CHICAGO, ROSTY'S KIND OF TOWN

It's the waiting, you keep thinking. That's what will wear on Congressman Danny Rostenkowski, at least until the cell door finally closes.

But I find it hard to understand all the frenzy. Sure, the government lawyers, all decked out in their nice, conservative suits, are bent on destroying him. But isn't that what government lawyers do for a living?

The real question is this: What has Rostenkowski been charged with doing that hasn't been public policy in Chicago for at least 100 years? Read the indictment. Even if it's entirely true, you can see that Rostenkowski has merely been engaging in the same honored practices of Chicago politicians that date from the fabled days of Mayor Big Bill Thompson, who once publicly declared that the King of England should go to hell.

Mayor Richard J. Daley once explained the general doctrine succinctly: "If you can't help your friends, who should you help? Your enemies?"

It is a social climate in which you press on and don't look back. Alderman Paddy Bauler once invited Herman Kogan, the book editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, to go to Germany with him for the first great beer festival following World War II.

Kogan, who was Jewish, demurred. He pointed out that the Nazi death camps had left him with a permanent aversion to vacations in the Fatherland.

"Oh, Herman," Alderman Bauler said, "can't you let bygones be bygones?"
There was the time when Mayor Daley gave one of his sons, then in his 20s, some city insurance business that was worth several million dollars. The do-gooders went berserk over this blatant display of favoritism.

Daley handled them the only way a politician from the old school should. He stood up before a crowded press conference and brayed with great dignity:

"Anyone who doesn't like it can kiss my mistletoe."
@rule:
@body:Congressman Danny's sins turn out to be nothing more than standard practice in Chicago. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a headline about "ghost payrollers" in a Chicago newspaper, I would never have to work another day.

There are a thousand stories about Chicago politics and what outside viewers deem to be corruption. Chicagoans pay no attention. Life goes on. Nothing changes.

Let me tell you about Alderman Vito Marzullo. He was virtually illiterate, but became such an expert on the arcane ways of Chicago politics that he was invited to Harvard to lecture on the subject. The lecture was an astonishing success. Marzullo proved more interesting to those Harvard undergraduates than Henry James or Herman Melville, guys who came from the Cambridge neighborhood.

Marzullo was the personification of the tough-talking, iron-fisted Chicago pol. He was short and squat and wore a perpetual scowl. He looked like he might be Danny DeVito's old man. I took to dropping by Marzullo's ward office on the southwest side of the city whenever I was low on material for a column. We got along famously. Marzullo never cared what I wrote. He was confident he was too powerful to be hurt. Besides, he loved seeing his name in print. His formal schooling consisted of just a few years in his native Italy, so the niceties of the English language never concerned him.

Marzullo never ducked a question. He always had an opinion, and it was almost always--by normal standards--outrageous.

One day, I asked him about the charges that Chicago police were brutalizing black citizens. "They only do it when they have to," Marzullo shot back.

He went on to explain why no amount of unfavorable newspaper stories could endanger his hold on the voters of his 25th Ward.

"You see," Marzullo shot at me in his broken accent, "I ain't got no 'axles' to grind. You could take all your news media and all the do-gooders in Chicago and move them into my 25th Ward. "You know what would happen? "On election day, we'd beat you 15 to 1."
Visiting Marzullo's ward office was like going to the lair of a bandit chieftain. Strange, exotic types kept filtering in and out. There was much whispering in corners. There was also the occasional burst of anger followed by wild threats of violence. Marzullo explained how he kept his troops in line.

"Who wants somebody working for him who ain't gonna fight for the policies of his leader?" Marzullo asked.

"If I'm the boss, and you don't do what I want, I fire you. What the hell's wrong with that?

"Time and again, the do-gooders want to make a federal case out of things. But the news media and the do-gooders don't run my 25th Ward. "Me. Vito Marzullo. That's who runs the 25th Ward, and on election day, everybody does what Vito Marzullo tells them."
At that time, the black population of Marzullo's political empire was a little more than 30 percent. But the blacks had absolutely no voice.

One night, a black group formed a delegation and went to see Marzullo in his office. Marzullo boasted about how it turned out:

"These guys come in to tell me they got demands to make. 'You got demands to make?' I say. 'Who's your precinct captain?'

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...