The faces of the village board members are frozen. No one has ever before suggested to them that they should have a minority contractor. This is not Chicago, after all, this is Northfield, an affluent North Shore suburb where blacks have made no inroads. And here sits Phil Krone, not only offering the board the name of a minority contractor, but also baldly telling them that they can’t expect any state subsidies to help them with their project. “You can’t expect the people at 63rd and Cottage to pay for your land acquisitions,” he says.
In fact the village of Northfield has no need for minority contractors, nor do the board members expect any state subsidies. These remarks are Krone’s way of setting the scene for himself, of letting the board know that he views them as Republican bumpkins while he is a sophisticated downtown-style liberal Democrat. He is at this meeting offer himself as a consultant, to help the village stop development of land owned by the Society of the Divine Word, an order of Catholic missionaries who are planning to build on open acreage that they have held in the northern suburbs for a century. The village board fears this development will burden the local infrastructure and add density in a town that has always valued its open spaces.
Krone keeps them laughing, often with jokes at their expense. They don’t know whether he is serious when he suggests that they can sue the Catholic Church; nor has it occurred to them that they might make a direct appeal to the pope. “You could go to the cardinal,” Krone says, “but he’s not really the boss of the fathers. You’d really need to go directly to the pope.” The issue to be put before the pope is a simple one: “The fathers held this land for all these years without paying a penny in taxes to the local towns, while the towns grew up around them. Now that the land is very valuable, they’re going to develop it and make a fortune at the expense of the local towns. Not a very Christian thing to do.”
Krone’s been invited here by Northfield village board president Richard M. Rieser Jr. to woo the board and present his credentials. He speaks knowledgeably about the problem–he has obviously done his homework–and he is clearly imaginative: it is unlikely that any of these people, in their long deliberations on the subject, have ever dreamed of some of the schemes he proposes. He speaks for about 20 minutes, then Rieser says, “Listen, Phil, it’s getting late”–it is past 10 PM. “These people are now convinced you’re a nice guy. But tell us some of the projects you’ve done, some names and places.”
Krone reels off a series of projects in which he has helped communities and/or developers. There is the current dispute in Marion, Illinois, in which he is assisting the owners of a shopping mall who want to prevent the construction of a competing mall nearby; there is the ongoing zoning battle in which Krone is representing a client who wants to build penthouses atop 229 E. Lake Shore Drive; there was the battle in the mid-80s over zoning for a high rise in Old Town, in which Krone convinced the developer to compromise to get what he wanted. All these cases, Krone points out, involve people who have to be convinced one way or the other–by political pressure, by lawsuit, by simple persuasion, or by some other means he can help find.
Rieser explains that Krone is really not a traditional public relations man, as he implied in his earlier introduction. “He is really a political strategist,” Rieser says, which is Krone’s opening to describe some of his political experience: how he helped County Assessor Tom Hynes become president of the state senate in 1977; how he worked in the campaigns of state senator Bill Marovitz and Attorney General Neil Hartigan, and in all the campaigns of Richard M. Daley; how he ran for office himself when he was only 21.
“What do you think are our chances of winning?” a sober-faced board member asks. Krone is now dead serious. “You can’t get it all,” he says, “but you can win part of it, a good enough part to make the fight worthwhile.”
The final question is fee. What will he charge for his services? Krone says his usual fee is about $500 an hour, but he will charge the board only $5,000 to advise them, develop strategies, and help put the strategies into action.
As we leave the meeting, I ask Krone whether he thinks the board will hire him. “They were pretty stony-faced,” I say.
Not at all, Krone replies, smiling. “They enjoyed me.” Of course they’ll hire him, he says.
And the next day, they do.
Krone says he was 12 when political life beckoned. The Democrats were meeting in Chicago to discuss the future of the party after their resounding defeat by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Harry Truman, who had just left the White House, was at the meeting, staying in the Blackstone Hotel. Eighth-grader Philip Krone called to request an interview with Truman for his school paper, the LeMoyne Star. Truman was giving no interviews to the regular press, but a kid from a grade-school newspaper was another story.
“He asked me what my favorite subjects were,” Krone recalls, “and explained that he liked talking to young people. ‘Besides,’ he said, ‘it’s aggravating all those reporters downstairs.'”
Krone asked Truman what he viewed as the biggest problem facing the country. “How we deal with the Negroes,” Truman told him. “The thing I’m proudest of in my presidency was ending segregation in the armed forces. That and the Marshall Plan will be the two things I’m remembered for if people still care about me,” he told Krone.
When the eighth-grade reporter reached the lobby of the hotel after his interview, Krone says, he was mobbed by the working press. “They weren’t interested in the substance of the interview, but the fact that I got it. I was hooked. That was politics.”
His first political fight came less than four years later, Krone says, when local Democrats tried to block his appointment as a U.S. Senate page. He’d been appointed by U.S. senator Paul Douglas, who’d spotted Krone as an up-and-coming young politician in 1954, when Krone worked his precinct for Douglas. Krone was 15 when he received the appointment, a junior at Lakeview High School. But he had temporarily worked for the Republicans. His mother, Carolyn Lurie Krone, was a secretary in the Chicago public schools and a longtime Democrat, but she had served as chairman of the 46th Ward Citizens for Merriam in the 1955 Chicago mayoral campaign that pitted Republican reform alderman Robert Merriam against the Democratic Party nominee, Richard J. Daley; this was the campaign that put Daley in the mayor’s seat for the first time. Krone worked his precinct for Merriam, and lost it by only eight votes. The Democrats, understandably, didn’t care much for the turncoat Krone family at that point. But Douglas prevailed and Krone went to Washington.
That 1954 Douglas campaign wasn’t the first that Krone worked in. He was stuffing envelopes and getting out the vote for the Democratic Party when he was 11. It was part of his Boy Scout training; he earned a merit badge by working for the Democrats in Adlai Stevenson’s first run for the presidency in 1952. When he received notification of his appointment as Senate page, he wrote to Stevenson, who had just lost his second bid for the presidency. Stevenson sent young Krone a telegram: “I’m glad one of us is making it to Washington.”
