To cop from a radio soap opera of my childhood: Can this nice, young, idealistic Jewish lawyer from Hyde Park win the votes of a cold-blooded, polarized electorate in the “consolidated primary election” for mayor on February 28, 1989? Fifth Ward Alderman Lawrence S. Bloom believes he can; he believes he is building a new coalition that will take him into the mayor’s office.
Bloom announced his candidacy on September 19, putting him up toward the front of the lengthening list of declared contenders. “I had to get out there early to establish myself because I wasn’t considered a powerhouse like [Richard M.] Daley,” he says.
Bloom’s longtime political ally, former 43rd Ward alderman Martin Oberman says, “I won’t rule out any scenario that will give the election to Larry.” Others are more cautious, but Bloom has brought together an enthusiastic staff, hundreds of volunteers ready to go to work when, he gives them the sign, and, as of this writing, somewhat more than $100,000 of the $1.5 million he thinks he can raise.
So what makes this alderman from a long tradition of maverick City Council independents think he can come out of that role and become “regular” enough to win an election for mayor? Of course, there are precedents: Jane Byrne ran against the “evil cabal” and won; Harold Washington ran against Jane Byrne and the white political establishment and won. Perhaps Bloom can run against “regular” Eugene Sawyer and a number of other regulars and win.
Bloom says that he has become more of a “regular” in the last five years. “I came into politics not expecting to be anything more than an independent lakefront politician–a watchdog, a person with good ideas, trying to push the venal government a little bit towards thinking about the people–an inch,” he says, laughing. “The interesting thing that happened was that I did that and I think I was successful at it during Jane Byrne’s administration, but my support for Harold Washington and his election and my subsequent involvement in the City Council leadership under Washington changed my whole orientation towards government. I learned a heck of a lot from Washington and just from being involved in the decision making of every aspect of that administration so far as it was council-involved. If it needed council approval and we had to sit down and strategize about it, I understood the issue and how to get the council to support it. So I learned a lot about government, not about being a protester but what it takes to make it work, to set an agenda and follow it. And frankly, I was fascinated by it. I saw where Harold Washington was able to mobilize forces to get something done. I saw where he blew opportunities to do it. And I saw the tremendous power that a mayor’s office has to change the direction of city government.
“I also learned that I knew as much as anybody else about government, that I could think through problems as well as anybody else, and that all these people in power were no wiser or smarter than I. In fact, sometimes my judgment was better than theirs. So I gained a lot of confidence in the five years that Washington was mayor and I realized, as I looked around at the political actors, that I had no reason to be intimidated by any of them and that I would do it just as well. Whether I can get elected is a different question.
“But I also learned that I could deal with people who came out of a different political origin than I. I never expected to be chairman of a committee, but all of a sudden I had to get along with all the aldermen when I was head of the Budget Committee. I had to deal with all their individual interests that they wanted to protect, and I found I was able to mold all those interests together to get what I thought was a good budget. I gained a lot of respect from my colleagues for that. I think they saw me do a workmanlike job. I found there were ways of dealing with all these different people. It added to my maturity as a politician. It was much easier to be a complainant, a voice crying in the wilderness. But I did have a skill to make things work.
“Finally, the people who I perceived to be most against me came to me on that crucial night last year and said ‘If Sawyer doesn’t do it, will you be mayor?’ That didn’t come from the flaming independents; it came from the regulars. And so it taught me that I had matured as a politician and maybe I could lead the city even though I come from a different political background.
“At a certain point, you aspire to be at the top of your profession. If you’re a lawyer; you want to be the most wealthy or the most powerful. In my case, I made a race for the state’s attorney’s office in 1984, but as I found, when you’re running against an incumbent with a famous name, you need tremendous resources. And although I received 80,000 votes more than Ed Burke when he ran against Rich Daley [in the 1980 Democratic primary], I was still not able to raise the funds that were necessary to mount a vigorous media campaign.”
