Some southern electors were not so much interested in electing Nixon as in defeating Kennedy and would likely bid an unconscionably high price for switching—such as a total veto against civil rights that would have blackened Nixon’s name in perpetuity. . Even if you bought into that kind of thing, it would be tossed into the House of Representatives where it’d be another can of worms. The lame duck House was what you’d have to deal with—including Mississippi’s racist Bill Colmer, racist Jamie Whitten and Virginia’s segregationist old “Judge” Howard Smith, Rules chairman.

Even if Nixon were to sell out totally and the entire legitimacy of his presidency, it couldn’t like be done. Thus he did the “statesmanlike thing” but the only realistic thing to vow he would not delay the outcome.

In Minnesota, JFK won by 23,800 and Gov. Freeman lost by almost identically the same number. The Minnesota Poll that showed Hubert only 2 points ahead of his Republican opponent sent a tidal wave of funds pouring into his office—monies he would have dearly loved to have earlier in West Virginia. Result: Hubert…always a sunny optimist who preferred to let bygones be bygones…went back to the Democratic-led Senate enthused for future battles. He was once again the old Hubert—happy, upbeat, peppery, ebullient and a team player.

Hubert the Happy Warrior Once Again.

Overjoyed that he was sunny Hubert once again, Kennedy’s people asked him to go see Adlai Stevenson (who was in New York city) and get him to accept UN ambassador which Stevenson was thinking of turning down. Hubert was happy to do so.

Stevenson was in Bill Benton’s office (the former Connecticut senator and ex-advertising mogul of Benton & Bowles) when Hubert popped in. Hubert started on his salesman’s campaign when Stevenson tried to shut him down.

Stevenson said: “Well, Hubert, all of us know UN ambassador is a second-rate job. I was promised by that goddamn Bobby at one time I’d be secretary of state.”

Yes, said Hubert, but com’on, Adlai. Bobby wanted you to quit and you turned him down! You ran against Jack and so the deal was off! Not that I’m blaming you. After all, I wouldn’t let Minnesota vote for him at the convention! I think I made a mistake but such is life. In these things you got to live and let live, forget, let bygones be bygones. Besides, I think you ought to view this in a bigger perspective. What can you do for the job and what the job can do for you.

“I think he ought to turn it down,” said Benton. “Look who they picked for secretary of state: Dean Rusk. A second-rater. It’s going to be a second-rate administration and Adlai ought not to become associated with it.”

Listen, said Hubert, you can’t do that! It should be our job to make Jack look good! If Adlai turns it down, it’d be a black eye to a new president and set him off on the wrong foot.

So? Adlai said.

Then Hubert did what so often he did superbly, play to a client’s self-interest.

He said: You say UN ambassador is a nothing job. But look at what the job did for Henry Cabot Lodge who everybody knows is a dumb bastard. It put him on TV all the time. You can use this for your own benefit, Adlai! Who would be better than you at defending the Free World?

That began to make an impression. Thinking about the TV exposure, Benton, the marketing genius, said he had a point.

Just then the phone rang in Benton’s outer office and his secretary came in and said, “It’s for Sen. Humphrey—from Senator Johnson.”

Humphrey left and was gone about five minutes. In that time Benton convinced Adlai to take the UN job.

Humphrey came back and was told the decision.

“Hubert,” said Adlai. “You’re a helluva good man. I’m taking the job.”

Good, Hubert said. See when I go out of a room good things happen!

They laughed. Then they asked what LBJ had wanted.

Well, that was good news, too, said Hubert. He wants me to be Whip, number two to Mike Mansfield who will be Majority Leader. Suddenly the dynamics changed, Stevenson and Benton became the importuners and Hubert the undecided.

“Don’t take it,” said Benton. “Don’t!”

“I implore you, Hubert,” said Adlai. “Turn it down!”

But there was never a chance Hubert wouldn’t take the promotion.

In the same of God, why? Humphrey asked.

“Hubert,” said Benton. “You’re too good at what you do to be a hired hand for the administration. You have a great value of being an independent liberal. As Whip you’ll have to carry water for Kennedy and the administration. It would mean you’ll have to give up the freedom that gave you the leadership for this nation’s liberals. As an independent you can speak at length on any subject you choose. As Whip you’ll be waiting for the phone to ring with Jack or Bobby or Lyndon or somebody else telling you what they want you to do.”

But…but Adlai’s decided to take his job, said Hubert. Why shouldn’t I?

