News & Politics » Politics

Inside the Challenge

by and

comment

"I don't give a damn about [McGovern] guidelines. We're going to select delegates the way we always have."
—Richard C. Daley to Chicago Ward Committeemen, Feb. 24, 1972

And select delegates Mayor Daley did. The way he always has. With impunity. The mayor said: "They wouldn't dare throw us out in Miami." But Miami dared. And Miami threw him out.

The Illinois Challenge very possibly could not have succeeded had it not been for Wayne W. Whalen. He grew up in rural Hanover, Ill., population 1232, now works as a corporation lawyer, talks quietly, and strikes us, in a word, as a political idealist, yet pragmatist, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. And, he has a good head. A very good head: he's a lawyer's lawyer. "Without him," a triumphant William Singer told us, "The Challenge could not have been done."

Yet to hear Wayne Whalen himself talk about the challenge, you'd think credit went mostly to the Challenge Delegates, to the 600 minority delegates at Miami, and to his wife Paula. His mild voice still has, two full weeks after the convention, a heroic lilt to it as he recounts their exploits."

"Inside of four days, 90% of the 3,000 delegates were spoken to by a Chicago Challenger. That means more than 40 people per challenger, the majority o them convincing delegates SOLELY ON THE MERITS OF THE CASE, without regard to presidential preference or any other consideration. you should have seen them. People like, say, Jackie Grimshaw, a school teacher, young, black, a political novice. She was amazing: her grasp of the very complicated issues, the way she did her work. She was assigned to Arkansas, to a delegation made up mostly of Southern whites. And she won them over. They had polled 26-1 against the Challenge when we started our work. Their final vote, thanks to Jakie Grimshaw, went 14-13 FOR." Then the 600 minority delegates:

"It was extraordinary—they perceived the problem, possibly because of personal experiences, they stood up, and led the fight. All but ten or twelve of the 600 Black or Latin American delegates voted to support the Challenge, many in defiance of the McGovern compromise efforts."

And last, Paula, obviously a partner in the deepest sense throughout, who among other things wrote a 30 page memo placed in the hands of doubting McGovernites, showing that in November against Nixon, McGovern would do, not just as well, but better in Illinois without Daley.

"Probably 95% of the delegates were more persuaded by its sheer bulk than its content. But, I assure you, the memo is substantial and sophisticated, a real contribution to the political scene. People have listened to it."

For Whalen, the Singer-Jackson triumph was also a triumph of democratic rules, "Democratic," he takes care to say, "with a small d." Rules that check the big man in politics and liberate the little man: the so-called McGovern rules, which, with Whalen's help, had risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of Chicago four years ago.

Whalen's accounts of the Challenge pretty much leave Whalen out of the picture. Other people—delegates, fellow lawyers, observes—fill it in, and the impression we get is that Whalen—along with a colleague, John R. Schmidt&8212;himself the mastermind of the challenge, the real giantkiller of the group. They speak of him as the "key man," the "one who really did it;" they laud his "tenacity—he never quits," his "magnificent thoroughness," His "coolness under fire," and especially his political shrewdness. All this the Challengers got when Ald. Singer asked Whalen to represent them in late March, after the March 21, 1972 primary, and they got it from a volunteer. No fees.

July 21. 93 degrees of unconditioned air in Whalen's 3rd floor Hyde Park apartment. Downstairs in the lobby are bicycles with toy license plates "Paula" and "Wayne." Upstairs the windows are open and all of us are drinking huge gin and tonics. Wayne and Paula have been recuperating from convention exhaustion: we're some of the first people they've seen since Miami.

I tell Whalen outright I'd like to do a "character piece," a man-in-the-news thing. He nods OK; it doesn't seem to affect him one way or the other. Paula, smiling a lot, is perhaps just more than a little proud.

Still, he doesn't talk about himself too much. He waxes warm when he quotes his father, giving advice in Wayen's last year of high school:

"Fifteen times my father told me if he told me once: there's going to be another war for sure. And for sure, you'll be in it just like everyone else from around here. You might as well go in as an officer. That way you stand a better chance of coming out."

This opinion sent Whalen to the Air Force Academy graduating in 1961. Then, to Omaha where he spent months underground tending an intercontinental ballistic missile, then to Northwestern Law.

We speak of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1969 and 1970 where Wayne won a double victory: a seat representing his native Hanover, and his wife. Then we settle on the Illinois Challenge.

Our main question to him: what should Chicago know about the Challenge and its long range effects? He gives three responses.

"First, Daley's delegate composition was a clear articulation that the Daley machine is racist and discriminatory. We got Daley on precisely the same grounds that Julian Bond had removed Lester Maddox in 1968. As I see it, Daley and Lester Maddox are in the same boat; on this score, there's no difference whatsoever between them."

"Second, the public saw the extent to which Daley, when confronted with a political problem, responds with force and violence. It was curious, the Daley people actually believed there was no violence. Even when we brought down the photographs to the Credentials Committee in Washington they would say, "What violence? There was no violence." But, of course, the didn't fool anybody."

"Then, last and most important, the response of the Daley machine to the legalities of the Challenge demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of the machine hierarchy and its decision-making process. From Chicago, to Washington and the Credentials committee and the Supreme Court, all the way to Miami, they made 25 or 30 major mistakes. With 17 or 18 lawyers working for them, the Organization seemed unable to make a right decision. The Challenge showed that Daley, confronted with a political problem such as this, can no longer bring the necessary intellectual forces to bear on it. They no longer know how to work with the rules, let alone within them. The conduct of this group of people in responding to the challenge demonstrated they are not fit to govern."

An example of Daley's democracy: Mrs. Marge Markin, a Latin woman who directed volunteers for Stevenson, sought to be slated for Nat. Convention delegate. Ward Committeemen refused to answer her letters or speak to her on the phone. One ward committee member, Mr. O'Brien, forced her to wait 2 hours outside his office where he sat alone, and then refused to see her.

Of course, with Judge Covelli on the case, the Illinois Challenge is far from over. Yet Whalen is serene about the confrontations that lie ahead: in his view, the Supreme Court has decided the matter. Why does Daley persist in aggravating the wounds he has suffered? Whalen sees this as the Daley machine's answer to street theatre, a purely melodramatic use of the courts to try to save face.

What about the Daley machine in five or ten years? "It will become increasingly weak and more conservative." It has about had it. Not because of the challenge, but because of what the challenge showed about the machine.

Later that evening. We've strolled several blocks through the heat of the night, cutting through alleys, to reach a backyard meeting of Hyde Park antiwar people. Sign up at the desk, put your name on your lapel. Candles on all the tables.

A young woman interrupts the music to announce the arrival of an awaited guest. Turns to Whalen, asks him to speak. He stands and begins, his head now and then brushing against an overhanging branch. he's about to give a brief factual account on the progress of the Challenge from its inception in April, about to run down his big three anti-Daley points, about tot talk of the triumph a the convention of democratic rules with a small d. he looks out at people with the same quiet, mild earnestness we've seen all night.

"Perhaps this 1972 Democratic Convention is what the founding fathers had in mind. If so, it's something this country has had to wait 200 years for. Looking back, I find it the most refreshing political experience of my life."

Refreshing. Even in the heat of this night, the word is right for Whalen, himself a refreshing figure in an often stifling political atmosphere."

Add a comment