By James Merriner
On election night Larry Horist was the dog that didn’t bark. It was a bad night for Illinois Republicans, and Horist, a prominent Republican spokesman here for years, had nothing to say and no TV mikes to speak into even if he’d wanted to.
Last year Horist had the honor of going on the tube to analyze his own defeat by “Spanky the Clown” in the Republican mayoral primary. In 1994 Horist was highly visible as a political strategist behind Michael Flanagan’s surprising defeat of Dan Rostenkowski. In previous years Horist worked as press secretary for the likes of Ed Vrdolyak and James O’Grady–even for a Democrat, former mayor Gene Sawyer.
For a full quarter century Horist has been popping up in local controversies, tossing off ideas and marching orders with equal ease, all the while proclaiming his own rectitude. He’s like the kid on your block who was always getting into fights but always swore he never threw the first punch.
So where was he this year on election night? Home with Jill, his wife and business partner; Alexander, their three-year-old son; and friend Carol Dart, a Springfield lobbyist. Now and then the three adults would glance at the TV for an election update, but their conversation was mostly nonpolitical.
“One of the best damned election nights we’ve spent in years,” Horist says.
Yet Horist is not a political has-been. Or if he is, it’s on his own terms. He’s bailed out of partisan electioneering to set up something new under the Illinois sun–a nonpartisan conservative lobby.
Megabucks publisher Steve Forbes, past and probably future presidential wannabe, came here last spring to headline a fund-raiser for the new organization. The event received no media coverage, but it was a moment of vindication for the group’s founders, Larry and Jill Horist. Forbes had hired the Horists’ consulting firm to run his presidential primary campaign in Illinois last winter. A clique of Horist haters jumped into action. They dished dirt to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal and to Forbes himself, who received an anonymous three-page poison-pen letter detailing Horist’s perceived sins against the conservative cause, the Republican Party, common decency, and Western civilization.
This is typical behavior among a small cadre of Illinois conservatives. Horist calls it the “strident right.” For 30 years now, we’ve been hearing about fratricidal warfare between reform Democrats and regular Democrats. These wars are picnics compared to the mud wrestling of conservative Republicans.
If Forbes had signed up a turkey in Illinois, a state in which every senior Republican from Governor Edgar on down opposed his candidacy anyway, his local campaign might have crashed before you could say “flat tax.” Horist’s friends rode to the rescue. After hearing both sides, Forbes responded–in the unspoken language of protocol understood by pols everywhere–by elevating Horist’s campaign title from coordinator to chairman.
After the primaries were over Forbes came back to headline a banquet in Oak Brook to raise money for Horist’s conservative lobby, the Illinois Public Policy Caucuses. Horist had formed the group in less than a year out of little more than his own audacity and the loyalty of the friends listed in his personal phone directory. But the banquet reflected not only who likes Horist but who doesn’t.
Conservative personalities who stayed away included attorney Joe Morris, the 1994 GOP nominee for Cook County Board president; businessman Steve Baer, who challenged Edgar in the 1990 primary; and industrialist Jack Roeser, who did likewise in 1994. They’re among the critics who see Horist as a showboater, a media freak, and a backstabber.
Critics accuse him of selling out the United Republican Fund–an independent conservative group–and running it into the ground. They accuse him of double-crossing mayoral candidate Nino Noriega. The Sun-Times’s Steve Neal has called Horist a “loose cannon” with questionable ethics and a “grand sense of…self-importance.” The Tribune’s Tom Hardy used to deride him as “Uncle Larry,” a cranky ideologue.
A search for the “real” Larry Horist uncovered a complex and surprising figure. During a career spent bouncing around business and politics since the early 60s, Horist has exemplified many of the social trends of his generation: Rebelling against button-down corporate culture. Taking up the role of “Mr. Mom” between marriages. Remarrying and deciding to have a baby in middle age. Working as part of a husband-wife team from an office at home. Struggling to hold together ensemble families from different marriages, different religions, and even different races.
Horist belies the pop-psych notion that people who had happy childhoods are boring. He grew up on the near northwest side in a white ethnic neighborhood, part of a family stereotypically stable and nurturing. He was the kid brother, the youngest by ten years; he shared a bedroom with three brothers in a four-room flat on Kildare–the top floor of a two-flat built by his bricklayer grandfather. The grandparents lived downstairs. Mom–Lorraine–was a Rosie the Riveter who returned to homemaking after World War II. Dad–John–spent 47 years selling pitch and asphalt for a small chemical company. He’d get home precisely at 5:20 PM, just as mom was placing supper on the table. Once he was 20 minutes late and Lorraine was certain there’d been an accident. Sure enough, John had been in a fender bender.