Sun-Times political editor Steve Neal essentially agrees with Bloom. He says, “He lost that race because he was running against a very popular incumbent. It was an unwinnable race for any City Council official.”
Bloom continues, “Then, after nine and a half to ten years in the City Council, I said, I know as much about this government as anybody else and instead of sitting around here being an alderman and having to react to the administration, I can be the administration–and not only can I be it, I think I understand enough about it to avoid a lot of the problems that I saw both Jane Byrne and Harold Washington have getting things done. So what the hell! I’m going for it. I’m finding it much easier to raise money for this campaign than for the state’s attorney’s race.”
What do others think about Bloom’s candidacy?
“Larry will get black votes according to whether blacks identify him as a full-fledged member of the Washington coalition, and I think they are, from my talking with people. When blacks voted for Washington they were voting for more than race. It wouldn’t have been sufficient for him to be just another experienced black politician. When he ran in ’77, there was not the readiness for change and he got only 11 percent of the vote. But by the time Byrne ran, they were ready. People want to see the unified vote for Washington as racism, but it wasn’t.
“There are still a lot of black people who resent a white person taking over the office again. There are some who think, like Dorothy Tillman says, ‘He is pimping off it,’ that somehow he and other Jews are not supposed to acquire advantages for themselves. They’re supposed to be helpmates to black ascendancy. They shouldn’t take advantage of this new voting strength that would allow a white liberal to get elected. But I don’t find that to be so among the more solid black voters. They seem to believe that you can’t go back and there’s a danger of that happening with any of the old machine types like Sawyer. People are going to look at Larry’s opponents very carefully.”
Larry Bloom’s scheduler, Shelley Sandow, told me that she could not have imagined anyone doing what he is doing: going endlessly to any place where there are people to talk to, votes to win. He is on the campaign trail every day, every night. The schedule the night I chose to accompany him, after a long day of interviews with him, was made to order for this nice, idealistic, young Jewish lawyer from Hyde Park.
First, we visit the Midwest Women’s Center, which is having an open house. We arrive too late for Susan Dunlap, the executive director, to introduce him. But he makes his way for an hour through this crowd of feminists, shaking hands, discussing women’s issues, letting them know he is a candidate.
Next stop is the McCormick Center Hotel, to shake hands at the Hispanic Midwest Voter Registration Education Project with leaders of the Hispanic political community and give an interview to Hispanic television.
Then Ron Sorrells, who is Bloom’s driver for the evening, takes us west to the Vanity Lounge for the 37th Ward Annual Cocktail Party, hosted by Alderman Percy Giles, The crowd is mostly black. Along with Danny Davis, state representative Carol Moseley Braun, and some other candidates for office, Bloom takes the microphone to praise Giles and ask for votes. He also circulates some in the crowd, though the smoky atmosphere of the Vanity Lounge is clearly not his natural turf. He is anxious to keep moving so that he can get back home to his family.
But first–it’s as if the script had been fine-tuned for a reporter–we head to the Bismarck Hotel, where the seventh annual convention of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is being held and where Bloom discovers that most of the people present are from out of town. He manages to find a few Chicagoans who can talk politics, though, so the stop is not a total loss. The locals will know that he showed up for their national convention.
Larry Bloom is a man of medium height (five feet nine inches) and medium weight (155 pounds), with graying curly hair trimmed to respectable length, gold-rimmed glasses that he keeps putting on and taking off, and well-tailored, unobtrusive dress. He walks with a youthful bounce, and his modulated voice is one you might not associate with an aggressive politician. His manner is almost boyish, belying his 45 years. He laughs often and heartily, mostly at himself and what he sees as life’s absurdities. Bloom gets home for dinner with his family every night; if necessary, he then heads back downtown for the evening. He likes to play basketball with Aaron, his 11-year-old, and Gabrielle, his 8-year-old, although he’s given up pickup games with other grown-ups. When his father, also a lawyer, was retired from the bank in which he had worked as a trust officer, Bloom took him into his law practice.
