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Mr. Clean

A Campaign Journal

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The radio interview was supposed to be live for a half hour and now, as the candidate and his press secretary arrived, they were told it would be taped for an hour. It was too late to do anything about it. The panel of reporters was gathered, and the host of the program, Dick Ellsworth, was sitting behind the horseshoe desk just about ready to go. The extra time would put Tom Hynes behind at his next stop, the Polish National Alliance, but he showed no irritation.

"Do you want some coffee?" asked Ellsworth.

Instead of waiting for some to be brought, Hynes and his press secretary, Bob Benjamin, followed a technician along rubber-tiled hall to the coffee maker, then back to the studio, where Avis LaVelle, a WGN radio reporter, had joined Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times and Fred Biddle of the Tribune. All had microphones, which they tested for the control room.

"Today is the first day of spring, one-two-three-four-five," said Sweet, who covers politics in general and currently Hynes in particular.

"Tom Hynes, one-two-three-four-five," said Hynes.

"March twentieth, one-two-three-four-five," said Avis LaVelle.

A recorded introduction played over the speakers in the studio, important-sounding music followed by a sonorous voice that said Dateline 720 -- the program Hynes was appearing on -- featured an interview with a timely guest.

Dick Ellsworth in person said, "Our guest tonight" -- though it was really 10:30 in the morning -- "is Thomas C. Hynes, the Cook County assessor, who is running for mayor on the Chicago First ticket. I suppose the key question is, How can you win this race?"

"I think I am going to win this race," said Hynes. "I think people will look at the election and see there are only two people who can win . . . myself and Mayor Washington . . . and a significant share of Mayor Washington's support is soft."

"Is anyone going to drop out?" asked Ellsworth.

"I think it is possible," answered Hynes, adding that he felt he could win in any case.

"It can be done," he said.

No one really thinks it can be done. No one, thinks Tom Hynes can win a four-way race. His strategy from the beginning has been to drive out Vrdolyak, then get all of his voters and more -- all of the whites who voted for Bernard Epton in 1983, plus some who were appalled and frightened by him but aren't impressed with Washington either, and a good share of Hispanics, too.

It is a formidable task, but Hynes and his advisers thought he could accomplish it. It would be a matter of exposing his political and personal appeal to the public, displaying him as an acceptable alternative to Washington, and then using opinion polls to convince Vrdolyak his own situation was hopeless.

But time was short. The Chicago mayoral election is only six weeks to the day after the primary, from Tuesday, February 24 to Tuesday, April 7.

"TV is the game now," said Bob Benjamin. It was primary night, February 24, and the TV cameras were set up at Hynes's headquarters in a warehouse on West Kinzie. Benjamin was putting on a black blazer and getting ready to be interviewed by Joel Daly, normally a Channel Seven anchorman. TV anchorpeople, of course, would rather be in a studio anchoring, but there are so many news shows with so many anchor teams that if they were all allowed in the studios on election night, the sets, already centers of barely informed chatter, would resemble the Hollywood Squares, towers of babble.

"They send them out to get them out of their hair," said a television field producer.

Benjamin, who's not at all the anchorman type, didn't seem concerned about appearing on television. He cares little about clothes (he'd cut himself shaving, and now there was blood on his shirt collar) and wears suits with no particular sense of style, like a busboy wearing a tux. He grew up on the northwest side, went to the University of Illinois, worked as a reporter at United Press International through the 1960s, became the Chicago bureau chief, and eventually covered Washington. He came back to Chicago as a reporter for the Tribune, got bored, and in 1983 took a job as press secretary for Richard M. Daley when he ran for mayor. Last year he worked for Adlai Stevenson's doomed campaign for governor. As a newsman he was respected by his colleagues, as a press secretary he is trusted by newsmen.

By 10 o'clock Daly's interview with Benjamin, a live pickup, had been postponed by the studio several times.

"You might as well go with Five," Daly said, referring to Mary Laney, the Channel Five anchorwoman. She too had been standing by for a live pickup, but had been getting conflicting orders from the studio.

Hynes himself was at the Ambassador West, where he planned to stay until Washington or Byrne had clearly won. That wasn't a problem for the TV reporters: while they waited they could talk to Benjamin. But the newspaper people had an early deadline and they needed to grab some quotes from Hynes. Benjamin quietly arranged for Lynn Sweet and the Trib's Mitchell Locin to talk to him by phone.

