Rostenkowski in Rare Form at Luncheon

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Allen Daily Herald Staff Writer

A C-Span crew rolled tape as 300 people packed in a banquet room gave a pair of standing ovations.

What made this scene so peculiar was the guest of honor: a former congressman making his first public-speaking appearance after being released from a federal prison for mail fraud.

But there Dan Rostenkowski stood, holding court at a luncheon sponsored by the City Club of Chicago. There, he rocked stiffly behind the podium like a man on stilts, using his distinct, hoarse voice to soothe the mostly Democratic audience with his ex-insider's view of the Washington power elite.

Rostenkowski did it by turning on the charm, joking about his incarceration, impersonating President Reagan, making an off-color joke about the shortage of white kids playing basketball and discarding questions he didn't like as if he was still in control.

In short, it was not the image of a struggling consultant who needs to land paying clients.

Even though he's been out of circulation for three years, he said he thinks the problem with Washington is that it now has two good leaders in President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but no obedient followers.

"I understand the Republican opposition (to Clinton's health program)," Rostenkowski said. "But to this day, I cannot understand the inflexibility and inaction of my fellow Democrats."

On the Republican side, Rostenkowski faulted the new members of Congress who seem all too ready to "lob bombs at those in power," including their own leader. …