Your political atrocity maven mined a mother lode selecting this year's winners of the Janie Awards for Putrid Politics. It was the year Mayor-for-life Richard M. Daley told us "everyone is concerned about apathy" and "the future is 15, 20, 30 years from now." It was the year he blamed Charles Barkley for Chicago street violence and defended his own less-than-vigorous participation in the 1990 governor's race by asking, "What else do you want me to do . . . unless I take my pants off?"
But that's just talk. Here are the deeds that won Janies this year. To each recipient goes a rhodium-plated statuette of our erstwhile mayor inscribed with her motto: "I never said that!"
Brains vs Braun
Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, who confessed to, then denied, writing a letter incriminating herself for "laundering" her mother's inheritance money, opened her U.S. Senate career brilliantly: she hyphenated her middle and last names for the first time. Thus the often ill-prepared senator gets to wait until the M people are called on the alphabetical roll, instead of the B people, so she can see how others vote and make fewer mistakes. That's a plus.
Many wondered why the Senate's first black woman did not show up for Nelson Mandela's visit here last summer, when politicians of every party, race, and gender were tripping over themselves to be seen with the greatest black hero since Martin Luther King. Turns out she has ties to Mandela's mortal enemy, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the murderous Zulu obstructionist aligned with South African white reactionaries. Her fiance/campaign manager Kgosie Matthews, the one with sex-harassment charges hanging over his head, is the son of Joseph Matthews, Buthelezi's chief of staff. Freedom now!
Alderman Edwin Eisendrath, who has been trying to get out of the City Council since he arrived, finally made it. Though his folks couldn't buy him a congressional seat, they did manage to purchase him a job as regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Mom headed Al Gore's presidential campaign in Illinois and Stepdad is a big giver to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, whence Bill Clinton sprang.)
There are those who criticize the appointment because Eddie's financial ties to big developers can only be severed surgically--and otherwise he has no housing experience. I, however, respond to those critics by noting that Edwin has been living in housing all his life.
Besides, Al Gore's "reinventing government" program calls for the abolition of HUD regional offices.
Cook County Board president Richard Phelan, a candidate for governor, passed out in his car while accompanied by Tribune political writer Tom Hardy. Fortunately he was not driving. Hardy learned it was an epileptic seizure and so reported it when Phelan was taken to the hospital. Phelan's official press release said he was being treated for fever, though it was his fifth seizure in five years.
Phelan's doctor told Hardy that the condition, for which Phelan has been on medication, was not dangerous unless the victim was driving or mountain climbing. Phelan is not known as a mountain climber, but on his driver's license renewal application he'd answered no to the question that asked if he had any conditions that would impair his driving.
In the subsequent stink, Phelan turned in his driver's license for six months. He then took to the airwaves, on a call-in show, no less, to tell us, "I don't think I lied."
He acknowledged, however, "If I had it to do again, I would answer yes." Then he went on to note "I didn't lie. I didn't maliciously state anything I knew to be untrue."
No wonder he made millions as a lawyer. I'm sure that when he reneged on his campaign promise not to raise taxes, he didn't think he'd lied. Not maliciously.
The Distinguished Gentleman
Soon after arriving in Congress, the Second District's Mel Reynolds was exposed as a chronic deadbeat whose history included an early bankruptcy, default on a student loan, a $14,000 default suit by IBM, and most recently a $51,000 suit by eight creditors. When confronted by Spy magazine writer Nina Burleigh, this class act three times pleaded with her not to write the story but instead to take a shot at First District Congressman Bobby Rush, who also had financial problems. Solidarity forever.
Rookie congressman Luis Gutierrez, defending the constitutionality of his bizarre new district, which is shaped like a pair of earmuffs with a Bill Clinton hairdo, proclaimed it to be "compact and contiguous."
Life of the Party
Gary LaPaille, state chairman of the Democratic Party, who sends out a press release or column note announcing every trip he makes to the toilet, shaved his mustache to give himself a more glamorous visage. His publicity-seeking antics reached the point where his sponsor, house speaker Mike Madigan, took him to the woodshed. LaPaille then announced that he will not seek reelection as state senator, and Madigan may yet dump him as party chairman. But LaPaille knows how to curry favor elsewhere: though he was the first party leader to suggest dumping Bill Clinton after the Gennifer Flowers episode last year, he atoned this year by giving his new child the middle name "Clinton."
42nd Ward Alderman Burt Natarus, ever on the alert for the next menace to society, hustled an ordinance through the City Council inflicting a $50 fine on kids caught cleaning car windshields in the hope of cadging a tip. As the Tribune's John McCarron noted, "If a kid has 50 bucks, what's he doing washing windshields?"
Alderman Bernard Stone, whose 50th Ward abuts Evanston at Howard Street, was shocked, shocked, shocked to find those nasty Evanstonians building a shopping mall across from his turf. Fearing for the life, limb, or traffic congestion of his constituents, Stone tapped the city coffers for $150,000 to build a three-block-long, two-foot-high steel barrier down the middle of Howard Street. We should not be shocked, shocked, shocked by Stone's loony idea, for he and Natarus are the council's Abbott and Costello. What astounds us is the fact that the city deemed this a fit way to put your tax dollars to work!
CHA CHA CHA
If you think our aldermen come up with loony ideas, consider the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). These civil libertarians came up with the notion of evicting from public housing the families of kids who were truant from school. Their logic says we will get more kids to go to school if we create more homelessness. Abbott and Costello, meet Curly, Moe, and Larry.
A precinct captain for Ninth Ward Alderman Robert Shaw, while on the witness stand in a criminal trial not related to an election, told the judge that he was carrying a lot of money around because Shaw had given him the cash to buy votes. Alderman Shaw, meet Ed Rollins.
The Big Barnyard
Alderman Ginger Rugai, whose 19th Ward includes lily-white Mount Greenwood, adamantly blocked the expansion of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Studies in that neighborhood, though it is one of the most successful programs in the history of Chicago education. Problem? Most of the students are of another dermal hue. Rugai vigorously denied that color was the issue and was supported by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who said, "It's not about race. . . . People don't want high schools and elementary schools around their communities."
The Daley Watch
Mayor-for-life Daley deserves a separate atrocity column and permanent possession of the Janie Award, but for the sake of brevity we skim only the cream, such as his plan to build 500 cul-de-sacs a year on city streets. This purportedly would prevent crime and drive-by shootings, not racial migration. But no one can find any evidence that dead-end streets prevent crime--sometimes they abet it.
Daley also stood 1,000 percent behind City Clerk Walter S. Kozubowski when they were running mates in 1991, though it was widely known that Koz was under federal investigation for corruption. Daley was shocked, shocked, shocked when the clerk was later indicted and convicted. He immediately nominated as a replacement one Tom Scorza, right out of the scandal-tainted U.S. Attorney's office. When questioned about his knowledge of sex and drug scandals relating to the El Rukn prosecution, Scorza spouted Phelanesque answers--those carefully convoluted statements so popular with lawyers who don't want to lie "maliciously." Scorza couldn't take the heat and got out of the kitchen.
But Daley's most compelling comment of the year came in a famed interview with Crain's Chicago Business, whose editorial board asked him to list his accomplishments in office.
He responded, "I don't know."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tony Griff.