“Kildare Avenue represents half my life on earth and 90 percent of my personal values,” Horist says. Asked whether nostalgia hasn’t cast too warm a glow on his background, he insists, “Ozzie and Harriet had a dysfunctional family by our standards.”
Kildare Avenue was bred-in-the-bone Catholic and Democratic. Horist sees little irony in the fact that he now is Republican (mostly) and Episcopalian (sort of). He says he learned early in life to question authority, to challenge stereotypes, and to prize honesty–personal and intellectual. Maybe these traits were in his genes. Lorraine wanted to baptize him as Larry but the local priest insisted on Lawrence, after the saint. She then threatened to baptize him as Larry in another church–by clear implication, a Protestant one. The priest relented.
Though she rarely attended church herself, Lorraine insisted on a religious education for her children. The parish priest at Saint Philomena advised Larry that his mother needed to join the church, and the eighth-grader asked whether a non-Catholic could go to heaven. “Yes,” said the priest, “it’s possible, but being a Catholic is like driving on the expressway as opposed to a winding gravel road.”
“If I were God,” the lad replied, “I would have more respect for the person who made it through a difficult route than one who took the easy way.” End of subject.
When Horist went to Kelvyn Park High School, the same priest persuaded his mother to send him to weekly catechism classes. Horist challenged doctrine so intensely (“What difference does it make if Mary was a virgin or not?”) that the priest allowed him to drop the class.
This long-suffering priest predicted that Horist would fall away from the Church while attending the nonsectarian Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Horist proved him wrong by attending Sunday mass regularly–not a fashionable practice on 1960s campuses.
At Knox College, Horist was once named “king of twist” on the dance floor. He also was elected president of the Young Republicans. His roommate, Joel Lasker, was a liberal Jewish kid from New York City and president of the Young Democrats. They are still friends. Lasker, now a wealthy attorney, chides Horist about his lifestyle: “I talk like a Democrat and live like a Republican. You talk like a Republican and live like a Democrat.”
At Kelvyn Park, Horist had given the Republican platform speech for the school’s mock election in 1960, the year of the Kennedy-Nixon race. His speech persuaded the overwhelmingly Democratic student body to endorse Richard Nixon. That was the moment when Horist knew his calling would involve politics.
During the heyday of blockbusting, Horist says, racist attitudes were not allowed in his home. Growing up, he developed an eye for small, tolerant moments. Once, while working after school as a shopping cart retriever at the neighborhood Jewel, he saw a white woman with a shopping bag in each arm struggling to open her trunk. A black woman up the street noticed and walked out of her way to help with the bags. Mission accomplished, the women parted. But their encounter stuck with the kid being raised in a community where racial mingling was taboo.
Today Horist argues that the different races in Chicago interact successfully “millions of times every day,” though racial strife is fomented by politicians, self-serving interest groups, and the media. Half Austrian, a quarter Polish, and a quarter German, Horist laments that the American melting pot has become a “bucket of rocks” keeping groups apart under a phony “psychoculturalism and politically driven racism.”
With a degree in economics, Horist went to work for Illinois Bell in 1965. The corporate culture of the time demanded a blue-suit, white-shirt, red-tie uniform. Horist wore sport coats, blue shirts, and patterned ties. As 60s rebellions go, this wasn’t exactly dynamiting the Pentagon, but it did show an individualistic streak. It got him lateraled from the “fast-track” management training program to snail-paced marketing and sales.
He bolted for a career in public relations–first at a small agency, then a big PR firm, then Motorola. A top Illinois Republican hooked him up as a consultant on community volunteer efforts at the Nixon White House, where Horist established a presidential volunteerism awards program. He met and married Karen Kelly, a Detroit-area native assigned to the same White House project by the American Red Cross.
Next, Horist became a Washington lobbyist for Sears. This was back in the days when lobbyists didn’t have to worry much about financial disclosure forms. Horist had an open expense account, use of a chauffeur-driven car, youthful brashness, and a zest for politics.
Living three blocks from Horist’s D.C. apartment was Jill Shestokas, a 19-year-old Lyons Township High School graduate and a lobbyist for a vocational education group. She walked her dog past Horist’s place nearly every day. But they weren’t to meet for another 20 years and in another city.