It was another 45 minutes before Benjamin finally went on the air. Much of the time he spent standing next to Mary Laney, watching a small television monitor. Joe Pecor, Byrne's PR man, came on, complaining about slow returns from the black wards: "Where are the votes from the south side? From the west side? We heard it was a low turnout. Where are the votes?"

It was an item of faith among Washington's opponents that his monolithic political organization on the south and west sides would steal the votes they needed to win. But first they had to see the numbers from the white wards, so they were holding their own tallies, and making the necessary adjustments. That was the technique Mayor Richard J. Daley's organization was accused of employing for years, and Washington was raised in that organization, his opponents say. Do-good poll-watching groups, they claim, never get near some areas of the deep south side.

Vrdolyak, interviewed next on the little television, said Hynes "is a nice man but he doesn't belong" in the race for mayor.

Bob Benjamin and Mary Laney, side by side, made an interesting contrast: he tall and unfashionable with the face of an Iranian terrorist; she in designer clothes and carefully made up. They got another signal from the studio and Laney patted her hair and looked into the camera. "I'm going to call it studied optimism," she whispered to Benjamin. He nodded.

"Yes, Carol, there is studied optimism here . . ." said Laney, now on the air. "They are looking for a four-way race. He was in one before . . ." and then Laney recounted how Tom Hynes had been in a four-way race for president of the Illinois senate in 1976 and had won.

"We don't think there will be a four-way race," said Benjamin.

"Who's going to drop out?"

"Ed Vrdolyak," said Benjamin.

"He just said Hynes is a nice guy," said Laney.

"He's right," said Benjamin.

At 11:28 PM Tom Hynes and his wife and three of their four children arrived and stood to the side of the podium waiting for a television commercial to end.

"Everybody ready?" asked Bob Benjamin.

"Trib's rolling," said Mitchell Locin.

Tom Hynes started to walk to the lectern when suddenly Laney stepped in front of him. She asked him a question most others in the room could not hear. The whole show was being staged for television, and Hynes was certainly going to answer everyone's questions, but Laney was creating a role for herself -- the aggressive reporter, almost the master of ceremonies. Hynes, momentarily checked, politely put her off and proceeded to the podium.

Laney did not stop her performance, however. She began a loud narration, dominating the room: "OK. He's ready to make a statement . . . There's a roomful of reporters . . . and now the statement . . ."

Hynes, wearing a blue pin-striped suit, said the "next six weeks are crucial to the future of Chicago." He began answering questions. But then Laney was at it again, talking over everyone, giving a closing statement because her station was breaking away early. Hynes appeared unflustered and continued to answer questions.

In a way it was too bad Channel Five decided to break away. It would have been nice to see Mary Laney live at the conclusion, getting on stage with the Hynes family, like the guest host on Saturday Night Live, and joining them in a grand show-business finale of hugging and kissing.

Later, Hynes stood with his wife and Benjamin, watching a television. Jane Byrne was conceding defeat.

"It's quite gracious," he said.

Somebody asked if he thought he could have won the primary one-on-one against Washington.

"Yes," he said. "That's my frank opinion."

The sign on the door of the back room of the Hunt Club, Armitage and Racine, said, "Private Party, Tom Hynes, 5:00-7:00."

About 100 upscale people stood around -- the men in suits or blazers and gray flannels, the women in cocktail dresses, almost all with simple lines, never gaudy.

At the U-shaped bar a woman in a Bears T-shirt was serving free drinks, while waitresses moved about taking orders. There was food on a table, bunches of red, white, and blue balloons and "Hynes Mayor" and "Put Chicago First" posters on the walls. Any gathering, arranged with Hynes advance men has the same balloons and posters: Hynes has been in three county assessor campaigns and eight state senate races, and his people know how to organize.

It was the first Monday after the primary, March 2, and that morning's Sun- Times had given big play to a "confidential strategy memo" obtained by political editor Steve Neal from "Democratic" sources. The memo, by Hynes's chief researchers, Frank Kruesi and Trish King, said Hynes's campaign strategy should be to argue that Mayor Washington welcomed "divisive political struggles" and "makes a virtue out of his . . . refusal to work with all segments of the city."

Phil Krone, who buys airtime for Hynes and oversees production of his television commercials, said the story was probably leaked by Hynes people, since it got the campaign some publicity -- a front-page story -- on a normally slow news day. Krone said he had nothing to do with leaking the story, but whoever did no doubt picked the Sun-Times over the Tribune because the Tribune rarely prints local news on the front page.

"If it didn't happen in Afghanistan the Tribune wouldn't be interested," said Krone.