Larry Bloom was born on the northwest side of Chicago in Hollywood Park, a largely Jewish middle-class community. In 1954, when he was in the fifth grade at the neighborhood grade school, the family moved to Highland Park for what his parents told him were the “schools.” But Bloom found himself “much better prepared than my classmates. I knew so much more about grammar. I knew my basics in math and history much better than they did.” Bloom has maintained contact with his best friend in Hollywood Park, Michael Jacobson, and marvels that both of them came “to a socially active, concerned adult livelihood. . . . He wanted to be a chemist, his parents wanted him to be a chemist, and perhaps he is a kind of chemist dealing in the chemistry of foods in the Center for the Study of Health Policy Issues in Washington. My parents wanted me to be a lawyer, just like my father. I did become a lawyer, but I became a socially conscious member of the community.”
Politics was never a factor in Bloom’s home. The only exception that he can recall is the 1952 presidential campaign, in which his father worked. The elder Bloom went door to door soliciting votes for Adlai Stevenson, while Larry, aged eight, pulled the wagon that held the campaign materials. “I was impressed by that,” Bloom says.
Bloom was a good student, he says, but not the best. “I enjoyed writing, especially in the social sciences and history. I thought I was a good writer and was encouraged by my teachers. Then, when I went to the University of Chicago as a freshman and went into a composition course taught by a world-famous scholar, I got a D-minus on my first paper and a comment that it was one of the worst papers he’d ever seen. And this was one of the things I thought I could do best. By the end of that two-quarter course, I was getting A’s. I learned how to write. I finally understood what writing was about.”
One of the strongest influences on Bloom has been religion. “I developed a very close relationship with a man named Philip Lipis,” he says, “and through him continued Hebrew studies well beyond the time when Jewish boys stop. I was involved in the synagogue and, when I went to the U. of C., one of the things Rabbi Lipis made sure of was that I knew who I could study with to further my Jewish education on the south side. He gave me names to study Talmud, Jewish writings. It was his hope that I would become a rabbi, and it was not out of the realm of possibilities as far as I was concerned. It had an appeal to me. It was involving myself with the community in a helping way. I did as he instructed and I did study with this very orthodox rabbi in a small apartment on Woodlawn Avenue with books and papers all over and he was continually smoking. He had this long black coat. I kept it up for about half a year and then I realized it wasn’t for me. I realized that there’s a bigger world out there. Not that I ever denied my Jewish identity, but I decided that before I made a commitment to any vocation, I better see what the world’s about, and I did. I had a very broadening experience at the U. of C. The 60s were a very volatile time and I was sort of on the fringe of the radical student movement. I attended lots of meetings and demonstrations for civil rights and academic freedom. But I wasn’t in the leadership and not so totally committed that I was considered a campus radical.”
Bloom became a philosophy major in college because “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. What was clear was that the people at the university were involved in the academic life and preparing to be professors, which didn’t appeal to me at all. It was too passive, too noninvolved. Philosophy had the fewest required courses, so I could take anything I wanted. But even as I was in my senior year I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be an academic. I didn’t want to be a lawyer, because I felt my family was pushing me too hard in that direction. But since I didn’t know what else to do, I took the test for potential law students, and I got the highest test score of anyone in the college. But I hadn’t applied to any law schools. Well, what was the simplest thing to do? Go across the street to the U. of C. Law School. There may have been an element of worry about the draft. It was ’65, the height of the war. I was against the war, but I didn’t know whether I could engage in civil disobedience or go to Canada as some of my friends were, so that may have been one of the strong motivations to go to law school right away even though I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
“But I ended up with a draft notice anyway and then I got a medical classification that put me at the bottom of the list because of a condition I was born with called scoliosis. So that’s my answer to Dan Quayle.”
