Blago and Me; Machine Politics - a Strong Mix

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Blago and Me; Machine Politics - a Strong Mix


Byline: Gary Andres, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

While I never met Illinois Gov. Rod Blagovevich, I have witnessed the world in which he lives. I grew up in the rough-and-tumble culture of Chicago politics. They produce an anesthetizing political brew in the Windy City - drinking too much of it causes ethical numbness. So the ongoing melodrama surrounding Mr. Blagojevich brought back a number of memories, but not a lot of surprises.

Many unfamiliar with Illinois politics expressed shock or astonishment by sordid revelations concerning the process of filling the state's vacant U.S. Senate. I take a different view. Mr. Blagojevich's actions, while extreme and unseemly, are more understandable when viewed as part of the broader culture of machine politics in the United States - a dying ethic that mixes questionable actions with more redeeming traits like efficiency and responsiveness.

My earliest memories of machine politics in Chicago involved my grandfather. A German immigrant, he owned a small apartment building on the city's North Side, not far from Wrigley Field. Too much garbage and too few trash cans were constant challenges. My grandfather regularly noticed a friendly Irishman walking around the neighborhood who seemed to have a keen grasp on how to procure city services. Turns out he was a Chicago municipal employee but spent most of his time practicing politics as the local Democratic precinct captain. I can get you all the garbage cans you need, he told my grandfather. The only thing you have to do is promise me you and your wife vote Democrat and hand out some leaflets to your renters. Grandpa said no problem and he never lacked trash cans again (although I think he stealthily pulled the GOP lever those rare instances when a Republican's name was on the ballot).

Then there was the time in college I agreed to help a reform candidate running in Chicago's northwest side Humboldt Park neighborhood. The incumbent was an Irish politician with close ties to former Mayor Richard J. Daley (the father of the city's current mayor). We were dispatched to polling places before the voting officially started to make sure all the election machines were working properly. At one site, when we checked the back of the machine, the incumbent was ahead 250-0 even before the polls opened! Seems that the city workers in charge of that precinct decided to give the mayor's favorite candidate a little head start. …

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