We are sitting in Krone’s bare-bones little office in the tenth-floor suite of one of his clients, Property Assessment Advisors, at 180 N. LaSalle. There is little evidence of paperwork being done here, or even of much personal presence. Krone does most of his work by phone–here, at home in the northern suburbs, or at a public phone, wherever he happens to be. His phone bill is $1,000 a month, he says. He carries his important papers in an old leather briefcase. He keeps everything else in a cluttered walk-in closet down the hall or in the backseat of his car, which is overflowing with papers of all kinds. A bookcase in his office holds a handful of books about politics, and on the walls are autographed photos of Hubert Humphrey (1957), Adlai Stevenson (1956), Paul Douglas (1955), and Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1962). Stevenson wrote on his picture, “For my dear young friend, Philip Krone, a veteran campaigner at 14–and if I am not elected it won’t be his fault.”
We are here in this office to conduct an interview, but as we speak Krone is also taking phone calls. One of them, the longest, is from Irv Kupcinet. Krone has nothing new for Kup today, except that his birthday is a few days hence. Hanging up, he tells me that Kup and Hanke Gratteau, of the Tribune’s “Inc.” column, call him regularly; he’s one of their inside sources.
Philip S. Krone, 48, educated at Haverford College near Philadelphia and at Roosevelt University in Chicago, has been called a political gadfly, an urbanologist, a “nice guy,” a political operative, a “man of great enthusiasm,” a flimflammer, an influence peddler, an “intelligent interpreter of politics,” a mystery, a headhunter, and a “man who knows his way around City Hall better than anyone else in this town.” He calls himself a political consultant, though by that he means that he consults with all manner of people about all manner of politics. On one day recently, he met with two real-estate developers, State’s Attorney Cecil Partee, County Assessor Tom Hynes, and a banker. He rarely earns any money nowadays at what most of us would call political consulting; rather he informally advises his many friends in the political arena. “I get calls from public officials every day asking for advice,” he says. “I don’t bill them. It’s much easier to just have a good positive relationship with them.”
Krone might best be described as a Renaissance man, a knight-errant who is paid handsomely by others for his access to the court. He is a man of world-class chutzpah, great daring, driving curiosity, deep religious convictions, striking cleverness, a good education, charming and sometimes biting wit, and long, extensive political associations. He has fashioned a life that few people understand because it does not conform to normal expectations; some people are jealous of him because he seems to do exactly what he wants to do when he wants to do it; some people are suspicious of him because he seems to be deeply involved in Chicago politics but never to be part of it. In fact Krone does sell political influence, but he sells a lot more, including worldwide connections and a quick, deeply intuitive mind that can advise politicians on one side and commercial interests on the other. One can hardly do business, let alone big business, in Chicago without political connections and a sophistication about how to use them. Krone sells those connections and that sophistication, but he never gets financially involved with his clients, he says, and he keeps his political convictions to himself. “I would never ask a public official to do anything that is inimical to his own interests.” In fact, he says, he has advised officials to vote against propositions that he personally favored.
Here’s what the Marion Daily Republican had to say about Krone after he made a gift of an American flag to the town of Marion, Illinois: “Philip Krone, a self-proclaimed ‘friend from Chicago’ who has taken some uncalled for vocal potshots at Marion’s leaders while wrapping himself symbolically in an American flag, is a modern day ‘hired gun’ who needs to be sent packing. . . . Is this man really a patriot or just after publicity for himself and his cause?”
Krone admits that his flag stunt–he presented the flag to a public hearing and invited the crowd to join him in the Pledge of Allegiance–was done to get publicity: not for himself, he says, but to prevent a new shopping mall from being built in Marion. But despite his best efforts to focus debate on the proposed mall, Krone himself has become the center of a war between his invisible client in Chicago, Heitman Financial Services, which owns a regional shopping mall 14 miles away, in Carbondale, and the proposed mall in Marion, which the local mayor promises will bring jobs and new investment to the town, where unemployment is estimated at 18 percent. Judging from my conversations with the folks in Marion, the Daily Republican and the mayor have done a good job of making Krone the town’s public enemy number one. (According to some, they’ve had considerable help from Krone himself.) But Krone is not daunted. He is only telling the truth about the defects of the deal the mayor wants to make, he says, and besides, he is getting paid very well. He’s even made some friends in Marion, though when he goes to visit them, he enters by the back door. “That mall, if it ever does get built, considering the problems, won’t get built for many years,” he predicts. He has the law on his side, he says–the mayor is planning to give the developers a tax deal that Krone insists is improper; Chicago attorneys Don Reuben and James Vogler, of Winston & Strawn, are challenging it in court.
The famed Reuben and Vogler and Krone are, for the record, representing a local businessman, though additional fees are being paid by Heitman. Krone insisted to Heitman that he could not accomplish anything in Marion unless he was representing a local businessman who was fighting the mall in his own interest. But he doesn’t seem to have fooled many people in Marion. To them, he and his lawyer friends are intruders from that sharp-dealing city up north.
In 1961, when Krone was 20 and a senior at Roosevelt University (he had transferred from Haverford because his father was dying of cancer), he was offered a job with the Better Government Association as a research associate. In that capacity he helped to redraw electoral maps for Illinois and to document waste at the Metropolitan Sanitary District. After being away at college, he again became involved in Democratic Party politics. “I began to be very upset with the Democrats,” he says. “They were not open to change. There was not a handful of elected officials who weren’t controlled by the Machine. I try to be motivated by a sense of justice, though I may not always be on target, but there seemed to be no place to go with the Democrats.” He was attracted by several Republicans who he believed were more independent, more attuned to his own beliefs–Charles Percy, for example, who like Krone was a Christian Scientist. In 1962, Krone switched to the Republican Party. “I was a Stevenson-Douglas liberal using the Republican Party as a refuge from monolithic Machine politics,” he says. He doesn’t say so, but it becomes clear that he also saw the possibility of being slated to run for office in the Republican Party, an opportunity he’d not had with the Democrats.
He left the BGA to work in Elroy Sandquist’s campaign for judge, a race lost by 50,000 votes (though another of the young Republicans Krone admired, Richard Ogilvie, won his race for sheriff). In 1963, shortly before his 22nd birthday, Krone ran for alderman of the 46th Ward. He was endorsed by the Independent Voters of Illinois, but the local Republicans put up a candidate against him in the primary. He was not one of them. He missed the runoff by 1,400 votes.