Bloom was an average law student. Again, he felt out of place; what the U. of C. was ultimately-preparing was law professors. “I enjoyed the law, after all,” he says. “I found the logic interesting and sometimes absurd, but I didn’t want to be a professor. I wanted to do things. But I wasn’t sure I just wanted to be a lawyer serving clients. I had the sense that there was something more.
At the end of his second year of law school, Bloom got a summer job with the Student Health Organization, a radical national campus organization that dealt with poverty issues. “It was quite clear,” he says, “that the poor were not getting adequate medical care. They were being poorly served by welfare doctors. And subsistence working people were also not getting a decent deal. It occurred to me that the most humane and economical way to provide medical care for the poor was for the state to pay for medical insurance for them, and then they could go to any doctor and hospital they wanted. I went to my state representative Bob Mann, and told him about my idea. He loved it. That started a relationship with him in which I worked on all kinds of issues. I wrote his speeches. He was then an ascending member of the legislature.
“I drafted up the medical care proposal–House Bill 1479, I still remember–and it passed the house. Bob was astounded. It got caught in the senate, though. That was my real introduction to politics. It was the black medical association that strongly opposed the bill, because the captive market they had with the poor would now be able to go to any doctor. That was a very important lesson to learn. In the end, the dollar sign and wedded interest plays a very important part in public policy; and you can talk all you want about high ideals and serving the poor, but if it conflicts with your personal interest, forget it. I remember the only black legislator who really liked the idea was Harold Washington. I never told him that. I should have.”
In 1968, after graduating, Bloom went to work on a project of Mann’s, the Lake Michigan and Adjoining Lands Study Commission. He held hearings on pollution and development along the lakefront. As a result of the hearings, Bloom, with Mann’s input, drew up the “Lake Michigan Bill of Rights.” It prohibited dumping and set up development zones. “A pretty strong piece of legislation,” he says; it was not even approved unanimously by the commission.
Bloom was in for another lesson in politics. Concerned that the state legislature might pass this bill of rights and thereby take control of Chicago’s lakefront, Mayor Richard Daley pushed his own lakefront protection bill through the City Council. Bloom says it has never been very effective.
Meanwhile, Bloom was working in local political campaigns. “I still remember standing outside Jimmy’s on 55th Street in a driving rain giving out cards for Al Raby in the Con-Con election of ’69,” he says. He had the bug–though nearly ten years would go by before he himself ran for office.
When the lake commission ended its work in 1970, Bloom had to decide what to do next. He wanted to get married, which meant he had to think about earning a real living. He wasn’t interested in the large law firms his fellow classmates had gone into. Maybe, he thought, he could go into business for himself. A firm at 221 N. LaSalle gave him an office and secretarial services in exchange for one half of his working time. For a couple of months he didn’t have a client of his own, but one day a call came from a former classmate working for the Cook County public defender. “Larry, I’ve got this Jewish girl–18–who just shot and killed her husband. I’m defending her on the murder charge, but she’s mumbling something about how she wants to collect the insurance on her husband who she just killed and she wants a lawyer.” Telling this story, Bloom laughs. “He knew no real lawyer would take this but figured I would. And, of course, I said ‘Sounds great.’ I was just happy to have a client. It turned out that her husband had had an insurance policy that paid triple damages for accidental death. She claimed she shot him accidentally. He was drunk and attacked her, she said, and she grabbed his gun from the dresser and pointed it to the floor and fired.
“Of course,” Bloom adds, “he was hit in the middle of the skull and died. She insisted she pointed the gun at the ground.
She put on such a story for the the coroner’s jury that they came back with a finding of accidental death. She collected triple damages on the insurance, That was my first case. We hadn’t talked fee. The usual fee, I learned, was a third of her winnings. But I couldn’t believe that I could get that much money, so I took a sixth.”
Thus Bloom found himself “sitting with this big wad of money in my hands.” He soon spent it, fulfilling a promise to his wife by going in with two other families to buy an 80-acre farm in Indiana. The farmhouse has since been sold, but the Blooms and their friends still own 56 acres of land filled with trees, wildflowers, and berries. “It is registered with the Indiana [Department of] Natural Resources as a wilderness area,” Bloom says.
