An indoctrination into Illinois politics

Posted on 25 April 2013 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebLots of people know that Chicago is called the Windy City, but they think it’s because of real wind. Yes, there’s some of that; in fact, when I moved there way back in 1957, sports-car warnings were often posted on Lake Shore Drive.

But the real reason is the wind that blew from big mouths in the smoke-filled political back rooms of the city for years and years and years. And still does today …

I think of this now because I see that Robin Kelly has won a special election to replace former Second District Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in the U.S. House. If you follow Illinois’ always-fascinating politics, you know that he resigned in disgrace late last year during a federal investigation and pleaded guilty to bribery charges in February. His day in court awaits. Ms. Kelly hails from a south-of-Chicago suburb abutting the one where I lived for 17 years before coming to Dallas.

But for half a decade before the ’burbs, I lived in the heart of the city itself. The first knock on my new door after my late-summer move-in was from Phil Shapiro, who introduced himself as my Democratic precinct captain. How nice, I thought, with a naivety that young newcomers quickly lose in Chicago. He didn’t even ask if I was a Democrat.

He didn’t even care. What he asked was if I would register Republican and become a precinct election judge. He didn’t care what party I favored. This was a virtually all-Jewish, definitely all-Democratic neighborhood, so getting two Democratic judges was a piece of cake. But Republican? Problem. Yet, by. law there had to be two; the vote count had to show at least two straight-Republican ballots cast in every election. Phil’s only hope was to troll for “victims” among locally uncommitted new residents like me.

I respectfully declined, saying something about how I wasn’t even settled in yet and not ready to commit to such a responsible job, but admitting no party affiliation. Phil smiled and handed me his card, saying if I decided I could help him out, just give him a call. Before he left, he invited me to the precinct’s annual picnic the coming weekend.

Also before he left, he dropped a $5 bill on the little hallway table near my front door, which I didn’t even notice until quite a while later. If you go back that far, or follow what’s happened to U.S. money in the last 55-plus years, you’ll realize that $5 then was worth much, much more than it is today.

I went to the picnic and heard Precinct Captain Phil proudly introduce the day’s main speaker: “My cousin, Lieutenant Governor Sam Shapiro.” Sam served under Gov. Otto Kerner and finally got his big chance in 1968, when the top banana resigned to become a federal judge — later becoming a federal prisoner guilty of bribery, conspiracy and (of course) perjury.

Sam served as governor only briefly, losing his 1968 bid for election on his own to Richard Ogilvie, who a scant four years later lost his try for re-election to Dan Walker, who also wound up in federal prison for involvement in some savings and loan scandals. And so the wind blows in Illinois.

A friend who still lives in my old suburban town posts about Ms. Kelly: “Her record is clean, although some people object to the fact that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent several million dollars supporting her because she is, like him, trying to stop gun violence and opposing the NRA … I am hoping, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that this time the representative from the Second District might turn out to be a little bit of all right … ”

Postscript: I’m not a political person, but I do learn fast. I was in Illinois, so I kept Phil’s money. Later, I became an election judge on my own. Guess which party.

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