The Harold News
No, we didn't think of him as a toady for a minute. We told David Canter he reminded us of a good old-fashioned country editor.
"Look," he'd growled, his voice full of old-fashioned country vinegar. "What you want to ask me is, am I in the mayor's hip pocket? So why don't you just ask me?"
Since he'd dared us to, we did. "Are you in the mayor's hip pocket?" we said. He said he wasn't--if he was, he wouldn't have run the Pat Quinn article. "Harold thinks if we don't give the guy too much press he's going to go away," Canter said.
Now it wouldn't have occurred to us in a month of Tuesdays to ask if David Canter was in the mayor's hip pocket. Here's a guy who's assistant to the commissioner of Streets and Sanitation, with an office on the seventh floor of City Hall. And every month he produces an eight-page newspaper, now called Chicago's Herald, that's dedicated to skinning the mayor's enemies alive and hailing every nuance of his fearless and visionary administration.
What a crude question.
But we put it to him. And that's when we called him an old-fashioned country editor. What we meant by that is, he's the kind of guy who says I print the truth as I see it and I see it pretty damned clear.
What's your paper's mission? we said. "Coverage of the Washington administration," he shot back. "If the daily press and anybody else covers the Washington administration and its accomplishments well, there'd be no need for it. The man's not getting a fair shake. He's turning the place upside down and it's not being covered.
"You take Mike Flannery. Mike Flannery is provocative. He reads something into everything the mayor does. He stirs things up. So does Jacobson. Mike Sneed--she thinks she's the mayor. [Steve] Neal I don't want to talk about. Definitely a second-rate journalist."
We'd called him to ask about the Pat Quinn article. Written by one "Clark Street," the Quinn piece, with accompanying editorial, rambles on for four of the September issue's eight pages. A keen researcher, "Street" relentlessly tracks every move Quinn has made since he did political organizing for Dan Walker in 1972. "He carries the fig-leaf of reform," says Canter's editorial. "It becomes clear, however, that his campaigns are little more than old-fashioned vendettas."
Canter had his own job under Walker, as legal counsel to the Department of Children and Family Services, and he told us he's known Quinn since the two of them worked to reelect Walker in 1976. Never liked him. Advised the mayor not to endorse him when Quinn ran for state treasurer last year.
"The next thing I know the man's in the Revenue Department. Washington never asked me."
Washington brought in Pat Quinn as revenue director last December, hailing him as an apostle of reform. Quinn lasted eight months and was dumped. Whereupon, "Street" reports, Quinn "lashed out in every direction," declaring city government a squalid thicket of self-interest and proposing, among other things, the creation of an office of city ombudsman that would have suited Quinn himself to a tee.
"The mayor was really against this story," Canter told us. "But I said we have to do something. Every time Quinn pops up at a press conference he sets the agenda."
David Canter--let's tell the truth about this--puts out a rag. But we like rags. The First Amendment was written to defend rags. Back then all newspapers were rags. You'd publish a rag to crucify your enemies and they'd publish one to crucify you.
And as rags go, Chicago's Herald is hard to beat. Its polemicists do their homework. It's full of facts. No wonder. Canter, who's 64, is an old pro. He used to coedit Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices with Don Rose. Before that he edited the Maroon at the University of Chicago. He and David Broder took turns as editor, the command depending on whether the campus liberals or the radicals had the upper hand at the moment.
Canter went to work for Streets and San in the spring of '85. In August of 1986 he came out with a newspaper. Why we publish said the headline to the statement of editorial purpose on page three. "The Washington term is supposed to be about excellence, raising standards, investing for the future, the regeneration of Chicago. What has happened is that the daily press and media appears to repudiate all four of these platforms."
The new paper had no name. Canter asked for suggestions, and a month later issue two appeared as Second Term. Reasonably enough, once Washington was reelected Second Term vanished.
Canter told us the mayor wondered what had happened to it.
"He said, When's the next paper coming out? I said, Harold, you've been elected to a second term. He said, We need a paper now more than ever before. I said, Harold, you've got a honeymoon with the press. He said, What honeymoon? They haven't done a goddamned thing. What about "Third Term"? I said, that's three years off."
Canter decided to give it to Mike Sneed in the first issue of his reincarnated clarion, and of course Sneed found out in advance. "Sneed hears the mayor's Daily Blat, the Second Term, which has basically been deader than a smelt since the mayoral election, is being resurrected to go after Sneed. It's edited by David Cantor, hizzoner's pal. . . . Just spell the name right, fellas."
Canter's daughter called Sneed and pointed out she didn't know how to spell his. The next time around, Sneed got at least that much right. "Dear Dave . . . Got your message. One of your newsboy distributors (is he also on the city payroll?) handed me a copy of Chicago's Herald, the paper you prepare and write on city time to boost your boss. . . . P.S. Memo to David Canter, the paper's editor: Even though you have the title of assistant Streets and San commissioner, everyone knows you busy yourself whacking the keys of your typewriter in City Hall under such noms de plume as Clark Street."
Canter fumed. His distributor's a 42-year-old man, Canter told us, and not a boy, and wasn't that a racial slur? And he pays him 50 bucks out of his own pocket. What's more, he pays the paper's bills out of his own pocket--breaking even through advertising. "I'm so damn busy on City Hall time!" Canter growled. "I'm in charge of real estate for Streets and Sanitation. And I edit their paper. I have to do all this at home. My wife thinks I'm crazy."
Plus he swears he isn't "Clark Street"--"he's someone who writes for me, a volunteer."
After August's Mike Sneed issue introduced Chicago's Herald, Canter told us he was hailed throughout the Hall for finally giving the lady what-for. He said the Quinn article has had like effect, bringing his way new and tantalizing revelations about the former revenue director. But he's not sure he'll print a second expose. Given that the mayor still wishes he'd just forget about Quinn; given that other enemies wait to be dealt with.
A major piece on one of them is now in the works. The author is "Foster Lane."
Good-bye Mr. Clinton
Next week, Pat Clinton begins new duties as a senior editor at Chicago magazine. This is good news for that magazine, and a cause for despair at the Reader, where Clinton for several years has been managing editor and our man to see if you are anyone who wants to write.
Clinton himself was one of the best writers the Reader's known, as well as its foremost teacher. His hand was almost always invisible: after he'd provided the most extensive counseling and, when necessary, reconstructive surgery, stories miraculously entered the world exactly as the authors had always intended. Even the novel he wrote us in weekly installments, The Catchall Chronicles, appeared under the name of Samuel Willis.
This was the yarn that began:
"There may be towns that time forgot, but Prosperity, Illinois, isn't one of them. There may be places where the past lurks the courthouse square unchallenged, where the lives that someone has already lived crop up again as little noticed as the dandelions in the spring or the reruns on television. There may be such places, but, as I said, Prosperity isn't one of them. Time remembers Prosperity, it keeps in touch in one of those one-sided correspondences that make you sad to see the mailman. 'Found work yet?' 'Seen a doctor about that pain?' and of course 'Lord, you're looking old.'"
Time visited the Reader this week, and led away Pat Clinton to something new. Now we have to get along without him, which is a perfect example of the kind of supreme exasperation all of us automatically looked to Clinton to straighten out.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.