Bloom met his wife, Ruth Winter, a short, very slender, curly-headed, sharp-featured biology student, in 1968 at Harper Library at the University of Chicago. She was, he says, a “typical U. of C. student person.” He introduced himself and they went out for coffee. “We argued for two hours about the war in Vietnam. She was part of a student group going door to door in working-class neighborhoods to convince people to oppose the war.” Bloom told her, “No working-class guy who works in the steel mills is going to listen to you, a middle-class Jewish girl from New York, when he believes the war is patriotic and our boys should be over there.”
Bloom called Ruth a couple days later for a date. She turned him down. He assumed she was rejecting him outright and didn’t try to call her again. “It turned out that, on that night, she had the only date she had all year and with a guy she didn’t like.” They did not see each other for another year and a half, when they met again at a party and “we looked at each other and didn’t take our eyes off each other.”
A year and a half later they were married. She graduated, he opened his law practice, and she taught biology in the adult education division of Roosevelt University. A year later, she went back to the University of Chicago to do graduate work in genetics.
Ruth had extracted three promises from Bloom when they married: he would learn to ski, they would have a farm, and they would not have children for five years. They got their farm, Bloom learned to ski and loves it, and their two children do too, although the family takes only one ski trip a year.
They live in a lovely old Victorian house that was renovated by the owner they bought it from in 1986. Their Jamaican housekeeper has been with them full-time since Gabrielle was a baby and seems to be part of the family. When Bloom and I arrived at five o’clock one recent day, Cynthia Crooks greeted him with a cup of coffee fixed with cream and sugar. (He let me fix my own drink; he does not drink much himself.) A little later, she drove Gabrielle to her art class at the Hyde Park Art Center while Aaron scoured the house for family pictures to show me.
The Bloom kids attend Murray Language Academy, a magnet school in Hyde Park. Ruth has worked for more than ten years as an administrator in the clinical laboratories of the University of Chicago Hospitals. She still thinks, now and then, about finishing the PhD dissertation on sickle cell anemia that has been “taking up space in the den” for several years.
After a short time practicing law by himself, Bloom joined the firm that had given him office space, and he stayed with the firm until it dissolved in 1976. Then he went back into private practice in the same office, and, he says, did quite well. “I liked the idea of developing my own practice, like a small-town practice, small businesses, real estate, some litigation. Almost all my clients came from Hyde Park. I was involved in all kinds of community activities and I became known as the guy you went to when you needed a lawyer. I had a nice practice. I wasn’t making nearly what my friends were in the big firms, but it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t in it to make big money. I was having fun.”
Now he’s installed in comfortable if modest offices he shares with his father and several other lawyers at 35 E. Wacker. His legal income combined with his wife’s $30,000 salary and his $40,000 aldermanic pay comes to about $110,000 a year. He and Ruth own two inexpensive cars. Their principal asset is their house, valued at about $250,000.
“In 1978, we were living happily in a small house we’d fixed up at 47th and Greenwood in the Fourth Ward. We had a kid, Ruth was working at the hospital, I was a lawyer, we thought we’d live like that for the next 20 years. Then, I got a call from Larry Rosser [now the president of the Chicago Capital Fund], to say ‘I am inviting some friends over to discuss whether I should run for alderman of the Fifth Ward.'” The fabled Fifth Ward independent, Alderman Leon Despres, had resigned four years earlier and his successor was viewed by many as a do-nothing.
“I found a group at Larry’s house who had never worked in any campaign, who had no ties to the political apparatus in Hyde Park. I pointed out that without an organization–namely the established independent organization in the Fifth Ward–he could be the greatest candidate in the world and not be able to be elected.” Bloom walked out of that meeting with a new idea: “I could run for that office.”
