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Journalism's Genteel Attack Dog/ Hard Targets/ Nobel Cause

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By Michael Miner

Richard Lindberg works Chicago letters at the margins--many of them. He's the author of eight published books, three in the last year alone--Quotable Chicago, The White Sox Encyclopedia, and The Armchair Companion to Chicago Sports, all of the stocking-stuffer school of literature. "I've lost interest in sports," he says now. Too much moneygrubbing. Now he's at work on a memoir so sensitive he wonders if he can bring himself to finish it.

Lindberg is a leader of the brie and chablis set. He's vice president and program chairman of the Society of Midland Authors, which meets in the Cliff Dwellers Club and gives awards each year for locally written fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's books. "I enjoy all the genteel things," he says.

He's also a founder of the less genteel Merry Gangsters Literary Society. And he lives by the words "Every good and excellent thing stands by the moment on the razor's edge of danger and must be fought for," the credo of one of the Chicago area's strangest publications, the Illinois Police and Sheriff's News. This two-fisted newspaper kicks ass and names names, and Lindberg's editor.

The Illinois Police and Sheriff's News is published by the Combined Counties Police Association, a Palatine-based union that claims a thousand members in Illinois. It's the voice of founder John Flood's war on crime, not to mention on the rival Fraternal Order of Police. If you ask Flood, the honor of the constabulary is under relentless siege by both organized crime and manipulating politicians, and in Lindberg he found the man to chronicle the struggle.

Lindberg came aboard in 1992, not long after helping J. Robert Nash publish the six-volume Encyclopedia of World Crime. Flood, who's president of the CCPA, had just read Lindberg's latest, Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption, From the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal. In Flood's view, it was the "the definitive book on the history of the Chicago Police Department."

The Illinois Police and Sheriff's News published sporadically until this year. Now it appears every two weeks, thanks to a reinvigorated staff that Flood describes as the synergy of "three unique people with my knowledgeable mind." Alongside Lindberg are Ray Hanania, who used to cover Chicago's City Hall for the Sun-Times, and Joseph Longmeyer, who once wrote for the Defender.

"Joe writes about collective bargaining, Ray has the Cicero beat, I do the mob stuff," Lindberg told me. "The comment we get most frequently about this paper is that we print the stuff nobody else wants to, dares to, or has the courage to. We're kind of like the attack dogs of journalism."

Lindberg himself is, at age 44, an unlikely attack dog--courtly, somber, reflective. The memoir he's working on, which he's calling The Whiskey Breakfast, is based on a collection of letters his father left behind in a suitcase when he died 11 years ago. "My father was a socialist who fled from Sweden to avoid the draft," Lindberg told me. "He was just a raving, intense, brooding, monolithic socialist of the World War I-Jack Reed generation. He had four wives, a heavy drinking problem. He put my half-brother in an orphanage when my brother was four years old. The spin on the book is going to be my being a red-diaper baby to a man who espoused all the noble virtues of the political left, who was a hypocrite in his way. He was a bigot against every ethnic group. The lefties of that generation were extremely intolerant people. They believed in collective bargaining, but they hated Jews, they hated Catholics, they hated blacks--they hated about everybody who wasn't Swedish or German or Protestant."

According to his son, Oscar Lindberg told Richard to leave the country to avoid the Vietnam war and righteously supported John Anderson for president in 1980 and Harold Washington for mayor in 1983. He also abandoned his family when Richard was two and eventually drank his construction business into ruin. Richard's parents had married because "my father was looking for a mother for the kid in the orphanage and my grandfather was looking for a husband for his spinster daughter." The grandfather was a carter who halted his wagon on a bridge over the Chicago River one morning in 1915 and began throwing down chicken crates, a desperate attempt to help the excursionists he saw floundering in the water around the capsized S.S. Eastland. More than 800 persons died below him.