When Percy ran against Krone’s old hero, Paul Douglas, in 1966, Krone worked for him but, in the privacy of the voting booth, he had to vote for Douglas, he says.
In 1970 Krone ran for state representative in a three-way Republican primary. He lost by 151 votes. “The race was stolen from me. I had proof. I was putting out a more liberal line than the other Republicans.”
In 1972, when Democrat Dan Walker won his bid for governor, Lieutenant Governor Neil Hartigan, who had known Krone in the Democratic Party, asked him to help in the transition. “I didn’t think it would harm me politically if I helped Hartigan,” he says, but in fact the Republicans assumed that he had switched parties again.
In 1973, Peter Granata, a state representative and Republican Party committeeman from the First Ward, died. Under a relatively new state law, the party committeemen from his legislative district were empowered to choose a successor to fill out his term. Krone was appointed First Ward committeeman, then voted with the other committeemen in the district to appoint himself Granata’s replacement in Springfield. But he served only three weeks, forced out by opponents who accused him, among other things, of not living in the district. Krone maintains that he did in fact meet the residence requirements. “The Mafia and the right-wing Republicans joined forces to get me out. And the Walker Democrats didn’t want any Republican in there. There was a big hassle in which each group offered to seat me in exchange for my vote.”
Though Krone was appointed First Ward committeeman by county Republican Chairman Edmund J. Kucharski–evidently in an effort to get some new talent into the party leadership–he was clearly regarded skeptically by some other Republicans. The staunchly Republican Tribune described him as “an antic gadfly who is extremely unpopular in the party and who would have difficulty in getting elected even in a strongly Republican legislative district.” The Tribune accused Krone of having virtually appointed himself to the office. After three weeks as a state rep, and just before a House subcommittee unanimously rejected his legislative appointment, Krone resigned his seat. “Mr. Speaker,” he recalls saying, “I never believed that my maiden speech would be my farewell address.”
“This was the low point in my life,” Krone says. “I felt very hurt. I had done a lot for the Republicans. But it turned out that it may have been for the better. There was no longer any reason to stay in the Republican Party, so I switched back to the Democrats. But to this day, I believe there are good people in both parties. I don’t judge people purely on party affiliation, though there are times when you just support the team. Politics is an unbelievably close profession. If you need access to someone in another party, you can get it easily.”
By 1974, Krone was through running for office. The disappointments were great, and besides, the year before he had married a beautiful Eastern Airlines flight attendant, Joan Powell, descended from George Washington’s family. They were planning a family. He might run for office again when his son is grown, Krone says, but right now he is not willing to give the endless time political office takes. “Besides,” he says, “somebody has to do the job of molding public opinion. We’re so hung up on winning that we avoid that crucial job. Running for office isn’t what it used to be. People don’t run on what they believe but instead they hire people to decide what they should say.” He doesn’t seem to mind that he is one of those people who tell candidates what to say. Indeed, he seems to pride himself on finding candidates, encouraging people to run for office. “I’ve been disturbed all my life by the way officials are elected. Shouldn’t there be a process by which we choose instead of waiting until someone wants to run? I’m not knocking ambition, but being willing to serve is different than wanting to run. Some of our candidates are obsessed with ambition.
“Many people think I have more influence than some public officials,” he adds.
Right now, Krone is committed to helping Neil Hartigan run for governor in 1990. Down the road, he would like to be an ambassador. “I doubt that anyone in Chicago has traveled more than I have,” he says, and he has a well-stamped passport that bears him out. In the meantime, he will continue to advise whoever wants to hire him, provided he wants to work for them.”My clients are my friends,” he says. “I won’t work for anyone I dislike.”
Since leaving the BGA in 1962, Krone has not held a nine-to-five job–couldn’t, he says. He has had about two dozen steady clients over the years, including several real-estate developers; Property Assessment Advisors, a tax-consulting firm; and the Chicago Development Council, a low-profile organization of major real-estate developers, bankers, and insurance companies. In addition he works on an occasional basis with many companies, including Evans, Inc., the furrier. He has steadily increased his income so that today he makes more than $100,000 a year, he says. That’s another reason he’s in no hurry to run for elected office–he doesn’t want to take the pay cut.
February ’88: It’s been about three months since Krone has agreed to be the subject of this article. Now he is going east for the New Hampshire primary and he’s invited me to come along. We fly to Philadelphia, then pick up a car to continue to New England. Driving over an interstate bridge near downtown Philadelphia, Krone points at the skyline. “See that statue of William Penn over there? That’s city hall. And that thing that now dwarfs it is Liberty Place, Helmut Jahn’s contribution to the cityscape. The tallest building in the city. A desecration.”
On our drive north, Krone talks about his dedication to Christian Science; he learned it from his mother, who converted to it on the example of her sister. Her grandfather, Osher Gerson Lurie, had been chief rabbi of Poland. Krone says that Christian Science is a mainstay of his life, that every day, sometimes several times a day, he does what he calls “metaphysical work,” what we might call meditation.
Driving into Boston about lunchtime, we decide to eat at the Union Oyster House, one of the nation’s oldest restaurants. Krone negotiates the noonday traffic in downtown Boston skillfully, as though this were his hometown. After lunch, he takes me to Back Bay to see an apartment complex that he offers as a model of urban redevelopment, a long, attractive, poured-concrete low-rise building on a business street with shops on the ground floor–the modern equivalent of the apartments-above-storefront buildings that were common in northeastern and midwestern cities before the demolition crews arrived in the 60s. “This is the perfect scale for city living,” Krone says. “Urban scale” is one of his urgent enthusiasms. He mentions it frequently, pointing out how this or that development is the wrong scale, how Paris is the perfect scale.
From Boston we drive to Peabody, Massachusetts, where Krone is scheduled to meet with W. Albert Ellis, who has real-estate developments all over the country. Krone represents him in Chicago in his dealings with the city over the restoration of the Uptown Theatre at Broadway and Lawrence, the largest movie house in the city, shuttered for many years. Ellis has an option to buy the theater. The long-term plan is to acquire land alongside the Uptown to build an arts complex. The problem is parking facilities for the theater complex: until the land for them is acquired, the deal can’t move forward. Krone reports to Ellis on his progress with zoning changes and arranging for a land purchase.