Sears brought Horist home to Chicago on his executive training rotation. “I found the corporate environment in the Chicago office to be 180 degrees the opposite of Washington,” he said. One day he was asked to edit a draft of the employee manual for the soon-to-be-opened Sears Tower. Among its stipulations: Desktop paper clip holders were forbidden because paper clip receptacles had been built into the desk drawers. All desks had to be cleared of all papers every night. No personal artwork could hang on the walls, even in private offices. Horist told his boss the manual was too offensive to be edited and should be trashed. The boss didn’t appreciate the advice. Horist soon quit to set up his own consulting firm.
While working for clients such as the Tobacco Institute (Horist doesn’t smoke), the 1976 Gerald Ford campaign, and the National Tax Limitation Committee, Horist patented, with a friend, the “Dog-Gone Bag,” a disposable device for picking up dog droppings. It flopped. “Perhaps our motto, ‘It may be dog shit to you but it’s our bread and butter,’ was not quite right,” Horist reflects.
Larry and Karen had a son, William, and a daughter, Caroline. Their babysitter was a black teenager with an abusive stepfather. She called one night, asking for a place to crash for a few days. In the end she joined the Horist family. Yvette Myrie, now 36, is a professional translator who lives in Florida. Though she never changed her name, she arranged to have herself called forward at her Michigan State grad school graduation as “Yvette Horist,” as a tribute to her “father” in the stands.
In the mid-70s, Horist found a niche with the City Club of Chicago, a wheezing civic group down to its last few members and a couple thousand dollars. Horist persuaded the directors not to disband the club but to put him in charge of its management. In a virtuoso display of promo-man chutzpah, Horist urged Thomas Roeser, then a Quaker Oats executive, to take over as club president. Roeser refused. So Horist called former governor Richard Ogilvie, an inactive member of the City Club board, and asked him to intervene with Roeser. Sure, said Ogilvie.
Pretty soon, Roeser called Horist to report Ogilvie’s “surprise” call. “Hey, Tom,” said Horist, “here’s an idea. Why don’t you tell Ogilvie you’ll do it, but only if he’ll be the finance chairman?”
Next Ogilvie called Horist. “The son of a bitch wants me to be the finance chairman!” Well, said Horist, how about throwing a dinner honoring your old pal, former secretary of state Mike Howlett, to raise some money? Hmm, said Ogilvie.
Horist then called Howlett to propose honoring him as “citizen of the year.” “Sure, I’ll think about it,” Howlett said. Fine, said Horist, and how about having Ogilvie serve as dinner chairman?
“I figured it wasn’t a bad day’s work,” Horist said. “I got Tom Roeser, Dick Ogilvie, and Mike Howlett all on board.”
With Horist as executive director and Roeser as president, the club was a thriving public policy forum for 11 years. It also was Horist’s personal platform for a successful three-year fight to save the Chicago Theatre in the mid-80s.
The Sun-Times credited Horist with putting together developers and preservationists–not the warmest of bedfellows–to collaborate on renovating the old movie palace. However, one critical step in the process never made the papers.
Horist dropped by the Washington office of Dan Rostenkowski, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to lobby for a federal grant for the theater. Rosty entered into a reverie about how as a kid he and his pals would venture to the Loop and sneak into the theater through a side door, obligingly kicked open by another pal who worked inside as an usher.
And Rosty also told Horist that President Reagan’s secretary of housing and urban development was sitting on a piddling $2.5 million grant for the Chicago Theatre. The secretary was freezing all of Rosty’s requests for Chicago to retaliate for Rosty’s opposition to the administration’s urban enterprise zones bill. Democrats regarded the initiative as a gimmick that would help companies escape taxes but not address the problem of joblessness in the inner city.
But Rosty was determined to find a way around the secretary. He called his buddy George Bush and said, “If I don’t get that grant you’re gonna have one very pissed off chairman of the Ways and Means Committee for your tax reform bill.”
The vice president called the secretary. The secretary called Rosty and meekly asked for an appointment in the chairman’s office. Sure, Rosty said, and don’t forget to bring the papers for the theater grant.
The enterprise zones? The chairman remained opposed.
In 1985 the Horists bought a 150-year-old, 21-room farmhouse near Saugatuck, Michigan. Originally a weekend retreat, it soon became the family residence. Horist hoped it would bring the family closer–he and Karen were having marital woes, and the kids the usual teenage problems. For a couple of years Horist commuted to Chicago for the workweek, but the satisfactions of urban public affairs ebbed. He dropped most of his clients and opened an antique store.