On his way home, he ran into his old mentor, Bob Mann, who said, when Bloom proposed his idea, “Let me think about it.” Bloom was “deflated.” He went home and talked it over with his wife, who said, “We’ve been married seven and a half years and I feel as if I’ve had a seven-and-a-half-year reprieve. I always thought you would go into politics.” Tears well up in Bloom’s eyes as he recalls this pivotal conversation in his life. He and his wife would have to immediately sell their house in the Fourth Ward and move into the Fifth. If he won, their lives would be completely changed.
This was the first week of November. The filing deadline for candidates was December 15, and to be eligible a candidate had to live in a single precinct of the ward in which he was going to run for 30 days prior to filing. “We had ten days in which to sell this house we loved and move into a house in the Fifth Ward.” By chance, they immediately found a buyer for their house, at a $36,500 profit, and they bought the only house on the market at the time in the Fifth Ward for what Bloom says was “an exorbitant price” of $135,000. But he could not move in until December 25. He had to find somewhere in the precinct where he could live until then. He found a house that was being rehabbed. It was filled with sawdust; there was no heat; there were rats. The owners thought he was crazy, but he convinced them to take $200 to let him stay there until December 15. “Living right next door,” he recalls, “was someone who was an avid supporter of the alderman and they knew every day that I was there. I couldn’t leave at night because they would claim I didn’t live in the ward. I spent every night there. I snuck out a couple of nights after midnight and then came back before six so they would see me leave for work in the morning.”
Bloom won that election in a runoff by only 391 votes, despite the endorsement of the Independent Voters of Illinois and the support of the entire independent political apparatus in Hyde Park.
That meeting in Larry Rosser’s home that Sunday morning in November 1978 was crucial to Bloom’s political career. He probably would have run for office eventually, he says, but at that time a political career had not entered his head. His sudden decision put him in office the same year that Jane Byrne was elected, thus pairing him off with the opponent against whom he’d build his reputation. as a fighting independent. And because he moved so quickly that December, he later found himself in the position to be the only white alderman to support Harold Washington from the start, thereby building his reputation among blacks. “I trace my whole political career,” he says, “back to a fortuitous meeting to discuss whether someone else should run for alderman.”
Bloom recalls his family as “very close, maybe even overprotective.” He wasn’t permitted out of the house in the evenings, when other kids roamed. “We went to bed very early I suspect–I’m sure, in fact–because my mother was a pianist and she had to have time to practice. She would say she would play music that we could fall asleep to. The real reason was she had to get her four hours of practice in.” Music was a dominant influence in his life. So was reading. His father had a large library and, he recalls, “lots of magazines came into the house all the time.” The Blooms didn’t have a television set or a car for a long time, he says. “What you did in the evenings was read or play Scrabble.” Now he reads mostly political biography, having recently finished The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s huge volume about the use and misuse of power by Robert Moses, the late parks czar of New York. He also reads Sara Paretsky’s mysteries.
“I’m very much aware that my whole orientation to life is centered in being Jewish. I think the whole social concern that I have–the feeling of trying to do something for society–comes out of being Jewish more than anything else, more than my parents, my schooling. For some reason–maybe it has to do with understanding how Jews were treated through the centuries and not wanting others to have to suffer the same kind of persecution. That’s why, I think, I have this great social conscience, especially on race relations. The way I understood Jewish philosophy was that there was something internal to the community, that we took care of others, and that in Talmudic interpretation of the Torah it was obvious that it was always the most generous and other-directed interpretation that the scholars took: that you lived your life for the community and not for your own self-aggrandizement and that there was an absolute responsibility of each Jew for every other Jew. It may not have been so altruistic. It may have been, hey, no one’s for us, we gotta take care of ourselves. But the way I read it was this is the right thing to do. You take care of the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt. I still remember those stories that you feed your animals first and then, if there’s anything left, you feed the family. These weren’t given as reasons to go out and be social crusaders. They we’re just moral precepts. That’s for me what Judaism stands for. When you think of Abraham arguing to save a city even if there are only ten good men in it. It’s not all God. It’s up to us to try to make things better and to try to protect people from antihumanitarian motives. You don’t stand idly by and you aren’t oppressive yourself. That’s why I say that everything I am comes out of that heritage.”