Krone has something else to discuss with Ellis. Ellis comes from old Massachusetts money; he’s a Dartmouth graduate and has four kids adopted when he married his wife, who had been widowed. In his mid-40s, he is tall, handsome in the Kennedy mold, a good speaker. And he is independently wealthy. In short, he has all the qualifications for public office, and Krone is urging him to run. It’s a subject, one gathers, that they’ve discussed many times.
Then it’s on to New Hampshire. By the time we pull in to Manchester, it’s already ten o’clock on the night of the election, and the various Democratic campaign offices are pretty deserted. We go first to Jackson headquarters, where Krone chats for a while with Jackson campaign manager Gerald Austin and other staffers. Then we go to the headquarters of Paul Simon, whose volunteers all seem to be in their 20s–it looks like a rerun of 1968. Krone chats with a few young people; there are no officials left. Gradually it dawns on me that he has no appointments. There’s an election going on, and he just has to be here.
The next evening, back in Philadelphia, he takes Wayne Harris to dinner at his favorite restaurant in that city, the Garden. Harris is the administrative assistant to Philadelphia City Councilwoman Joan Specter. He is 25 and is planning to run for office one of these days. He may run as a Republican because that might enable him to win more easily, but his political views reflect the left wing of the Democratic Party. Krone met him on a plane returning from Spain. He started talking with Harris, feeling him out about Philadelphia politics, and soon enough he adopted him as a political protege, offering to advise him when it comes time to run. Krone is miffed that Harris has not done the homework he assigned him. “Read,” he says, “read the records. If you’re serious about this, you have to do those things.”
The next morning, Krone goes to a meeting of Philadelphia’s city council. Harris introduces him around. Now Krone knows a few of the players in Philly; he just may want to do some business in this town.
Later that morning, I introduce Krone to Chuck Stone, city editor and columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News and a professor at the University of Delaware, an old friend who was editor of the Chicago Defender in the 60s. Stone is prominent among American blacks, and Krone has heard about him for years. They talk amiably, animatedly for a while. Stone blasts the performance of Philadelphia’s current mayor, Wilson Goode. Krone says, “Why don’t you run for mayor?” Stone laughs. “You’re not the first one to suggest that idea,” he says. “Well, I would help you,” Krone offers, and Stone agrees that if he ever decides to make that run, he’ll call.
That afternoon, Krone has lunch with Harvey Glickman, one of his old professors at Haverford College. They talk about African politics, Glickman’s specialty. “You’re getting ready to retire,” Krone says, “why don’t you try for an ambassadorship? I can help you.” This is the fourth man in three days whom Krone has offered to help gain public office. He says, “I don’t know whether I do it for their sake or mine.”
Waiting to board a plane, Krone tells me the story of how he hired a guide to lead him and his son on a two-hour camel ride across the desert from the pyramids to the Saqqara; the ride left him with sorry sores on his behind for days. This is one of many tales of travels abroad that Krone threads through his conversation; sometimes they are appropriate to the topic at hand, other times they’re simply asides, entertainment. This tale is the latter. As Krone speaks, I visualize him atop that camel in a sober black three-piece suit, white shirt, and colorful tie. In all our travels together, he has worn nothing else, as if he might at any time make a business contact for whom he should be properly dressed. Or perhaps this dress is part of a very correct persona. Krone wears no jewelry except a watch, rarely drinks, never smokes, and only occasionally swears; he opens doors for women and believes in masculine chivalry.
On the other hand, he occasionally cuts a flamboyant figure in a brightly checked jacket or a beige silk-weave suit tailored in Hong Kong. And he doesn’t hesitate to laugh loudly, calling attention to himself, in most public places. His boyish face, which sits atop an oversized body, somehow looks older than its 48 years, despite a roguish smile and longish wavy graying hair. His stance is erect, almost military, his chin jutting out and his hands stuck out at the sides as if he were balancing his paunchy body on a tightrope.
But while his stance is military, he has none of the look of a military man. He is always slightly awry. His tie is slightly crooked, the buttons on his shirt bulge, and though he has a reasonably extensive wardrobe, he never seems quite pressed. Whatever he is wearing–his Hong Kong suit, a cashmere overcoat, an English tweed car coat, a tweed sport coat, or a conservative three-piece suit–it all seems to have been put on in great haste, as though he intended to look well-dressed but had gotten waylaid by a phone call.
It is five days before the 1988 Illinois primary, and the Democrats are holding a fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency Hotel; all the party’s presidential candidates will speak. In the hour during which dinner is being served–from 7 to 8–Bruce DuMont is broadcasting his WBEZ radio show, Inside Politics, from the lobby outside the dining room. Krone is a regular on the show. Sitting beside Krone at the broadcast table is his 13-year-old son, James. Father and son are both wearing their Hong Kong silk-weave suits. James is obviously bored and restless. He doesn’t want to be here. His father bribed him: if he didn’t attend this event, he couldn’t go fishing in Wisconsin over the weekend with his friend. Asked why he forced James to attend tonight, Krone says, “It’s a better civics lesson than he could get in any classroom.” Asked why he thinks his father forced him to come, James says, “I think he wants me to be like him.” James doesn’t want to be like his father. He wants to be a lawyer. “I don’t want to be a politician because I wouldn’t want a whole country or even a whole state dependent on me. One person is enough.” His mother is a student at John Marshall Law School, hoping to go into environmental law.
Is James shy? “I’m not shy, but I’m not so much like him. Like we can be in Hong Kong or just about any country and he will see someone he knows from Springfield. He knows everybody.”
Later, having seen Krone chat with nearly every bigwig in attendance, a photographer suggests that he pose shaking hands with presidential contender Michael Dukakis. Krone demurs. “I don’t know him,” he says.