Horist envisioned a semipastoral existence–selling antiques, writing books about public policy, and bonding with his family. “I had talked to so many successful professional men who decried the fact that they were so busy in their careers that they never saw their children grow up. I decided that was not going to happen to me.”
As a high school student in Michigan, the Horists’ son Bill met a couple of brothers named Matthew and Monte. Matt, 16, had been shuttling between his divorced parents, but then his father moved in with his girlfriend and didn’t want Matt around anymore. Neither did his mother. Matt’s 18-year-old brother Monte was already living on the streets; he’d been a drug and alcohol abuser since he was 12. Monte embodied punk: Mohawk haircut, thick black eyeliner, grungy clothes. He was six feet tall, weighed just 110 pounds, and had a scar on his right cheek, an amazingly small reminder of a shotgun blast that tore through his jaw in a failed suicide attempt. He also had a one-year-old son from a street liaison.
The Horists held a family council. Despite their anxieties, they decided that Matt and Monte would both be invited to join the family. It wasn’t easy. But eventually both boys graduated from high school, went on to college, and legally changed their name to Horist (although Monte has since married and restored his original name).
If the Horists had not taken him in, “I’d be dead now and I mean that 110 percent….Mr. Horist, dad, pounded into my head a whole lot of self-esteem,” Monte once told a reporter in Michigan.
And Matt once wrote to Horist, “Thanx for giving me a life and a family and support and wisdom….My mind is made up that God put you in charge of that.”
In high school, Matt played drums and sang with a rock band. At Grand Rapids Junior College his high tenor so impressed the choir director that he steered him to opera lessons, which he’s now taking at Indiana University. Coincidentally, Bill, 24, has musical talent as well. He’s composing and playing experimental jazz in Seattle. Caroline is an artist and T-shirt designer (Bulls championship numbers are her specialty) who lives in Chicago.
Despite their success at raising kids, Larry and Karen couldn’t hold their marriage together. “We were in the repair shop real early,” Horist said. “We were in counseling for 15 years out of the 18, with three different counselors. Nothing worked.” The family’s financial troubles didn’t help. Horist had figured that their Saugatuck Antique Emporium would benefit from the marketing skills he’d learned at Sears–computerizing inventory, rotating stock on the floor, and so on. The mom-and-pop antique stores don’t have a clue about this stuff, Horist reasoned. The mom-and-pops are still in business and Horist isn’t. “I applied the unique business standard of buying high and selling low,” he says wryly.
In 1989 Karen moved out and filed for divorce. Even though she didn’t seek custody of the children and the divorce itself was no-fault and uncontested, the settlement proceedings were nasty and took four years. Larry grew depressed to a degree that alarmed Monte, who knew something about depression. Despite a little consulting work, Horist was one mortgage payment away from bankruptcy.
Back in Chicago, Eugene Sawyer, installed as mayor after Harold Washington died in 1987, fought to keep his seat in a 1989 special Democratic primary. Of all people, Sawyer hired as his media adviser a lifelong Republican–Larry Horist. They’d known each other from City Club days. “A lot of people want you to tell them what they want to hear, rather than what the truth is. Larry tells you what the truth is and I really appreciate that,” Sawyer says.
Saved from going broke by what he calls “the pure miracle” of a job with Sawyer, Horist temporarily moved in with his old friend and “Dog-Gone Bag” partner, Bernie Peck, in Oak Lawn. After Sawyer lost the primary to Richard M. Daley, Horist signed on with the month-long mayoral campaign of neo-Republican Eddie Vrdolyak. Again Daley prevailed. Horist next became press director for the Cook County Republican Party. It was led at the time by Sheriff James O’Grady and his sidekick, James Dvorak. Dvorak (who’s now in prison for bribery, tax evasion, and orchestrating a ghost-payrolling scheme) was ousted in a scandal, and Horist was named manager of O’Grady’s 1990 reelection campaign. But Horist says he demoted himself back to the media job when it became obvious to him that Dvorak was still running things behind the scenes.
Oddly, it wasn’t his association with O’Grady and Dvorak but the one with the City Club that landed Horist in his most public squall over ethics. Upon leaving the club’s management in 1987, Horist was given a seat on the board. In 1992 he was tipped that club officials were hiding a $75,000 slush fund for an outfit called TEACH America, a conservative lobby for the school voucher plan. Until that point Horist had been among the lobby’s cheerleaders.