Tom Hynes had spent the days following the primary making made-for-TV public appearances -- shaking hands at el stops, visiting old ladies, talking to civic groups -- interspersed with announcements of who had endorsed him. In the first few days Hynes was endorsed by U.S. Representative William Lipinski, committeeman of the 23rd Ward; 47th Ward committeeman Edmund Kelly, and 43rd Ward committeeman Ann Stepan, among others. The endorsements were spread out to make news on different days, or on the early and late news shows on the same day.

Now, at the Hunt Club, Hynes was making another kind of appearance. The people here -- including Gary Fencik, a defensive back for the Chicago Bears, the owner of the Hunt Club, and a Republican -- were only potential backers. But if they liked Hynes and felt he had a chance to win, they might give him money. Besides, the club, with its woody, clubby decor, offered nice picture possibilities.

Hynes arrived at 5:35 PM to applause. He talked with Fencik, then was led through the crowd by one of the organizers, who introduced him to everyone there.

Every politician has a style of working crowds. The late Mayor Daley, at a wake, for instance, would wait politely in line to view the deceased and give condolences to the family. One by one everyone in the room would come up and shake his hand. He had an amazing memory for names, but often he would come across people he hadn't seen or thought of for years. So he had a rhythm to the way he would take your hand, look you in the eye, and smile. All this was buying time, while a mental rolodex turned to the right card. Then he would say, "Hello--" and the mental card would pop up, "--Dan, how are you?" He would go on like that for person after person, in the same deliberate rhythm: "Hello, Bill, how are you?" . . . "Hello, John, nice to see you again". . .

Hynes's style is pastoral, interested. He doesn't seem affectedly hearty, nor does he look beyond you, scanning the room for someone who can do him more good. He tilts his head slightly to the right and he listens. His handshake is firm and patient, and his palm is dry -- an important trait in a politician.

After going through the crowd Hynes stepped up on a low brick bench extending from a fireplace. A fire was burning.

"One of my opponents in the primary said I was so boring that if I gave a fireside chat the fire would go out," said Hynes. "I think this is a setup."

Candidates for public office repeat several times a day, with some variations, the same speech or set of remarks. Hynes keeps his short, especially if there is partying going on. The worst thing a candidate can do is talk too long in a saloon.

Hynes never speaks more than three minutes in those situations, and often less. The remarks he made at the Hunt Club, early in the campaign, are typical of those he would make throughout. Somewhat abbreviated, they follow.

"I'm 16 years in public office. . . . I believe my record is second to none. I'm proud of it, and I have put it up for public scrutiny.

"We have not had leadership in the city of Chicago. We need and deserve. . . . Everywhere I've gone I find people want change. . . . They are concerned about education. . . . They are concerned about business.

"We need a tight fiscal management so that every penny is collected. So we are not on the one hand raising taxes and on the other having $120 million in uncollected revenues.

"We need to solve the problems of crime but not by closing police stations.

"We need good old-fashioned hard work to run the city of Chicago, and diligence. I need your support and I ask for it. Five weeks from tomorrow, I will win and you will be proud you supported me."

After the Hunt Club speech he took some questions and his answers to them, too, are typical of answers he would give the rest of the campaign.

On Vrdolyak's withdrawal:

"I think he will not be in the race on April 7. I think I can win in any case. . . . The primary was a setback for Washington. A turnaround of 35,000 votes and he would have lost. We will increase registration."

On how he would handle a hostile City Council:

"There is a common ground on which people can meet. I have eight years' experience in the Illinois senate. The state legislature is a much more complex organization than the City Council. I worked well together with many different kinds of groups. After six years I ran for president of the senate against three others, one of whom was a senator from Chicago named Harold Washington. It took six weeks and 186 ballots but I won. After that I worked well together with some of those who opposed me and we got a lot of very good programs for the state of Illinois. We got there by reason and logic. Almost all elected officials want to get things done. You must find a way to work with them and there is a way."

On a city income tax:

"I am not for it, it is not needed. There is a minimum of $150 million in uncollected revenues in the city. We don't know how much. The records are in disarray, says the city comptroller. You need organized support to demand a fair share of revenue from the state and from the government. There are lots of things to do before raising taxes."

On Chicago public schools:

"Mayoral leadership is needed. Washington's position is that he has appointed good people, and he has. Munoz and Byrd are good men. But that alone will not do the job. We don't want politics to interfere, but we do want leadership. Active involvement but not interference. It is almost verbatim what Mayor Washington said four years ago."

On tax breaks for business:

"I would give tax breaks if the city can share in the profits."

