A while ago Channel 11's Chicago Tonight gave nine Republican mayoral candidates three minutes each to speak. The parade included a man in dark glasses proposing the creation of some kind of secret service to patrol the subways, a bungalow dweller who seems to think life would be better if the non-Aryan populations left town, a University of Chicago political science major, and a man who reminded public-television viewers that the mayor's office isn't nearly as powerful as the mass media.
That last point caught my attention, but not that of Chicago's Republican machinery.
"Dean Rosenberg isn't one of our three candidates," said Cook County Republican Party spokesman Bill Curry. In other words, Rosenberg was one of many names that the Republicans wanted off their primary ballot. At one time, there were 11 people vying for the Republican nomination. This stampede had nothing to do with party ideology and everything to do with the relatively easy rules. A Republican only needs 450 signatures to get on the ballot.
"The number of signatures is based on the number of votes cast in the last election's primary," Curry explained. "Because Ed Vrdolyak ran on the Solidarity Party last time, the Republican turnout was lower than usual. So this campaign's low requirement was like a casting call that drew all kinds of people off the street."
Chicago Republicans, who have enough trouble being taken seriously, weren't impressed with Dean Rosenberg.
"What he said before our screening committee was intelligent and articulate," said Curry. "But his agenda was not too specific and not within the realm of political reality. There are some down-and-dirty political considerations. How much money can you raise? What's your political base? I'm not sure but I think he's from New York. And I don't know that he's ever even voted in Chicago."
"That's misinformation," said Rosenberg, a 42-year-old Michigan native who says he's lived in Chicago for 12 years. "I've been registered at 111 E. Chestnut and I've been registered elsewhere. I've moved a terrific amount. Mainly, I've lived on the Gold Coast, but some time ago I decided to get out of the ivory tower. Since then, I've lived all over town--south side, west side, and most recently at the Lawson YMCA. Through my city residency plan, I've gotten to know some of the victims of our system's inequities. Of all the candidates, I have the best feeling for the underclass."
Why abandon the comforts of affluence in an effort to know all the people of this great city? "I lost my mind several years ago and this is a logical progression," he joked. The self-proclaimed "new Renaissance-type character" added that he hoped to stir the electorate with a campaign of "truth, goodness, and beauty."
"I can shoot my mouth off by talking to the news media but I'm better served by trying to project a certain image through film," explained Rosenberg, who says he helped finance Superman III. "Do you know what anticipatory resoluteness is? It has to do with why film, more than any other media, produces the strongest psychological effects. For instance, seeing a cigarette being smoked by Clark Gable makes people want to buy cigarettes. What I'd like to do is develop films that affect people on a positive basis and encourage tourism and foreign capital investment here. You see, my product is the city of Chicago."
Knowing that no revolution has ever been won on the phone, Rosenberg invited me to his champagne-and-caviar fund-raiser. "You really have to see my artwork. It's of a higher consciousness. I'm making an important artistic statement of vision for the city of Chicago."
Several days later, three friends and I were surprised to learn Rosenberg was mounting his assault on mainstream politics from inside an Oak Street shoe store. After handing over our coats, we mingled in a small crowd that increased by 25 percent when we arrived.
The lean, athletic candidate wore an understated gray-and-black sweatsuit ensemble. Dean Rosenberg has a thick head of graying black hair, a healthy complexion, and a telegenic smile. A middle-aged man who said he was leaving because a drunk was getting on his nerves told the candidate: "You'll never identify with all the Chicagoans but I want to see you be a man of the street." A woman with blue-tinted hair seemed equally impressed. A nurse wished Rosenberg well while her squat doctor friend said the mayor's office could be won only if Rosenberg learned to speak out of both sides of his mouth.
"I'm not a politician, I'm a leader," noted Rosenberg after taking me into a back room for a chat on a big black leather couch. I asked why he'd spoken on the phone about hundreds of volunteers when his campaign manager could count only six. "What?" he said, momentarily baffled. "Oh, he's not fully informed. He's just come on board. This week we're just starting to roll.
"My campaign is not a charade and you can quote me," he said. "And it's not just about winning but how you play the game. When Bernie Epton was running for mayor, there was a luncheon at the City Club where I asked how he'd promote the city internationally. That's not his area, but instead of just saying so, he gave me 50 percent of an answer. No one can do much better in this silly way we have of informing the people. You get 30 seconds to respond. It's either there or it isn't. That's not real. Let's get some truth, goodness, and beauty into the leadership instead of all this crap.
"I get fed up thinking about all the people who wish Daley's father would come back and put Chicago back in the 50s or 60s. That's Daleyvision, living in the past. What we ought to do is look to the future. We're going to be living in space colonies during our lifetimes."
Why isn't this vital message reaching the citizenry?
"I'm not a PR guy," Rosenberg said. "Do you want to handle my PR? I've got something to say but it'll be lost in a vacuum. It's like the artist who dies and finally gets recognized. He was working all those years in a vacuum. He didn't have his PR."
After finding my friends in a corner restaurant, we ran into a man who had been at the fund-raiser. He said he'd gone to the shoe store with the mistaken idea that Dean Rosenberg had something to say. "Maybe he's just trying to sell his artwork," he shrugged, adding that if he'd known earlier how easy it is to get into the Republican primary, he'd have run for mayor too.
Getting on the ballot, though, wasn't as easy as it appeared. The Republicans put a lot of time and money into challenging petitions. The legal battle cost Jon Silverstein, the University of Chicago student, his entire $500 campaign chest. So instead he joined forces with Rosenberg, who got kicked off the ballot because he couldn't prove that he met the residency requirement.
Bill Curry from the Cook County Republican office sounded a good deal more satisfied the second time we spoke. "Of the 11 original candidates, only 4 will be on the ballot. There's Holowinski [since dropped out], Sohn, Grutzmacher, and that perennial guy who wears the Scottish hat. I forget his name."