Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Personal Aside: John Stroger and Eugene Sawyer. Two Hacks but Different.
The newspaper and electronic obits said it as eloquently as they could for John Stroger without being struck by a lightning bolt generated by an angry God who desires some reportorial honesty. They decorously omitted the imperfections. He was a symbol of equality of opportunity in the Democratic machine. Before he came along, the big jobs save only Bill Dawsons (and his congressional seat was dependent on the black South Side) were for pink-cheeked and pinky-ring fingered venal Irishmen and some eastern European hacks. John Stroger paid his dues, hunkered down, became a plantation worker for the Daleys and others, bided his time and rose to president of the Cook county board. They say he was a gentleman. Yes he was. I met with him a number of times and he always remembered to ask about an African American friend of mine with the elegant name of John Tobias Dixon who was the 8th ward Republican committeemana man of no power but who nevertheless was a friend of John Stroger. Stroger always meant to help John Tobias Dixon. Not that he ever did but his heart was in the right place. We laughed about John Tobias Dixon from time to time.
Beyond that, John Stroger was beset with the affliction of masterly inattention to detail and an indistinct articulation that was a great asset. More people were fooled believing they heard him right or knew what he meant. It was an innate gift. But in addition, let it be said that he scrupulously blocked any religious sensibilities form interfering with his devotion to the Democratic party. Before him, a fellow Catholic, George Dunne, the last of the old Irish bosses who was from the north side and was a rather lackadaisical chairman of the Cook county Democratic party, was nevertheless a daily communicant. He had his faults, George did: some of them being the ladies. In his widower-hood and long before that when his wife was dying, he got involved in a terribly squalid, embarrassing, humiliating minor scandal with some of the worst-looking and pathetic battle-scarred creatures it was possible to fathom aside from the famed bar scene of Star Wars. He was degraded when the news came out but he kept on going to Mass, sitting in the back row of Holy Name. And as president of the Cook county board when the abortion issue started to claim all the Democrats when Richie sold out along with the others, rising above principle to embrace a womans right to choose George served his moral proclivities well by banning taxpayer abortions at Cook county hospital, taking whatever heat there was to take from his party.
Be it noted that his successor Richard Phelan, a one-time seminarian, who succeeded him implemented abortion services at Cook county hospital, marching in the St. Patricks Day parade arm-in-arm with Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who had a tendency to forget such incidentals. And be it recorded that John Stroger, good Catholic and parishioner of St. Columbanus and friend of the Daleys kept abortion services on at Cook county proclaiming all the while how much the Church meant to him. He couldnt pronounce it very well with his slurring Arkansas accent and probably wouldnt have wanted to use the word even if he understood it, but he mastered the art of compartmentalization: the knack of calling yourself a Catholic, of receiving honors at the so-called Red Mass where his fellow hypocrite Catholics awarded him honors for the being the great Catholic lay lawyer he was and giving all due assistance to the poor to kill their progeny at public expense. . He is survived by a long line of egregious Roman Catholic hypocrites who dip their fingers in the holy water, bless themselves and say a Pater and an Ave as to warrant their pedigree of Irishmen and Catholics: Lisa Madigan and Danny Hynes and his father Tommy and Richie Daley and Maggie with their Irish mugs syruping for votes along with the black contingent such as Emil Jones oh why go into the litany, we know who they are even if the Archdiocese prefers not to single them out because the money and the clout they confer on the Church is very important, dont you know.
Anyhow John Stroger was the first black to join that august company of rising to the pinnacle and forgetting the moral verities while the media to make them feel better looked the other way and never brought up the contradiction. I visited him once when Orlando Jones, his nephew or whatever, who died in mysterious circumstances was his top aide: the two a symphony of confusion and mismanagement. Topped only by his son Todd. At least John had some political skills. Although I doubt he ever really ran anything because the county under his leadershipleadership hah! Thats a laughwas a heap of penny-ante and major corruption, tax hikes, ineptitude, a haven of waste, a disgrace.
But let it be said that John Stroger became the first black to share the honor and to preside over the pie. In a long line of hacks he was the first to integrate them and became the first black hack. Rest in peace, John. And if before the end you murmured a contrition you just may.
Of Eugene Sawyer whom I knew pretty well not as well as I knew John Stroger I always felt some sympathy. A man they called rightly mumbles he was similar to Stroger in inarticulation but he was a bland, decent soul and it is revelatory to have seen that ace Hispanic demagogue Luis Gutierrez on television feeling a pang of guilt for not giving Sawyer a chance. Instead the liberals like Jacky Grimshaw a beady-eyed operator with a superb sense of wrapping herself in the toga of civil rights being careful to watch out for Jacky all the while, who wanted to save her old job with Harold Washington favored Tim Evans who could make a decent speech but thats about all. Mumbles tried very hard and had a beatific smile. He was a kind of asterisk but a nice asterisk. Decent instincts although he never really understood how to make a buck in the private sector. But he had a kind of grace that even Harold Washington didnt have. He was outclassed by Washington and little Looie and the professional civil righter group around Looie destroyed him which paved the way for Richie. Watching Looie feel bad and have some guilt made me feel that Looie has some conscience which all in all is a great surprise knowing Looie. And which is quite edifying really.