Krone describes how he sometimes meets people: “I would not hesitate, for instance, to write a note to someone whose apartment in Paris I had seen from the street and really admired. I’d write, ‘Forgive me for my forwardness, but I’m sure that I am expressing the thought of hundreds of others. I have seen your apartment from the street and have greatly admired it and would be honored to see it. Perhaps when I am in Paris next time, you would have lunch with me at your convenience.’ I’d write it in English, have it translated into French, and send both, with a PS saying, ‘My French is very limited. I had this translated. Please don’t get the idea that I’m fluent in French.’
“In the U.S.,” he goes on, “you can do this by political canvassing or phoning or writing about politics. You send a note beforehand explaining and asking for an appointment. The rich often feel they are being left out of decision making and welcome this opportunity to express their opinion.” He laughs at himself and then confesses that his son sometimes mimics him by saying: “Hi, I’m Phil Krone. This is my wife, Joan, and my son, James. Want to have lunch with us?”
We are lunching at the Cavendish Hotel in London with Sir Desmond Heap, a world-renowned expert in city planning and land use, and his wife, Adelene. Krone calls Heap regularly to ask advice for his real-estate clients on zoning matters. “Sir Desmond has never charged me a cent,” Krone says. He tried to get Heap to come to Chicago to review the city’s ancient zoning laws, but Heap refused. In his 80s, he is too old, he said, for such an exhausting job. Heap is a classic English eccentric. Throughout our long lunch, he entertains us with imitations of Sir John Gielgud, whom he saw the night before in the highly praised play Between Good Friends. Some of Heap’s impersonations of Gielgud go back 50 years.
Krone met Heap in 1965. Heap was lecturing at the University of Chicago, and after his last lecture Krone asked if he would like an architectural tour of the city. Heap was enthusiastic, Krone says, but had very little time. Krone picked him up at nine the next morning and gave him a tour on his way to the airport.
Despite his long relationship with Heap, Krone is still dazzled by the erudition and wit of his friend, with whom he lunches whenever he is in London or Heap is in Chicago. (Sir Desmond’s wife, Adelene, is apparently no longer dazzled. He does go on and on.) But under Heap’s glittering eccentricity there is clearly a very serious and learned man. Now that he is semiretired, he is trying to figure out ways to earn money. Krone makes suggestions, eggs him on in what sound like outrageous schemes.
Krone has introduced me to the Heaps as his Boswell, a habit he developed on our earlier trip to New England (though he often says simply “biographer”). He proposed this weeklong dash to London, Paris, and Oxford (a magazine in Chicago is paying my expenses) so I can meet some of his international connections. “I don’t only operate in the bowels of Chicago,” he said.
Richard J. Daley died December 20, 1976. A few weeks later, Thomas Hynes, then a state senator, decided to try to take advantage of the disarray that Daley’s death had caused in the Democratic Party: Hynes would run for president of the Illinois Senate, to widen his political scope and gain prestige in the party. He had competition–a Republican, the late Dr. David Shapiro, and Democrat Harold Washington, who had just been elected to the Senate. The Senate was soon stymied by this three-way race; 186 ballots were cast over a five-week period before there was a winner. The four blacks, backing Washington, were holding out for some good jobs for themselves. They were allied with a group of downstate Democrats called the “Crazy Eight.” There was “all kinds of maneuvering,” Krone says, and by the 13th ballot people were already saying, “This has gone too far. We need a new candidate.”
Krone was searching for ways to get the office for Hynes. “If you back down now,” he remembers telling him, “the Party’s over. There’s no leadership, no structure.” Then he had an idea. He said to Hynes, “The only thing you haven’t done is to tell everybody what they will get. Put out your roster, get people to have a stake. Tell them who will get a piece of the pie.” Krone was suggesting that Hynes reveal what committee assignments he would make if elected, rewarding those senators whose votes he needed.
“Time was running out,” he recalls. “It looked then like if Hynes wasn’t elected in the next day or two, the party would dump him and get a new candidate. He worked out his list. We called a press conference at 11 that night. It was packed, like a movie set. No one in Springfield ever remembered a press conference at 11 in the evening. Every reporter from Chicago and the other Illinois papers plus lots of the political folks were there.”
But not all the political folks were there, and Hynes needed to get the news to them quickly. “Springfield didn’t get the final editions of the Chicago papers, where Hynes’s news would appear. So we had one of Tom’s brothers fly down from Chicago with 100 copies of the Sun-Times and the Tribune. Then the problem was how to get them distributed. I took the papers to the blind vendor in the rotunda. I offered them to him free. I would buy all his three-stars and leave the finals for him to sell. He couldn’t see that I wasn’t your ordinary paper dealer. He didn’t quite know what was happening, but he could understand he would make money on the deal. By 10 AM they were all sold out. I hung around the newsstand to see the reactions. Some of those people were shocked. You should have seen Jack Merlo’s face when he discovered he would be made chairman of the transportation committee. He had just been elected to the Senate! It was pure politics–a clean prank with a little Machiavelli tossed in.”
The prank was described by Tribune political columnist Neil Mehler as “the boldest step in years–if not of all time.” But it failed to win the election for Hynes. Another 172 ballots were taken before Hynes finally made the concessions to the liberals and the blacks that won him the presidency a month later.
Krone had met Hynes in 1970, but came to know him better when he was working for Lieutenant Governor Hartigan in 1972. Hynes had just won his second term in the Senate; Hartigan, who had gone to Loyola University Law School with Hynes, thought he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. He suggested that Krone serve as Hynes’s public relations man, and Krone has worked for Hynes, and Hartigan, in all their subsequent campaigns for office, including Hynes’s unseemly run against Harold Washington in 1987. Hynes is now Cook County assessor. His job is to supervise real-estate assessments.
On our second day in London, we have a long lunch at the Pelican Restaurant with David Thomas, who has recently retired from the British foreign office. He was ambassador to Cuba and overseer of all of Britain’s embassies in North and South America. Krone is trying to interest him in working with him in international consulting. Thomas is enjoying his retirement but agrees to take on an occasional job if it pays well and doesn’t take too long. Krone is eager to expand his overseas connections and get more international clients. He quotes Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.” He says, “If you can deal with the Shillernistas you can deal with the Sandinistas.” (Shillernistas is Krone’s name for Uptown alderman Helen Shiller and her supporters, with whom he is in an ongoing battle on behalf of local real-estate developers.)