A couple of nights after the Hunt Club affair, Hynes visited the Dubliners, at 105th and Western, a bar near his house. About 50 people were there for the monthly meeting of the Windy City Veterans' Association, a neighborhood group.

Some of the men in the bar wore uniforms, others parts of uniforms. One wore a black jacket that said "Our Prisoners Are Not Dead. They're Missing in Action." The wall behind the bar was loaded with pictures, several of Mayor Daley. There was a painting of Ronald Reagan as the Gipper, with the Golden Dome in the background. In big writing in the middle of the back bar it said "Pete McCarthy's Dubliners" over a poster that announced the Ninth Annual South-Side Irish Saint Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday, March 15. The Parade route would go right by the Dubliners.

These men called Hynes "Tommy" and said things like "All he has to do is get Vrdolyak out of there and we'll run away with it. Tommy's a smart guy."

The Bulls were playing Detroit on television and the sound was turned down during Hynes's short talk. He worked the crowd the same way as always, cocking his head slightly to one side as he was introduced to those he didn't know.

As Hynes left the bar, Michael Jordan hit a jumper, his 61st point, and the Bulls won in overtime.

Thomas C. Hynes was born in 1938, when his parents lived at 87th and Morgan. William Hynes and Kathleen Dowd were both born in County Galway, Ireland, and came to the south side of Chicago as teenagers. They met here and were married ten years later, in 1936. William worked in a factory and eventually became a foreman.

They had five children, all boys. Tom is the oldest; his brothers are Bill, 46, a businessman in Detroit; Bob, 42, a lawyer in Chicago; Tim, 40, a Chicago fireman; and Jack, 34, also an attorney in Chicago.

They grew up in Saint Kilian's parish, where Tom played a lot of baseball. He graduated from Saint Kilian's in 1952 and then went to Quigley Preparatory Seminary, intending to become a priest. In those days a Chicago diocesan priest studied five years at Quigley, followed by seven years at Mundelein. By his third year at Quigley Hynes decided he didn't have the vocation. A straight-A student, he was accepted at Loyola University after only three years of high school.

He got straight A's there, too, and then went to Loyola Law School where he finished first in his class in 1962. After law school he went into the Army for six months of' active duty, followed by five and a half years in the reserves.

While in college he met Judy Maher. They dated once or twice, and then after the Army they met again and were married in 1964. She is from the southwest side also and graduated from Saint Xavier College. They have four children, Leah, 22; Tom, 20; Dan, 18; and Matt, 16. The oldest three go to Notre Dame; Matt is a sophomore at Saint Ignatius High School.

Politics was not the career Hynes was preparing for. Although his father, who died two years ago at the age of 76, was interested in politics, he was never part of it.

"We were solid Democrats, though," said Hynes. "We'd talk politics, all of us, my brothers and I and my father, God rest his soul, and stay up till two or three in the morning debating social issues. My father didn't have the equivalent of a high school education but he was one of the brightest and most thoughtful men I ever met. He made a point of challenging us. I realize now, he played the devil's advocate in arguments at home, taking the opposite side of an issue just to stretch our minds."

Hynes passed out fliers for the neighborhood precinct in grade school and did not get involved again until graduate school. He came to realize he had a certain talent for organization while working for other candidates, and then in 1970 he decided to run himself.

The state senator from the district was Arthur R. (Ron) Swanson, who had been in office eight years and was chairman of the Municipality Committee. A Republican, he was considered unbeatable and it was not difficult for Hynes to get the Democratic nomination to run against him.

Hynes won and went into the senate in a unique year. The Republicans had controlled the senate for years, under the leadership of Russell Arrington of Evanston. But in 1970 the senate was redistricted, and the Democrats moved into a surprising 29-29 tie. Although Richard Ogilvie, the governor, was a Republican, Paul Simon, a Democrat, was lieutenant governor and presided over the senate, casting the tie-breaking vote. The Democrats thus controlled the senate, and Hynes was assigned to significant committees.

In 1976 Hynes won the senate presidency in the famous four-way race. He stayed in the senate only one more term. In 1978 Tom Tully, the Cook County assessor, unexpectedly decided not to run for reelection and Hynes, tired of long hours and separation from his family, decided to seek the job. He was elected in 1978, reelected in 1982 and again last November.

Hynes and Vrdolyak each wanted the other to drop out of the race -- if he was going to do it -- by 5 PM March 13, the last day a candidate could have his name removed from the ballot. After that, even if he withdrew, his name would still be there on election day, confusing voters and drawing votes.