Denied access to TEACH America’s books, Horist strolled over to the Illinois attorney general’s charitable trusts office to glean whatever data were on the public records. It turned out that neither the City Club nor TEACH America had made the legally required annual disclosure statements. At the next board meeting, Horist asked whether the club was being used as a tax-exempt front for donors to a taxable lobby. Not satisfied with the answers he heard, Horist launched a testy exchange of letters with club officials. At one point, the attorney general’s office advised the club to honor Horist’s requests. It still refused. Sun-Times investigative reporter Charles Nicodemus got wind of the story. City Club burgermeisters went bananas and pressured Sun-Times editors to kill the story. Never underestimate the horror that bad press holds for the commercial ruling class.
Nicodemus, renowned in local media circles for his hard-charging way with editors, managed to get a piece of the story buried inside the paper on page 41. “Everything that Larry Horist said was true, was true,” Nicodemus recalls. “You check out Larry’s biases, but the refreshing thing about Larry is he’s always candid about the fact that he has biases.”
The club’s executive director was let go, TEACH America was severed from the club, both groups filed disclosure forms with the attorney general (though current filings aren’t up-to-date), and neither group was charged with any financial violations.
So why didn’t the club just file the forms in the first place and avoid the uproar? “I am amazed,” Horist says, “at the number of people who needlessly, without even any seeming benefit to themselves, play by a bank shot instead of shooting a straight shot. I liken it to people who have sex in semipublic because they want to get caught. Or maybe it’s a sense of power that you don’t have to play by the rules.”
Horist and Tom Roeser, the City Club president at the time, had a falling-out over the incident. Roeser blamed Horist for the thousands of dollars in personal expense he had to bear when he hired a lawyer in case the ruckus should result in charges of fiscal misconduct.
Still, Roeser says of Horist now, “He’s tirelessly imaginative. He has strong convictions. He understands media very well.” Roeser showed up at an Illinois Public Policy Caucuses luncheon last summer and praised the organization. For his part, Horist says of Roeser, “I don’t believe he knew about the nature of the account. He simply trusted the wrong people.”
Horist was dumped from the City Club board for stirring up the fuss. He probably didn’t much care, since he was starting a new business with a new wife.
“I know his type. I know those PR, slick, politician types,” Jill Shestokas thought upon meeting him in 1990. At 35, she was a “right-wing feminist” with her own marketing firm. Horist was consulting for her brother David, who was running for Congress against incumbent William Lipinski.
Jill had arrived at James O’Grady’s annual Navy Pier fund-raiser exhausted from apartment hunting. Though expected to attend, she’d almost blown it off. Then she thought she might go and take a date. Finally she went by herself. Horist asked her to dance. David Shestokas kept trying to talk politics, but Horist kept brushing him off to be with his sister.
The couple went for a walk on the pier to admire the Chicago skyline, and Jill’s first impression notwithstanding, they fell in love. Before long she was asking how he would feel about having another child. Horist didn’t pause a beat before saying, “I may not be very good at a lot of things, but one thing I am good at is being a dad.”
They were married in 1992 in a full-scale Catholic wedding (thanks to an annulment of his first marriage), with all his children participating. A son, Alexander, would be born the next year. The newlyweds moved into a combination home and office in Doral Plaza on North Michigan Avenue.
“Horist and Shestokas” sounded like a sneeze, so they called their new consulting firm Thomas & Joyce (their confirmation names). One of their first clients was the United Republican Fund, even though a friend (a former URF executive) had warned them against jumping into that snake pit.
Establishment Republicans and conservative Republicans tend to hate each other in Illinois, and control of the URF, a conservative fund-raising group independent of the state Republican Party, has shifted unhappily between the two camps during its 63-year history. The Horists tried to bridge them and failed. They quit the URF after two years, having provoked an uproar by challenging the old guard’s fiscal ethics. URF infighting and intrigue made the City Club flap look like a sandlot softball quarrel.
The URF was deep in debt, deep in disfavor with Governor Edgar’s administration, and despised by state senate president James “Pate” Philip (no pal of Edgar’s) when the Horists were hired. The URF had been run in the late 80s by Christian right activist Steven Baer, who used it as a springboard for his 1990 primary race against Edgar.