Krone met Thomas in the late 70s when John Heath, then the British consul general in Chicago, called and asked Krone to arrange some interviews with elected officials for Thomas. “He asked me to share my observations of Chicago politics with David. I met him and we hit it off. He asked a zillion questions that I tried to answer and I introduced him to Rich Daley and Tom Hynes and we’ve been friends ever since.” Thomas says, “I’ve got much more from Phil than I’ve given him. I’d do any favor he asked.”
Krone calls his 1988 red Nissan Sentra Helen, in honor of 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller, who in effect paid for the car by making life difficult for developers in her ward; several of them pay Krone high fees to make their lives easier. Krone calls himself “the developers’ Slim Coleman, without the knit cap.”
Coleman and Shiller have built a political base in Uptown among the poor, who live largely in substandard housing there. They have opposed a great many development proposals for the area, and their critics charge that they do so in order to protect that political base. Some in the community who have done low-income housing projects say that even when development is specifically designed for the poor, Shiller and Coleman attempt to control it.
For years, developers came into the ward and tore down low-income buildings to build new housing for the middle class, thinking they would make a bundle by starting a development boom. Generally they have lost their shirts instead, leaving empty lots behind. There is rancor in the community about that, but no one has a very clear idea of why it happened. Those who are inclined to side with the developers blame Coleman and Shiller’s attempts to control the terms of all development in the ward; those who are inclined to side with Coleman and Shiller point to the vacant lots as proof that developers can’t be trusted.
In any case, development has proceeded a bit more successfully recently. According to the Uptown-Chicago Commission, more than 2,000 units have been rehabbed by a handful of developers in the past four years, with Coleman and Shiller breathing down their necks all the time. Most of the development has taken place in Buena Park and Sheridan Park, two Uptown areas that were decreed historic landmark districts, thus providing the developers with handsome tax breaks. Several of the developers hired Krone to get the historic-district designations over the objections of Coleman and Shiller–historic designation is one of Krone’s specialties–and to deal with whatever other opposition the two could muster in the press or at City Hall.
Last year, Alderman Shiller attempted to control the fate of 17 Uptown lots that were to be sold in a scavenger sale by the county. One of Krone’s clients, Randall Langer, wanted the lots to go to public auction so that he could buy them. Shiller wanted the county to sell them in a noncash bid to the city so that another developer could build low-income housing on them. Shiller lost, and Langer bought the lots. Shiller’s colleague, attorney James Chapman, mounted a class-action suit to overturn the sale of the lots to Langer on the grounds that this was the only case in which the county had failed to honor the city’s request for such a deal. He lost. Krone says he offered to compromise with Shiller: Langer would take half the lots, she could have the rest. She turned him down; she wanted all of them. Years ago, Krone was involved in revising the scavenger-sale law. He had the contacts on the county board to ensure that those lots would go to public auction.
Krone showed me several letters to Shiller over Langer’s name proposing that they meet to discuss how they might work together. Krone says Shiller never replied to those requests. Shiller says, “I have every letter I’ve ever gotten from Randy Langer and I’ve responded to all of them,” though she could not produce any written responses to those invitations. She continues, “We actually had several meetings scheduled and [Langer] canceled all of them. The letters have gone back and forth. Langer himself has not been at all interested in a meeting with me. He has never said anything about it. Krone has also never said, ‘Let’s meet.’ His purpose is not to meet with me but to attack me. He’s a headhunter for Langer. I don’t know him personally. But he’s constantly in City Hall.”
Shiller describes meeting Krone in the City Council chambers one day. When he asked why she wouldn’t sit down and talk with him and Langer, she responded, she says, “I’m talking now.”
In addition to the nine historic districts Krone has put together, he has also written and gotten through the conservation agencies about 100 historic designations for individual structures. Though he has been paid for most of this work, he has done some of it gratis, he says, in the interest of saving for the city some of its valuable landmarks. The first district he did was his own, in 1975, preceding the law that granted tax incentives to developers and home owners who would rehab their historic properties. He had bought a couple of historic row houses in a beautiful but deteriorated block at 1500 West Jackson. The designation secured the block against demolition and, in time, ensured that it would be retained, if not restored to its 19th-century splendor. Krone sold one of the houses (without a profit, he says) and kept and restored the other. He lived in it until the neighborhood became too difficult for his wife and son. His son was entering third grade and it was cheaper to pay taxes in the suburbs than send him to the private school he had been attending. The Krones still own the house and he uses it occasionally when he works very late in town.
Krone insists that he would not do the work for a historic district if it did not serve a conservation purpose. In Sheridan Park, where I live, it is easy to spot the handful of old houses and buildings that deserve to be saved from the wrecking ball. One of them is the 1890s apartment building I live in, which has lovely terra-cotta trim. The whole area has a very distinctive turn-of-the-century flavor. Whether it deserves to be called a historic district, I’m not sure. That the designation enabled Randall Langer and other developers to renovate and restore more than 2,000 units there with the help of big tax credits I am sure. On balance, as a resident, I am glad that Krone had the know-how and the clout to bestow on this neighborhood the historic designation, even though it might be unlikely that any first-rate historian would consider it such. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see Krone’s clients get their hands on all of Uptown.
In 1968, the Edgewater Golf Course, at Pratt and Western, was threatened by developers. The Allied North Side Community Organization (ANSCO) was fighting to preserve the course as open land. The organization had been trying unsuccessfully to get the state or the city to acquire the land for a public park. Krone at the time was working to elect Richard Ogilvie as governor. He called Lily Venson, then a reporter for the Lerner newspapers who was supporting the community efforts in her columns. She remembers him being “very excited, very involved in the project.” Krone told Venson he could be helpful. She referred him to Harry Nachman, president of the Rogers Park Community Council, part of ANSCO. “I told Harry that if Ogilvie got elected, he should go to him to try to get the land acquired for a state park,” Krone recalls. In October, just before the election, Ogilvie spoke at the Bernard Horwich Center; Krone says he wrote the speech, in which Ogilvie pledged to save the golf course. Ogilvie was elected. Krone then got state representative Edward Copeland to sponsor a bill appropriating the first $950,000 for the purchase of the land. Over the next year and a half the state purchased 90 acres for $18 million, and Warren Park was created, including a small golf course, baseball fields, basketball courts, and walking and cycling paths. “That was one of my proudest achievements,” Krone says.