As if to emphasize that he wasn't withdrawing, Hynes scheduled a press conference to begin March 13 at 5 PM, after the Board of Election Commissioners closed.

The campaign had heated up. Two stories had appeared in the Sun-Times, one saying that the law firm Hynes worked for had made $900,000 in government bond business since he joined it two years ago, the other saying the assessor's office was "packed with pals and neighbors" of Hynes from the 19th Ward. Hynes answered the first by saying he was not responsible for any business the firm might get with government agencies, and the second by saying that all the people from the 19th Ward -- something like 40 out of 400 in the office -- earned their pay. He said it was natural to hire people you trusted, if they could do the job.

But then Washington attacked Hynes for influence peddling and cronyism, and that gave Hynes an opportunity to go after Washington, reminding people of Washington's jail term for failure to file his federal income tax return and the suspension of his law license. Now today he would go after one of the mayor's fundraisers, Travis Bell, for failing to pay taxes on some Chicago slum property he'd once owned.

Bob Benjamin spent a lot of time on the phone on this day. The press secretary for Don Haider, the Republican candidate, started things off by saying that Hynes asked Haider to withdraw.

Throughout the day the Haider camp stuck to their story. Finally Benjamin pieced together this story, which he personally called to each news outlet:

For days Haider had been weighing whether or not to withdraw because the national Republican party, which promised him $300,000, had only given him $5,000. In the last two days Haider has turned for advice to his friend Frank Kruesi, a researcher for Hynes. Last night, a mutual friend of Hynes and Haider called Hynes and said Haider might be ready to withdraw and why didn't Hynes call him? This morning Hynes asked Haider if he was withdrawing, and Haider said no. Hynes wished him good luck and hung up. Hynes didn't want to say who the mutual friend was and Benjamin said he didn't know.

Benjamin called that "inoculating" the situation.

There is an annual pre-Saint Patrick's Day Mass and brunch held at Old Saint Patrick's, Desplaines and Adams. Many south-side Irish politicians attend before stepping off in the parade.

If it is an election year, candidates often show up, and so do the television cameras, shooting as the politicians go into church.

Ed Vrdolyak's office called and asked if cameras were going to be allowed inside the church. They were told no (mistakenly, it turned out), and they responded that Vrdolyak would attend Mass elsewhere.

Mayor Washington's office called and wanted to know why he had not been invited to the brunch. They were told no one was invited, reservations were taken on a first come, first serve basis. The mayor's office said he might come. They were told he would have a table at brunch if he showed up.

He didn't.

Tom Hynes arrived with his family, including his mother and his aunt, well before Mass started at 9:30, and before the television cameras. He was asked if he wanted to sit in the first row with the other VIPs.

He said no.

The Polish National Alliance is at 6038 N. Cicero, an expressway ride out from the WGN radio studios on Michigan Avenue. The party traveled in two cars, and the candidate and his press secretary talked in the backseat of one of them while daughter Leah made lunch plans over the mobile phone in the front seat.

"You never said you were not going to run, it's as simple as that, and anything else Vrdolyak says, he's lying," said Benjamin.

On the City Desk show, taped just before Dateline 720, Hynes was asked about his decision to run for mayor. Vrdolyak has claimed Hynes took himself out of the race, then jumped in three weeks after the November election.

Hynes says that Vrdolyak called him on the Monday after the election and asked him his plans. Since it was so soon after one campaign, Hynes says he was noncommittal, he hadn't made up his mind.

Two days later Vrdolyak announced he was running for mayor. Hynes said he did not call Hynes again before making the announcement. During the next two weeks, Hynes claims, he was bombarded with requests from other Democrats telling him to run, since Vrdolyak did not have a chance. Finally, he announced he would.

After Hynes spoke at the Polish National Alliance and they were driving back downtown, the talk turned to campaigning. Hynes said he liked getting among people, shaking hands.

"Really, dad?" asked Leah.

"I like that much better than holding meetings or something," said Hynes.

"I would like the detail work," said Leah. "The long-range planning."

At the Kinzie Street headquarters, Leah turned from the front seat and said, "We're going to get pizza."

"Good," said Hynes. "I'll meet you back here about 4:30. I've got some phone calls to make."

Hynes paused as he was about to leave the car. There was a radio report of Mayor Washington's explanation of why he had so many campaign funds with $1,500 limits and where the money went.

"That's bull," said Hynes, as he leaned over toward the radio. "If I said that they'd crucify me."

Then he walked toward the office for meetings and phone calls and Leah walked toward her cousin for pizza.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Paul Sequeria, Bill Stamets.

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