Abruptly, Bloom makes a transition. “If blacks understand their heritage and live by it, the way Jews should do, they would be the closest of allies because once they stop looking at each other as opponents and understand that they each view the world–should view the world–totally differently than a lot of other people do, they should be going hand in hand as leaders to a more democratic and compassionate society. But there are problems,” he notes sadly.
Bloom envisions a variety of scenarios in which he can win. “Let’s say there will be lots of candidates, two or three whites and two or three blacks. The blacks divide up the black vote and the two ethnic candidates divide up that vote, and anyone can win with 25 percent of the vote. My 25 percent is solid–10 percent of the black vote, a good part of the lakefront, the yuppies, Jews, and women, a good representation of Hispanics and Asians, and a smattering from everyplace else. About the yuppies: When they had a choice between Washington and Vrdolyak, they went for Vrdolyak not because they liked him that much but because they didn’t think Washington was managing the city well. and they thought he was going to spend a lot of money on things that were not in their interest. I think the yuppies in Chicago have never had a candidate that they could vote for who was as much like them as I am, that is, professional, educated, nonracist, etc.”
Bloom does not think the yuppie vote would be a racist one, as it seemed to be when yuppies voted so heavily for Vrdolyak. “I think it’s a vote for competency when they vote for me, a conservative vote, but they don’t want to be perceived as being racist. Given a choice between an appealing white candidate and one who carries a racist image, I think they’ll go for the one that doesn’t have that image. So a lot of that vote that went for Vrdolyak is more likely to come to me than to Burke or Kelly. If I weren’t there, they’d go to Burke. I present an alternative that makes them feel better about themselves.”
Bloom thinks he can get 10 percent of the black vote partly on the basis of his experiences on talk shows on black radio, “There are lots of blacks who don’t like Sawyer and see that if there are several black candidates it’s a wasted vote with one of them, and they’d rather elect me than Burke. Plus the fact that my ward goes south to 79th Street and is three-quarters black, people who have always supported me. Also, I got redistricted out of a ward that goes all the way down to 47th Street where there are blacks who supported me as their alderman. So I have the benefit of one and a half to two wards’ worth of people who identify with me. Even if I got only 30 percent of the black voters in those two wards, that would give me about 15,000 votes right there, and all I need to get is about 50,000 black votes altogether to make my 10 percent.
“As far as the Hispanic vote is concerned, Ben Reyes and his associates are supporting me and I believe they’re the most powerful operatives in the Hispanic community.” In addition to Reyes, Bloom has working for him as his press secretary a well-known Hispanic journalist/activist, Bill Zayas, who handled the Hispanic press in the Washington administration. Zayas says, somewhat proudly, “I don’t think they’ll vote against me.”
Perhaps wishfully, Bloom does not believe “the powers that be in the Democratic party would let Ed Kelly be their standard-bearer. They will say, What do you want? And he would ask for the Park District again, and they would agree that Burke will run and give Kelly back his Park District. I would rather run against Ed Kelly than anyone, though. It really would give the voters a chance to choose between two distinct kinds of politics.”
Tim Evans, Bloom thinks, will have “trouble elbowing Sawyer aside. He may not be loved, but he’s got a lot of money. Tim has figured he could lay low and come out at the end. He hasn’t been seen or heard from. I think that’s bad strategy. But Tim is a timid politician who doesn’t want to make waves.
“I don’t think Rich Daley can be elected on November 8 for a four-year term [as state’s attorney] and then a few days later declare that he’s running for mayor. Maybe he will, but it doesn’t seem likely.” An insider in the Daley camp says Bloom is wrong, that Daley will be a candidate in the primary. Of course, he says, this depends on who wins the presidential election. If Dukakis should win, the likelihood is that Daley will be named U.S. attorney, in which case he will not be in the mayoral race.