“Warren Park would never have happened if it hadn’t been for Phil Krone,” Harry Nachman says. “There were bulldozers on the property ready to tear it apart when I got a call from Phil asking if we would work with him to try to get a park there. The community organizations had been fighting the bulldozers for four years with no success. Step by step, he got Governor Ogilvie’s influence to bear on it and finally got it.”
“I would have run the 40-yard dash if I was chased by a lion, but there weren’t any lions around,” Krone says of his athletic prowess as a boy. “I would have made Eagle Scout at 12 if I had passed the physical fitness test, but it took me two years to do that. It was the toughest thing I ever did.” (He persevered and became an Eagle Scout at 14.) Early on, Krone says, he recognized that he couldn’t keep up with, let alone compete with, his athletic friends, some of whom were varsity players. But he made his own way with his intellect and his politics. He was senior class president at Lakeview High School, first vice president of the student council, and editorial editor of the school newspaper. His parents encouraged him. He was their only child and, while they weren’t wealthy–his father was an engineer for the city–they tried to give him every cultural advantage. One often gets the feeling with Krone that he is still trying to compete.
He cannot stay still. He is up early in the morning and is late to bed. Bill Daley, Mayor Daley’s brother and chief adviser and a longtime friend of Krone’s, says, “He has more energy than most of us. He just keeps going.” Krone seems never to have heard of messenger services. He runs all his own errands, almost as if he needs to stay on the run. Some errands are makework, like driving to Uptown from his home in the suburbs to bring me plane tickets that he could have handed me when he picked me up to go to the airport.
He does not attend all the parties he’s invited to, he says, but he attends every political gathering where he feels it’s important to be seen, even when he has no apparent business there. His business, it seems, is merely to be there and make conversation; he is well aware that his conversation is endlessly witty and entertaining as well as being politically knowledgeable.
Beyond the political value of these appearances, Krone also seems to be driven by a compulsive gregariousness–almost a madcap need for company, for people to hear his many stories and share his enthusiasms (though he can be a good and sympathetic listener, too). He prides himself on knowing “everybody who is anybody” in Chicago in politics, in the arts, in the city’s establishment, but he insists that he does not exploit his contacts, and I saw no evidence to the contrary over an 18-month period during which I spent a good deal of time with him in many situations. Of course he hopes some of his acquaintances will want to hire him when they need a clever consultant, but he seems mostly to simply enjoy this huge roster of people he can call friends.
One of his friends is an elderly woman whom he often takes to dinner or to a concert as a special kindness. He also deals with tradespeople for her and helps her with practical matters. Speaking of Krone’s kindness, Bill Daley recalls with obvious gratitude his regular visits to Daley and his wife when their small son was dying. “Phil is an extraordinarily kind and generous man,” Daley says.
On the sensational night of December 1-2, 1987, when Eugene Sawyer was elected acting mayor of Chicago, Krone was, by his own report, on the phone with half a dozen aldermen from his home in the suburbs. “I finally told them at nine o’clock, ‘You’re going to have to go with Sawyer, because if it gets postponed because you can’t come to a decision, Evans will be elected on Friday.’ [This was early Wednesday morning.] They had to elect a mayor that night. There were no ifs, ands, or buts. Sawyer is the only choice you have, I told them.” Of the two leading contenders for the office, Krone emphatically favored Sawyer over Alderman Tim Evans, though his first choice was Cecil Partee, then city treasurer, who was not in the running because the choice had to be made from among the 50 aldermen. “I like Gene Sawyer very much,” Krone says. “I also like Tim Evans very much, but with Slim Coleman and Helen Shiller behind Tim Evans, I thought, this is not going to be good.” With Evans in the mayor’s seat, Coleman and Shiller would continue to wield the influence they had under Harold Washington. Not so under Sawyer, Krone says. He was working for the interests of his 46th Ward clients and, most likely, for all his clients.
Jane Byrne, elected mayor in 1979, was afraid that young Richard Daley, who was running for state’s attorney in 1980, would use the office as a springboard to oppose her in the race for mayor in 1983. In an attempt to prevent that possibility, Byrne’s crony Alderman Edward M. Burke ran in the primary against Daley. Daley won, first against Burke, and then in the general election. Krone says, “I saw everybody who would have kissed Rich Daley’s ass at noon on the corner of State and Madison when his father was alive turn their backs on him and knife him in the back. I figured I would make up for that and work for him. The Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the crime syndicate were all working against him. We had a heck of a campaign. He won by 16,000 votes out of 2,000,000. It wasn’t clear until the next morning that he’d won. I was in a brain trust of about half a dozen people. I worked indefatigably, doing some media stuff, a lot of conceptualization, wrote some speeches. That was the only major campaign that I put a lot of time in from which I didn’t take any compensation. The Daleys had by then become my close friends.”
Byrne called in her markers, Krone says, and he was among the punished. Real-estate developer Miles Berger, who did a lot of work with the city and was a friend of Byrne’s, was retaining Krone as a consultant and providing him with office space. In fact he had been Krone’s first client. As Krone tells the story, after Daley’s election Byrne pressured Berger to drop Krone and chase him from his office. He says, “Byrne tried to create problems for me, but my income rose every year after that. In fact, several of my clients resulted from things she was doing in the city.” Berger is still a good friend and a client, though only on a project-by-project basis. He no longer pays Krone the monthly retainer that he did before that election. Asked about the Byrne story, he says “I just have to pass on that. It’s old business.” Then he recants slightly, saying, “Jane Byrne would probably have said, ‘I hope that Krone won’t be representing you anymore.'”
On our third day in England, we are invited to lunch with Geoffrey Smith, political columnist for the Times of London. Krone met him when he accompanied Harold Washington to London in 1985, after suggesting (he says) that Washington go to London with the Chicago Symphony. Though Krone was identified by some as part of the anti-Washington faction, and had indeed worked for Washington’s opponents in the election of 1983, he became an admirer of Washington and spent considerable time with him. Jacky Grimshaw, one of the late mayor’s closest associates, remembers Krone’s regular presence in the mayor’s office. “He hung around a lot,” she says.