Two Chicago industrialists, Barre Seid and Denis Healy, each had poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the URF. Baer, who was Seid’s protege, returned briefly to the URF after losing the primary, then resigned. When the Horists took over Seid turned off his money spigot. That left Healy, president of Turtle Wax and the URF’s CEO at the time, to be Mr. Moneybags. He didn’t want the Horists initially, preferring the promotion of a Baer protege, but the board eventually named Larry executive director and Jill treasurer.
In April 1993 the Horists presented the board with a 15-page, single-spaced confidential memo detailing “horrific abuses, unprofessional conduct, irregularities and improper practices beyond comprehension.” One of them was an office computer file that kept track of the group’s major members and donors according to their alleged sexual practices–“homosexuality, multiple partners, philandering, etc.” The Horists said they deleted the files and kept no copies.
The “draconian memo,” as it came to be called by URF board members, said state election officials viewed the URF as “the second worst election law abuser in Illinois history–and the worst where no one was indicted.” This was not a document calculated to make Baer, Healy, and the rest of the old regime feel warm and fuzzy inside.
The URF had set up 14 bank accounts in other states, through which had flowed more than $500,000. These accounts had not been revealed to the URF board (a point affirmed for this article by several former board members). Not only that, but there wasn’t even a duly constituted URF board with identifiable members. What’s more, “virtually all financial records prior to 1990 were missing,” the Horists said.
A Federal Election Commission audit reported last May that the pre-Horist URF had misspent $48,464 on federal races. The FEC, a notoriously namby-pamby agency, is unlikely to pursue the matter or impose any fines.
Healy and Seid refused to comment. Baer denied any wrongdoing and charged that under the Horists “the URF’s revenues collapsed while its debt has ballooned to around $250,000.” But the gross revenues had collapsed because Seid, who had given the URF $887,000 in just 29 months, abandoned ship along with Baer. Horist provides mounds of records showing he inherited a debt of $300,000, which was reduced to $250,000 while net revenues actually increased.
Horist was accused of selling out the URF by making a deal with Jim Edgar for the fund’s endorsement in the ’94 primary in return for a $10,000 contribution. Spinners of this scenario apparently are unaware of Edgar’s notorious stinginess with his campaign money, let alone his disdain for the URF. If Edgar or his political fund coughed up even $1,000 for the URF, it never appeared in the financial disclosure forms. Actually, Edgar did cut a deal for the endorsement. The governor promised to sign a school voucher bill if it should cross his desk (it hasn’t) and a “parental consent” bill restricting abortions for minors (it’s now law).
Once a feared rump group, the URF, now run by Healy as chairman and Joe Morris as president, all but vanished from the 1996 election season. Its reported cash on hand as of June 30 was a measly $2,713.
The Horists’ critics contend they were fired after the ’94 primary for screwing up the URF. But the board at the time adopted a resolution praising them and it named Larry acting CEO. By the fall of 1994 the Horists had had enough of the infighting and resigned.
Horist had signed on by then with Michael Flanagan, a nobody who’d become the Republican nominee against Dan Rostenkowski. Every self-respecting pundit in the land declared Rostenkowski unbeatable, though he was under indictment for ripping off the taxpayers. Horist got Congressman Thomas Ewing of Pontiac, Illinois, to persuade the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee to drop serious money into Rostenkowski’s district shortly before the election. “Even when it looked like not a very winnable race, Larry was positive and upbeat, and all of that’s a little infectious,” Ewing recalls.
This year, Flanagan relied on advisers provided by the GOP establishment and got thrashed on election day. Horist thinks Flanagan wasn’t getting good advice.
While at the United Republican Fund, Horist placed women in ranking positions and recruited the first black and Hispanic members. The very first Hispanic was Nino Noriega, who wanted the GOP nomination for mayor in 1995 and approached Horist about running his campaign. When Noriega announced his candidacy, Horist was onstage among Noriega supporters. Yet ten days afterward, Horist declared his own candidacy for mayor. Noriega and his supporters in the fund said Horist had double-crossed him.
To sort out this contretemps, it’s necessary to understand how ridiculous the Chicago Republican Party really is. It’s even worse than you think.
Horist, not devoid of personal political ambition, had flirted with the idea of running for mayor back in 1983. He said he might run in 1995, but only if no high-profile candidate such as State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley ran. In the meantime, the GOP thought it got a lucky break with the emergence of Noriega, the “millionaire businessman” who came from nowhere and promised to drop $3 million into the race, bring in Julio Iglesias for a fund-raising concert, and give each GOP committeeman $5,000 for his ward organization. It was all moonshine.
