Hillary Clinton’s latest outburst against Bernie Sanders gives me a chance to shatter one of my least favorite myths about Chicago politics—that popularity is linked to productivity or that only those who go along get things done.
No, no, not true. Though good luck getting anyone to believe that—especially here in Chicago, where going along to get along is a way of life.
First, a reminder about what Hillary said about Bernie this time around, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter:
“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
That’s even nastier than what she told Howard Stern a few weeks ago. You know, I’m no Sigmund Freud, but it sure looks like Hillary’s not about to get over that 2016 primary campaign anytime soon.
Her comments are so Chicago. Right up there with the notion that you have to put up with a little mayoral corruption if you want the trains to run on time.
This notion should have been disproved in 2006 during an especially corrupt moment in Mayor Daley’s fifth term, when the trains were also running late. So you might say Chicago got the worst of both worlds. Yet the voters overwhelmingly re-elected Daley anyway.
Back to Hillary’s comments. I hear variations on this theme all the time from mayoral supporters who are contemptuous of mayoral critics. They say things like:
“I’m so sick and tired of hearing him complaining . . .”
Or, “Why can’t he just shut up and get along?”
Or, as the first mayor Daley—Richard J.—once put it about council critics: “How many trees have they planted?”
Clinton is saying that being popular with other politicians is how you get things done. And that the reason Bernie can’t get things done is because no one likes him.
First of all, I’m not even sure that getting things done is all that great, if the thing that gets done is something you wouldn’t want in the first place. Like Donald Trump’s tax break for the rich.
Second, it’s inaccurate to say Bernie can’t get things done. He managed to move health care from the fringes of the left to the center, something neither the Clintons nor Obama could do.
And third, Sanders hasn’t been able to achieve his legislative goals—like national health care—because they’re too radical for the powers that be. Not because he’s unlikeable. Hell, Bernie couldn’t get them passed if he told jokes, juggled, and did his Richard Nixon impression.
Finally, if Sanders’s congressional colleagues don’t like him, it’s probably because he makes them look bad by criticizing the status quo.
I suppose his local equivalent is Scott Waguespack, alderman of the 32nd ward. For years, Waguespack had a reputation for being unlikable. I can’t tell you how many aldermen would tell me something like: “I know Scott’s your guy, but no one likes him, and he can’t get anything done.”
I disagreed on both fronts. For one thing, Scott is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in Chicago politics—eminently likable. For another, he got a lot of things done in the Daley and Emanuel years.
What he got done just wasn’t something that the mayor or his supporters wanted Waguespack to do.
He helped expose the wasteful and/or corrupt proposals that the mayor was ordering the council to pass, like Daley’s parking meter deal.
Not only did Waguespack vote against the parking meter deal, he produced estimates that showed we were selling a valuable asset for less than it was worth.
You know what he got for speaking the truth? The enmity of many of his colleagues, who hated him for making them look bad when they approved this rip-off.
Funny how things can change. In 2018, Waguespack had the foresight to endorse Lori Lightfoot in her long-shot race for mayor. This was back before even the experts predicted Lightfoot could win. Which shows you what the experts know.
Lightfoot repaid Waguespack by forcing his colleagues to elect him chairman of the finance committee—perhaps the most prestigious position in the City Council.
Recently Waguespack proposed a ban on foam to-go containers in Chicago restaurants.
If he’d done that back in the days of his unpopularity, Mayors Rahm or Daley would have ordered the aldermen to bury it in the rules committee.
Then if Rahm or Daley subsequently decided they needed the legislation to look like they were doing something for the environment, they would’ve had one of their favorite aldermanic apple polishers introduce a more watered-down version of the bill.
It would’ve passed, and the aldermanic apple polishers would’ve told me: “Told you, your guy can’t get anything done.”
Well, we’ll see if Waguespack’s alliance with Lightfoot can get the foam to-go container ban passed.
As to the issue of popularity, I called Waguespack to ask how he was getting along with the other aldermen since he became finance committee chair.
“I never thought I was that unpopular back in the days of Rahm and Daley—I tried to be nice to everyone,” Waguespack said. “But now that you mention it, there were some guys who might say hello to me when we passed in the hall. But they’d keep themselves at arm’s length if the mayor was around—because they feared that if Rahm saw them talking to me, they’d get reprimanded. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
I’m telling you—if Scott stays on Lori’s good side, pretty soon the other aldermen will name him Mr. Congeniality. v