“Because I’m a generation older than you,” said Adlai. “I’m never going to run for president again. This is my last chance.”

Well, said Hubert, I’m not going to run for president again either. How old are you, Adlai?


I’m forty-nine, said Hubert. I’ll tell you. In my first two terms I had that independence you’re talking about. I was just looking at the statistics the other day. In those terms I introduced a total of 1,044 bills and joint resolutions. Not many passed. I have made mud pies and built dream houses long enough. I’m 49 years old and I want to do something. This would be the chance of working with the first Democratic president since Truman.

This was a small shadow of the real reason. Hubert wanted to be able to pick up the phone and get an appointment with the president and the idea of being that close to real power overwhelmed him. It was bigger than ego: it was job satisfaction. Besides, he felt his days of seeking the presidency were over. He would now be able to have regular policy discussions with the man who more than anybody else shapes the world today. It’ a chance to speak my mind in his presence and a chance no man can turn aside.

To Get Things Done You Go to Hubert.

Hubert became a great majority Whip and the “go to” guy to run the Senate. Mike Mansfield was a sweet guy, easy-going, sort of a scholar. Humphrey operated out of a small Whip’s office on the third floor of the Capitol. Mansfield didn’t like traditional arm-twisting; Humphrey excelled at it. Although second in command, he applied the Lyndon Johnson technique he had learned so well as an independent voice. He led Senate liberals to accept the administration’s compromises, spoke honeyed words to southern conservatives to get them to go along with New Frontier legislation. He scored an impressive list of home-runs: passage of minimum wage and aid to education, a compromise administration farm bill, convincing liberal senators to drop their opposition to Texas oilman John Connally as secretary of the navy, persuading conservative southern Democrats to approve the first black cabinet officer, Robert Weaver as head of the housing and home finance agency.

But because he now appeared to be all things to all men, he started to get under the skin of some of the northern liberals in the Senate—including Gene McCarthy. Gene wanted to start a senate version of the old House Democratic Study Group but he found that was tough to do with his senior colleague now having moved to the center. So he gave up on that. He started complaining that the Senate was more boring than the House. He started grumbling with a group of fellow liberals about the Kennedy administration. The story of a mini-rebellion was picked up by the columns. He was accosted one afternoon by the new vice president, Lyndon Johnson who said, “I understand you’ll be fighting us on a lot of things, Gene. Well, I’ll get even.”

Gene said masterfully (I think): “That’s all right, Lyndon. You can get even—but don’t go any further.”

The liberal revolt fizzled but one thing bothered Gene more than anything else—and you can put this down as a major reason:

John Kennedy was the first Catholic president—not Gene.

So in typical Gene McCarthy fashion, he started making fun of Kennedy—in his office to his staff and then off-the-record to some of his newspaper reporter buddies.

. He used to dissect Kennedy’s speeches and ridicule them. Somebody on the staff said that if Kennedy had delivered the Sermon on the Mount, Gene would have taken it apart.

One smart McCarthy crack got into the newspapers—which he had to deny but which he in fact said. “Listening to a Kennedy speech is like eating a meal in a Hot Shoppe [then a fast-food restaurant ran by the Marriotts]. It won’t poison you but it won’t nourish you either.” Later he’d put a variation on it. Talking to George McGovern about any serious issue (he said in 1972) is like eating a Chinese dinner. It goes down easily but a half hour later you’re hungry again.

Abigail, a Democratic team-player to the hit, didn’t like her man to make comments like that.

There was starting to be trouble in paradise between Gene and Hubert. And then the Bay of Pigs hit within three months after Kennedy took office.

It led to a very bitter fight between them and I must ruefully say in my estimation Gene was right and Hubert wrong.


  1. Tom:
    The 1960 election was my first. I recall that the word was out to "Get Ben." He even said that they were going to "Get Ben for four more years."
    Unfortueanately Mr. Adamowski lost. He ran for Mayor in 1963 and gave Daley a good run for his money.

  2. Another good historical account in your blog. I was first exposed to the story of Ben Adamowski in a long article (I think it appeared in the Reader) linked below:

  3. After running a clean candidate, Daniel Ward, was critical to the effort to unseat Ben Adamowski. It is worth noting that as Democratic officeholders go in Cook County, Ward's tenure as State's Attorney was relatively brief. After completing one term and be reelected, Ward left the office for the judiciary. As the first Republican State's Attorney in more than two decades, Adamowski, a former Democrat, was a genuine threat to Daley.