In a typical flight of fancy, Noriega boasted of having cast his first vote for “that great Republican war hero, General Eisenhower.” When Ike ran for his second term in 1956, Noriega was 16. He later corrected himself to say that he meant, of course, Richard Nixon. (Two names frequently confused.) When Nixon ran for president in 1960 Noriega still wasn’t old enough to vote.
Noriega claims he paid Horist a $2,500 retainer to advise his campaign–a story passed on by Steve Neal in his Sun-Times column. Horist offers a $5,000 reward to anyone who can produce evidence that “Noriega, his wife, or his company paid anything to me, my wife, or my company.” Horist says that he concluded Noriega wasn’t for real shortly after putting him on the URF board, and that he appeared onstage at Noriega’s announcement only at the request of party leaders, to represent the URF.
Horist decided that he would run for mayor himself, provided he got the party’s official backing. The GOP’s alternatives were a flake, Noriega; an alleged anti-Semite, William Grutzmacher; and a lightweight, Raymond “Spanky the Clown” Wardingley. Horist appeared most qualified to lose with dignity, so the party’s executive committee slated him.
First, though, Horist had to promise not to attack Daley personally. Republican leaders wanted to make sure they would remain pals with Daley when the election was over. The promise was easy for Horist to make–he, too, liked Daley, and he was an issues wonk besides.
A Chicago political institution that seems to have eluded media notice is city GOP chairman Lou Kasper’s basement. The basement is a labyrinth that seems to stretch from beneath his north-side brick bungalow all the way to Berwyn. Whenever there’s talk of replacing Kasper as chairman, his supporters’ heaviest argument is that no one else has such a commodious basement.
And so it came to pass that the citywide GOP committee met in the basement to ratify its executive committee’s endorsement of Horist. Noriega showed up and threatened to cry racism. Cowed, the committee ended up endorsing nobody. Horist, in a self-admittedly dumb move, decided to run anyway.
In a primary field ultimately comprising Horist and four doofuses, Wardingley won a plurality of the tiny vote. Then the GOP leadership insisted Wardingley was a serious candidate against Daley, really and truly. Horist said he didn’t take his defeat too seriously. “You have to have a twisted sense of humor even to seek the Republican nomination for mayor.”
Horist’s foes in the GOP’s right wing had backed Noriega. When this year’s primary season came around, the same crowd blackballed Horist from working in Al Salvi’s race for the U.S. Senate. It was a pointless gesture, because a former URF board member already had hooked Horist up with Steve Forbes.
Horist put together a full slate of 118 delegates and alternates for Forbes in 20 congressional districts in just 50 days during the dead of winter. This is the political equivalent of running a 3:55 mile. Further, Horist got Forbes on the primary ballot at a total cost of less than $4 a petition signature, compared to the usual cost of $7 or more. That is the sort of thing that impresses Forbes. No wonder he came back to boost the Illinois Public Policy Caucuses. As donors lined up for the traditional grip-and-grin photo session with the headliner, Forbes turned his quirky smile to Horist and said, “You’re a real doer.”
To get to work, the Horists merely open a door of their 28th-floor apartment and step into the office. Alex is often underfoot. If Larry is just working the computer and phones and not meeting clients, he usually doesn’t bother with shoes or shaves.
Despite his dark, Bob Dole-ish glower and reputation as a fighter, Horist is quite the sentimental fellow. A Lincoln buff, he still has on his wall the same Lincoln portrait that hung over his Kildare Avenue crib. He can segue almost any conversation into a discussion of his kids and concoct excuses to show off audiotapes, videotapes, and artwork they starred in or produced.
His basic beliefs, Horist allows, are “hokey,” derived from such sources as Going My Way, the 1944 movie starring Bing Crosby as a priest determined to leave the world a little bit better place than he found it, and the 1955 Disney movie about Davy Crockett, whose motto was, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Horist talks about this without a hint of irony. Born in 1943, he just missed the postwar baby boom, and maybe he missed out on the boomers’ ingrained irony and cynicism as well.
Horist is genuinely religious. He believes in miracles (“I’ve had too many in my life to disbelieve”) and divine blessings. Jill says he is rarely “down.” In conversation Larry might say, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Despair is a sin.”
Yet two ranking Republicans asked not to be quoted by name when they discussed him because Horist is, as one put it, a “vicious” and “vindictive” sort who keeps “Nixon-type files” on people. Several sources said Horist kicked up the City Club scandal just to get back at Tom Roeser, because Roeser had tried to blackball him from landing the URF job.