Lindberg's mother, "always fearful of life," dressed him in "old-fashioned, out-of-style clothing" and raised him in Catholic, Republican Norwood Park. "Very few kids lived in divorced households. I was teased and picked on. I went to school where I was the class pariah. I turned inward. Without friends, I turned to Classics Illustrated comic books. I began reading voraciously, and I had an interest in history from my father. Out of all this is how I became a writer."

The Whiskey Breakfast will tell the story. "If I ever get it out," he says. It's his ninth book, but he's found out that this one's not going to be easy.

Hard Targets

"Rogue Chicago Cop's Name Surfaces in 3 Mob Hits"--that's this week's banner headline of the Illinois Police and Sheriff's News. In August a banner story began, "The 'Ed Vrdolyak' name weaves like rotten thread through a scenario of mobsters, reputed hitmen, sleazy political deals, wayward Chicago and County police, and crooked politicians." You get the drift. Richard Lindberg's paper trowels it on.

Founder John Flood picked the credo about the "razor's edge of danger." For more on Flood, boot up your computer. The Web site of the Illinois Police and Sheriff's News (www.ipsn.org) recalls the era when the late Richard Ogilvie, sheriff of Cook County and later governor of Illinois, "committed his regime to ending...the menacing vice [sic] grip of organized crime." The task required a "cadre of police officers who were above reproach--men of courage and sterling character." Wheeling cop John Flood was "one such man."

Blessed with "personal charisma," Flood launched Illinois' first "true police union" in 1968. Flood "was the pioneer and led the way." He was "a man for our times."

Then there's Joe Longmeyer.

As a kid in the 50s, Longmeyer was shipped to reform school for boosting cars. Among his classmates was Tony Spilotro, the future hit man who'd bite off more of Las Vegas than he could chew and wind up buried in an Indiana cornfield. "He was certainly not a good student," reminisces Longmeyer. By 1965 Longmeyer was a $125-a-week organizer/journalist for the Seafarers' union, which was waging "guerrilla war" with the Teamsters over union cabbies. The Teamsters were paying Spilotro $1,000 a week to pass out handbills.

When they ran into each other near Wells and Wacker the two proud alumni of the Moses Montefiore Special School hugged and found a bar. "We spent the next hour on 'Who shot who?' stuff, which was Spilotro's major topic of conversation," says Longmeyer. He asked Spilotro why the Teamsters were paying him so much money to do virtually nothing. "He said he'd done somebody a favor."

A few days earlier Jimmy Hoffa had summoned Longmeyer to a restaurant in Detroit. The Seafarers were in the process of persuading 12,000 Teamsters taxi drivers to switch unions, and Hoffa wasn't pleased. He asked Longmeyer to work for him. Longmeyer remembers how Hoffa put it: "If you're a friend of Hoffa's you don't have to worry, but if you're an enemy your safety can't be guaranteed."

Longmeyer said no. Fourteen months later a car blew up with Longmeyer in it. A series of 23 operations over the next three years saved his legs.

Ray Hanania wrote the piece on Vrdolyak. "I've known Vrdolyak for years," he says. In fact four years ago Vrdolyak got him a job in Cicero's city hall flacking for the new town president, Betty Loren-Maltese, who was so close to Vrdolyak he swore her in. "I started there thinking everything would be on the up-and-up," Hanania tells me. He was sure Loren-Maltese "was going to turn Cicero around," even though her dying husband Frank, the former town assessor, had just pleaded guilty to a gambling-conspiracy charge. "I didn't fashion her as some big mob princess, but after I saw 14 [FBI] subpoenas cross my desk about things she allegedly did I got concerned. It was no part of my agreement that I would go down with the ship."

So he confronted Loren-Maltese. "She got on the phone to Vrdolyak, and Vrdolyak ordered her to fire me." This spring the voters of Cicero saw fit to return Loren-Maltese to office. That was despite Hanania, who'd been working for her opponent.

Nobel Cause

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines was months old in 1993 when Jody Williams, the campaign's founder, came to Chicago to raise money. Fortunately for her, she found an advocate.

Today Prexy Nesbitt is dean of students at the Francis Parker School. Four years ago he was a program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. A native Chicagoan, he's lived a restless life, a lot of it in Africa.

