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Super Sunday With Larry Bloom

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Alderman Larry Bloom, the mayoral candidate who cannot win, came to Ed Weil's third-floor Lakeview apartment for lunch on Super Bowl Sunday.

Weil, a lawyer, and his cohost Joshua Levin, another lawyer, offered cold cuts, coffee, and cakes. About 35 people attended, many of them lawyers.

Bloom, also a lawyer, arrived on time but he didn't eat. He shook hands, exchanged chitchat, and sat in a chair in the middle of the living room. He took off his blue suit coat, rolled up his sleeves, and talked.

He talked for an hour, maybe more. He didn't use notes. He had no prepared text. He used words as effortlessly as a gifted tennis player controls his racket: never strident, never rushed, never out of control.

I get distressed about what is happening in this campaign, he told us. I get distressed by the voters who are making decisions based on dangerous reasons. To them, it doesn't matter what the candidates have done, or what they stand for--if this guy's black, they give him their vote.

And, frankly, I hear that talk on this side of town, too.

But what happens after this election? What happens to our city after we have elected a mayor exclusively on the issue of race? I remember conversations I had with Harold Washington, whom I supported. I told him: "Don't you think you should let up a little and compromise with the other side?"

And he said: "Larry, I got elected mayor for two reasons. I'm black, and I stand for something." In other words, being black--or being white--isn't good enough to be elected mayor. You have to stand for something. The city cannot survive if all we do is vote on race.

Then Bloom asked for questions. A fellow with curly hair asked about his proposal to put the public schools in receivership.

That proposal, Bloom said, is a suggestion of last resort. If higher salaries for teachers and reform legislation fail, then I would want the city to have standby authority to put the schools into an educational receivership. We would select a receivership team--consisting of personnel managers, business executives, educators, and parents--to assume authority over personnel, budget, and curriculum. It would be similar to the process by which we selected a team of the best and brightest architects, planners, and developers to build a world-class library.

One fellow--a black man, one of only three in the room--asked Bloom how he campaigns in the white ethnic wards, where the working-class voters don't realize how much they have in common with blacks.

I tell them the same things I tell black audiences, Bloom answered. Are you concerned about crime? Well, we have 500 officers sitting behind a desk instead of on the street because they have political sponsors who protect their desk jobs. Education and crime are issues that cross all racial and ethnic boundaries.

A yuppie--there's no other way to describe him--offered his thoughts on city workers. They are, he said, worthless and black, which makes them a little different than they were under Mayor Richard J. Daley, when they were worthless and white. Oh, and by the way, he concluded, what is your stand on the health-club tax?

I'll cut waste, Bloom promised. On issues of importance--like escalating health benefits and the prevailing wage--I'll stand up to the unions. As for the health-club tax, it's no longer an issue. (It had been enacted and then abandoned long ago.)

But Larry, the black man interjected, why cut health benefits? It's a moral issue. All of us should have full coverage.

I agree, Bloom said. We should have universal coverage. But that issue is far greater than our city. That's a national issue, one that cannot be addressed with the budget I will control as mayor.

Alderman Bloom, I interjected, is it fair to call all city workers worthless? Is it accurate to say they're all black?

Bloom shook his head. There are many good workers in city government, he said. And the work force is not all black. It's diverse, just like the city is diverse. If you live in an all-white area, and you visit City Hall, yes, you might be shocked. You will see blacks and Hispanics and Asians in City Hall. But diversity is healthy--that's the way it should be. And I am for affirmative action. I hope by the time I'm finished being mayor we won't need hiring goals, guidelines, or quotas, but right now we do.

And so he went until it was time for him to go, and someone in the back of the room asked the day's final question: how can you--a Hyde Park liberal--control those ruffians in the Chicago City Council?

Bloom smiled. Let me tell you a story, he began. On the night the City Council elected a mayor, I got a call from Alderman Terry Gabinski, who said: "Larry, I thought I'd never make this call. If you want to be mayor, we've got the votes."

I said: "Terry, how many of those votes are black? How many are Hispanic?"

He said: "None."

I said: "Terry, I can't do it."

I tell you that story to show that I can work with all the communities, that I can be a mayor for all the city.

I'll tell you another story. When Harold Washington was mayor, he had a bond issue that some of the white aldermen wouldn't pass. So Washington went to Cicero Avenue on the southwest side, and he walked down the street, and the shop owners came out, and they said: "Mr. Mayor, what are you doing here?" And Mayor Washington said: "I'm just looking at your crumbled streets, which I would have repaved if your alderman would vote for it."

And the next day that alderman was on the phone to the mayor saying: "Mayor Washington, are you trying to embarrass me?" And the mayor said: "Are you going to vote for my bond issue?" That bond issue passed, which proves that sometimes if you get intransigence from politicians, you go to the people. That's what I'm doing here--I'm going to the people. So I have one favor to ask you. If you think I'm the best, then spread the word. Tell your wife, or your husband, or your friends, or your family.

We hear so many people say: "Larry Bloom's the best candidate, but . . ." Or "Larry Bloom's the smartest candidate, but . . ." Or "Larry Bloom's the fairest candidate, but . . ."

Well, we have a saying in our campaign: "Get the but out." I'll tell you this: if all the people who say "but" vote for me, then Larry Bloom will be mayor.

And then he left, after which some of us gathered to exchange our thoughts.

Someone said that Bloom was more coherent than all the other Democratic candidates--none of whom could speak in complete sentences.

Someone else said he had a great future--maybe as a congressman or a federal judge.

We struggled for a while with other great issues. I said that school reform was meaningless unless the suburban school districts were opened to the poor.

Everyone agreed--I think.

Eventually, Joshua Levin reported that the hosts had collected about $500 in contributions for Bloom's candidacy--a remarkable amount, given that most of the donors figured Bloom would lose.

That reminded someone of the time a woman told Adlai Stevenson, then running for president against Eisenhower, that he could expect the votes of all intelligent people.

"Unfortunately, madam," Stevenson supposedly responded, "that won't be enough."

We laughed, and then agreed that Larry Bloom would be elected in a landslide--if only the rest of the electorate were as smart as us.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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