Roeser denied making any such effort, and so in turn did Horist. As for Nixonian files, Horist says it was he who destroyed the URF sex files.
A longtime Horist friend, downstate publisher Jameson Campaigne Jr., said, “He has about six people who despise him because he’s better than they are. They are incompetent conservatives who can’t win a precinct committeeman’s race.”
The sound of gunfire from Illinois has reached the national conservative scene. David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union in Washington, D.C., said Horist “was the guy sort of on the side of right, and the other guys–probably through general lunkheadedness…well, he was trying to straighten them up.”
In any case, Horist says he has given up partisan politics. Think about this for a moment. Party politics has gotten so personal and negative that even a natural-born scrapper like Horist wants out. Coincidentally, national Republican operative Ed Rollins, a notorious tough guy, writes in his new book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, that he also has sworn off partisan campaigns. Is this an aborning trend?
With every election cycle, more and more voters become disillusioned with the political process and drop out. Voter turnout declines. Ho hum. But when political professionals start dropping out of the process in disgust, maybe it’s time to become alarmed. Horist explains the animus against him this way: “I divide people into crustaceans and vertebrates. Crustaceans are insecure, just shell. They depend on outside adulation to give them support and stand them up. Whereas vertebrates have their own backbone of values.
“Someone once told me that insecure people just explode around me. I’ll be civil to titles, there’s a protocol, but I’ll tell a powerful person when they’re wrong. There are people who you might as well kick in the balls as to say such a thing.”
He’s concluded that “partisanship and candidacies get in the way of public policies.” The Illinois Public Policy Caucuses is a scheme to advocate conservative policies apart from the groin-kicking of conventional politics. “If you don’t like a barroom brawl, get out of the barroom.”
Hard-line conservative lobbies, in their zeal to identify heretics, will drum out of their corps anyone who disagrees on any issue or strategy. The IPPC tells members they can “participate in areas of agreement without prejudice nor rebuke over legitimate and honest differences of opinion on other issues.”
Nothing might sound more boring than the formation of yet another “public interest” group, especially one that looks like a politico’s latest vehicle to keep his name in the papers. But last summer Horist led a bipartisan effort to exert conservative influence on the platform hearings for the Democratic National Convention, with testimony from prolife figures such as Robert Casey, the Democratic former governor of Pennsylvania. When the plan didn’t come together Horist stayed behind the scenes, networking with other right-wing lobbies. He called no IPPC press conferences, faxed no statements to the media.
Last summer the IPPC hosted a luncheon forum on privatizing mass transit. The head of a CTA union had warm words for the mayor of Indianapolis over that city’s prolabor methods of privatizing its bus lines. The chairman of the RTA, Thomas McCracken Jr., appeared astonished at the amity between the union boss and the mayor. The honchos of the CTA took note as well. The event received no media coverage.
The IPPC did get some attention for opposing Mayor Daley’s effort to convert Meigs Field to a park, a “Mighty Meigs” logo having been designed by Caroline Horist. You might wonder why the fate of Meigs Field is a “conservative” issue. Horist says it’s both a taxpayer issue and a process issue, that the mayor shouldn’t have the power to dictate the use of tax dollars and public lands without public input.
Meanwhile, the IPPC has hired lobbyist Carol Dart, the Horists’ election-night companion, to push legislation in Springfield to curb credit card abuses.
In about a year the IPPC has raised about $100,000, with no single gift of more than $5,000, Horist says. As an advocacy group, not a political committee or charity, it is not required to disclose its finances.
Thanks to his well-worn phone directory, Horist lassoed prominent Democratic attorney Alex Seith as IPPC president. Typically, Seith at first declined, Horist persisted, and Seith eventually caved. “He not only generates ideas, he executes them,” Seith says.
Chairman of the IPPC is African-American businessman Ralph Connor. Congressmen Jerry Weller, a Republican, and William Lipinski, a Democrat, are the Washington liaisons. The appearance of Lipinski on the letterhead is a typical illustration of Horist’s panache. He talked the congressman into it even though Horist had managed his brother-in-law’s campaign to unseat him.
Maybe the IPPC will develop into a significant force in Illinois. Maybe it won’t. But the November 5 election returns, with defeat for Salvi and others on the state’s strident right, give Horist “I-told-you-so” rights–and an even bigger vacuum in Illinois’ conservative leadership. Horist’s record suggests he will move to fill that vacuum.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photographs by Cynthia Howe.