"I worked for the Mozambique Liberation Front--Frelimo--when they were fighting the Portuguese government, helping to set up their school system," Nesbitt told me. (We know each other because I have a daughter at Parker.) "And later, from '87 to '91, at the request of President Chissano, I worked as a representative of the Mozambique government all over the United States marshaling support. It was during that time I made innumerable visits to Mozambique, and on one of those visits I was traveling in a rural area outside of Maputo, the capital, and a child who had just lost a leg to a land mine was put in my lap for a very difficult ride to the hospital.

"The little girl never made it. She died in my lap. And that was a real wake-up call to me on the whole issue of land mines. I think there are one and a half million land mines still in the ground in Mozambique, and the problem is people aren't sure where they are. Africa is the most mined continent in the world, and all my involvement in Africa has led to land mines. If the whole truth was to be told, about two years ago I went back as a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross and spoke to various conferences of African governments and African nongovernmental organizations, urging African governments to join the international campaign to ban land mines.

"I've been involved in this issue going way back to the 70s. But it was having that child die that really brought it home to me how dangerous they were, especially for children. She'd been on the way to school. Lots of land mines are deliberately laid on paths--like the paths to schools, the paths to wells, the paths to marketplaces."

If Mozambique had lived in peace after becoming independent in 1975, far fewer land mines would be buried in its soil today. But rebel officers supported by South Africa plunged the country into a state of chronic guerrilla war that continued into the 1990s. In Angola, another former Portuguese colony, the rebel army was openly financed by the United States and a more violent civil war followed independence. Land-mine opponents estimate that as many as ten million mines lie there.

Today the United States and China, a major exporter of land mines, are the two largest powers that refuse to sign the treaty Williams is promoting. The treaty would ban the manufacture, use, and even storage of all antipersonnel mines, including American "smart" mines that deactivate themselves 48 hours after they're planted. Washington thinks smart mines are militarily useful and major progress. It also insists that minefields are necessary along Korea's demilitarized zone to prevent an invasion from the north. Much of the media, including the Chicago Tribune, seconds Washington's position.

Far better than building relatively humane land mines, Nesbitt believes, would be eliminating them altogether. He said, "During the cold war we spawned and supported wars all over the third world where these weapons were used. Now one of the problems the third world faces is to clear these land mines. We have an obligation to get aboard this treaty and be in the forefront. It costs 25 cents to manufacture the bloody things but over a $1,000 each to clear them.

"I've been at so many international conferences--I was at one in Mozambique a year ago--and it's embarrassing to be a U.S. citizen where we represent a government that's so isolated on this question. Now with the former Soviet Union about to sign [the treaty], we stand with the one other big pariah nation in the world. China makes googobs of money, googobs of money."

When Jody Williams approached the MacArthur Foundation, Nesbitt swung it behind her. The foundation gave the land-mine coalition $120,000. And last month president Adele Simmons did even more: she showed up in hostile territory, publishing an op-ed essay in the Tribune that urged the U.S. to support a total ban.

News Bites

The Tribune ran a nice front-page piece last Friday about a cozy financial triangle involving the security firm of Bridgeport alderman Patrick Huels, a trucking company whose boss is an old Bridgeport buddy of the mayor, and the city whose money flowed through the latter to the former. Ray Gibson and Laurie Cohen were the reporters, and according to a tag at the end, "Tribune reporter Gary Washburn contributed to this article."

So did the Sun-Times, whose investigation had broken the Huels scandal the day before. The closest the Tribune came to acknowledging that it was a day late to the competition's party was the ungainly reference, "The payments to Huels' firm are the latest revelation in a controversy that had Daley on Thursday strongly criticizing his old ally."

Tribune headline, October 15: "French hardly notice arrival of Bulls, Jordan." Sun-Times headline, October 15: "MJ, Bulls take Paris by storm." o

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ray Hanania, Joseph Longmeyer, Richard Lindberg photo by Terri Wiley Popp.

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