By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
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"We went underground," he said. "We wrote everything on sheets of paper and passed them back and forth. The judge was afraid the office was bugged."
"What happened to the notes after you were finished with them?" the prosecutor asked.
"The judge took them," Worsek said. "He tore them up, and then he flushed them down the toilet."
@body:You could never understand why Rostenkowski thinks the way he does about government unless you went to Chicago and spent some time in his Polish neighborhood around Damen, Division and North avenues.
Rostenkowski grew up in this predominantly Polish area of the city. His father reigned as the alderman for 20 years. So the young Rostenkowski was raised as a Polish prince, heir apparent to all the spoils the Democratic machine had to offer. His first job was as an assistant to his father in the ward office. He has never held a real job for pay outside politics.
He rose from being a gofer for his old man to being a prime golfing partner with the lobbyists for big corporations like General Electric. He has become a powerful deal maker. More than anyone except Ronald Reagan, Rostenkowski is responsible for the 1981 tax cut that decimated the middle class and comforted the very rich of this country.
He grew up in this grimy section of the city split by a grotesque, winding set of El tracks that leave the adjacent streets shrouded in perpetual shadow. It's too cold in winter, and you have to fight with your fists to preserve your parking spot on the street when it snows. It's too hot in summer. You are considered affluent if you have a window air conditioner in your bedroom. The great gathering places are the Busy Bee restaurant, the Luxor Baths and a dozen or so shot-and-a-beer taverns.
Danny Rostenkowski has been a member of Congress since 1958. By gradual steps, he has become increasingly arrogant, corpulent and bellicose. He is an underdog, but he will be hard to like when he comes to trial.
Because of the tax laws he helped to push through, American companies began firing people and building new plants overseas. This is the man who pretends to be a friend of the people? This is the same man who took all the money from the big horse-racing interests and then wrote new tax laws for them that saved their industry. But Congressman Danny is not likable. He is a big, noisy and arrogant man who drinks too much in public and gets noisier and more arrogant by the glass. Slip him enough drinks over lunch at Eli's Steak House on Chicago Avenue, and he'll tell you what it's like to deal with the Jews and the Shines back in Washington, D.C. Congressman Danny is the ultimate Polack. But right now, he's still on his feet, hiring new lawyers and spoiling for the ultimate showdown in a courtroom.
I have been to dozens of those quaint meetings of the Democratic party of Cook County in Chicago, where they always smiled upon "Congressman Danny."
Mayor Richard J. Daley, then an aging bull, and Rostenkowski, then a rising political star, circled each other respectfully.
I remember a meeting at which the Democratic ward bosses voted unanimously that Daley would once again be their candidate for mayor. That they actually held a vote was remarkable in itself. Who else would they vote for if not Daley?
That day, Rostenkowski celebrated by bounding to his feet and bellowing, "I don't think I'll see a man of Mayor Daley's caliber walk through my life again. I don't think any of us will."
Applause exploded through the crowd, which included at least 20 members of the Democratic machine destined to serve jail time in the future for stealing money.
Mayor Daley, red-faced and ebullient, bolted up from his chair to return Rostenkowski's salutation.
"I'm proud of Congressman Danny," Daley said in his flat, Chicago accent. "I've known him since he was a boy, and now he's one of the great leaders of the Congress. He makes me feel like I had some participation. I know he's going to go even further in politics, too."
And now Danny Rostenkowski has reached what might be the end of the line. It is the same bend in the road so many Chicago Democratic officeholders have reached over the years. One of these days, we may see television footage of "Congressman Danny" reporting to one of those minimum-security prisons where the inmates read books, play tennis and refrain from heavy lifting or drinking. For them, it's like going to the Betty Ford Clinic.
@body:But strange political ethics are not confined to Chicago. Politicians are like this all over. They are all warped in some way. Paul Powell was probably the most famous tightwad.
Powell served as Illinois secretary of state for many years before succumbing to a heart attack. He had spent most of his political career residing in a cheap hotel that sat across from the train station in Springfield, the Illinois state capital.
When they cleaned out Powell's hotel room, they found several shoeboxes on the floor of his closet. Upon opening these boxes, they were astonished to find them jam-packed with cash. The announced amount was $800,000. The search continued. Eventually, they found that Powell had hoarded more than $2 million.