(Grimshaw also remembers a conversation with Washington and Krone about the London trip, though she insists that the mayor didn’t need anyone’s suggestion for it. Bryan Boyer, then acting press secretary for Washington, remembers the trip with great pleasure. “Phil arranged everything, including a meeting with Georg Solti and one with the American ambassador. He had a big brunch set up for us the day we arrived. Harold said it was the best trip he ever had.”)
Also at lunch with Smith are David Thomas and his wife, Susan, who is a town councillor for Surrey. We are at the Reform Club, which was founded in 1836 for the benefit of the reform members of Parliament and occupies a beautiful old building on Pall Mall. It was the site of the famous wager made by Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. The lunch continues until late in the afternoon, with lots of good food and excellent wine. American politics, British politics, international politics, and education are discussed sometimes heatedly, sometimes leisurely.
The next week, Smith and Krone debate each other on the forthcoming presidential campaign in the States at the Oxford Union of Oxford University, where many of the stellar figures in American and British politics have debated over the last 100 years. Smith says he would be “horrified to see Jackson elected.” Krone replies that “America could do a lot worse.”
1983: The city is in the midst of a massive teachers’ strike. Krone is chairman of the Golden Anniversary Dinner of the Citizens Schools Committee. Irv Kupcinet is to serve as master of ceremonies. As Kup remembers it, he suggests to Krone that he invite the major players in the strike to the dinner, in the hope that getting them together may help settle the dispute. So Krone, the well-connected man, goes to Sol Brandzel, president of the school board, and to schools superintendent Ruth Love, and to Chicago Teachers Union president Robert Healey, and to Mayor Washington, encouraging them to attend. They all do attend, and Kup makes a special plea to them in his remarks. Seventy-two hours later, the strike is settled. Healey says today, “Maybe all of us being there did get things started.”
The Schools Committee is one of several boards Krone has sat on over the years. He has served on the board of TRUST Inc., now the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs; the Chicago Opera Theatre; and the Chicago Committee for the Joffrey Ballet. He attends the symphony regularly and, when he is in London, goes to the theater almost every night. One of the stories he tells on himself involves his interest in the visual arts: Last year he and his wife and son were vacationing in Spain for Christmas. In the back room of an old arts shop in Segovia, Krone saw a painting that attracted him. It was in the style of Velazquez. He asked the price. Without its elaborate frame, the painting was $125–not exactly your fine arts masterpiece. It was cheap enough for Krone, but it was also big–36 inches by 30. “How could I carry it home?” he wondered. He gave it up, but later, feeling obsessed by the painting, he returned to the shop and asked the owner to wrap it securely for him to carry home.
“I schlepped it to Madrid, this big thing under my arm,” and then, at customs, in the airport, he was stopped. “But this isn’t a valuable work of art. It only cost $125,” he told the customs agent. Nevertheless they unwrapped it, and seeing an old painting, declared it a national treasure that couldn’t be removed from the country. Krone argued and finally demanded to see the chief. “Yo es amigo de embajada de Espana a United States,” he told the chief in his pidgin Spanish. “James’s eyes were rolling out of his head,” Krone recalls, laughing, “but he’s used to me.” The chief returned a few minutes later to say it was OK for him to take the painting through.
Krone’s interest in painting extends back to his childhood; at 11, he took lessons from one Charles Kellner, who he says had been a student of Pierre Bonnard. Returning in middle age to art lessons, he is now working with Vera Berdich, who taught at the School of the Art Institute for many years.
In the midst of the 1989 mayoral campaign, in which he is a strong supporter of Richard M. Daley, Krone goes to London where he sees Derek Jacobi in a production of Richard II. Back in Chicago, he can’t resist a bit of clowning. “I’d love to bring Jacobi here,” he says. “Can’t you hear it? ‘How is it that I thy son is here on the stage alone with thy knave Sawyer who has descended the throne, and that other knave Evans who waits his turn to seize the reins of power? Cast out these foul demons, these two who were lifted from obscurity by thy good works and are now encouraged by their growing number to turn their backs on the dynasty that treated them with kindness and favor.'”
A few weeks after Rich Daley’s inauguration as mayor and Cecil Partee’s appointment as interim state’s attorney, Krone greets me excitedly. “I think we have Cecil Partee’s election in 1992 all sewed up,” he says. “He got all the negative stuff out and soon it will all disappear, not that it amounted to anything, and now we can go on to all the positive things, and there are plenty of those.” Krone has known Partee for 28 years, has watched him operate in the city, in the legislature, where he served for 20 years, and in the office of city treasurer, to which he was elected in 1979. He is advising Partee as an old friend, he says, without pay, merely for the sake of their long friendship.
Partee has been watching Krone, too. “I’ve seen him in and about politics for nearly 30 years,” he says. “He has a great and facile mind. We’ve had a good friendship. He has been good enough to offer his services to me from time to time and has helped me make some decisions since I was named state’s attorney. I bounce questions off him and he gives me his judgment, and I think it’s sound.”
We are in Aux Deux Magots, a Paris cafe where Picasso and his friends hung out. Krone is drinking coffee. A couple sits down at the next table and within minutes we are chatting. We discover that they are Canadians; one is visiting Paris, the other is a longtime resident. The conversation is polite, the usual exchanges between people meeting in a foreign city, until it is revealed that the man, the visitor to Paris, is a real-estate developer. Suddenly, Krone is ebullient and very charming. He tells one funny story after another about his travels around the world. As the evening wears on, Krone and our new acquaintance become fast friends. Krone invites him and his friend to join us for dinner at his favorite Parisian restaurant, a tiny but elegant place on the Ile Saint-Louis. During a wonderful dinner, Krone and his new friend talk real estate. By the time we head back to our hotel, it is two in the morning; except for an hour freshening up, we have been with the Canadians since five o’clock in the afternoon. I ask Krone, “What do you think will come of this?”
“I score about 20 percent of the time,” he says, “but I don’t care. I just have a good time.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.