Bloom continues with his scenario: “I’ll be very, very strong in the gay and lesbian community,” he says. “I’ve been there from the start. They look upon Sawyer as a Johnny-come-lately and Burke, well, they’re intrigued but don’t believe. Danny Davis has been with them straight through, but he probably won’t stay in the race.”
In another scenario, Bloom sees Kelly, Burke, and Daley in a room together. They agree they can’t all run, and somehow they choose one name. “Let’s say it’s Daley. Burke says ‘I’ll support you if I can have the Finance Committee.’ And Kelly says ‘I’ll support you if I can have the Park District.’ Then Daley says ‘Well, that’s great, but am I gonna win?’ The question is will Daley choose to run on the heels of just having run for another office if it’s likely that there’s one black candidate and Larry Bloom, because that’s not necessarily a winning ticket for him. He’s lost one already. He’s been called a spoiler. He’ll have been chosen because the old guard got together and said this is who we want and he’ll be turning his back on the voters who just elected him. So, with all those things in mind, it is not the most attractive scenario for any of them. They may decide to let me take the white vote because they can live with Sawyer. If they think I’m weak, they could say, ‘We won’t endorse anyone. We can’t endorse Sawyer because that won’t work in our wards. And we won’t endorse Bloom because he’s not one of us. Leave it to them to fight it out. If Bloom wins, OK, it’s only two years. We’ll clobber him later. If Sawyer wins, even better. In two years, there’ll be a big grudge match, the strongest ethnic against the strongest black, and Bloom will be irrelevant. Where is his constituency?’ And then it would be up to me in those two years to show what I can do. I would have to be so strong that neither a black nor an ethnic would want to take me on. Who knows?”
Bloom is looking to still another quarter: Mike Madigan, speaker of the house. He says, “Madigan is the strongest Democrat in the state. Does he want to elevate another southwest-side Irish Democrat to mayor in Chicago as a countervailing force? It doesn’t sound like Mike Madigan to me. When Hartigan wanted to run for governor, Madigan made sure that Adlai ran again. He is not the kind of politician who is likely to create competition for himself. But he can’t endorse Sawyer or one of the other blacks. His is the most antiblack ward in the city. Washington got the lowest percentage of votes in his ward. Furthermore, the ethnic vote in this city is not as large as it used to be. To keep his power, Madigan is going to have to forge a new coalition, and where is the likely place for him to go? To the lakefront, to Dawn Clark Netsch, Barbara Flynn Currie, Carol Moseley Braun, and he’s already done that.” Does Bloom think Madigan might endorse him? “It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
Bloom decided to run for mayor during those chaotic days after Harold Washington died, before Eugene Sawyer was sworn in. He says, “I was able to figure out in advance exactly where everyone was going to be and how they were going to react and why it might turn to me. I talked to everyone. I was on the phone 20 out of 24 hours a day. Just staying in touch with people, making sure they knew where I was and I knew where they were, that, under certain circumstances, I might be available. That made me a politician.”
When he got that call from “some northwest-side aldermen” asking whether he would take the job, he told them, “I don’t think I can unless I have the votes of the black and Hispanic aldermen as well.” He said he would work on it. But Bloom couldn’t get the commitments. Some were sympathetic, he says, but “they just didn’t think they could vote that way.”
During a recess at about 11 PM December 2, the night the Council picked a new mayor, “I was again asked, if Sawyer did not regain his courage, would I accept? I said that, since I didn’t see any difference between last night and tonight, I couldn’t.” Looking back now, Bloom says, “The idea that the tension of that night would carry on to make life too uncomfortable to govern turned out not to be true. In retrospect, I think that I and the city could have dealt with it, but at the time I had sufficient doubt that I couldn’t take the chance.”
In the days following that fateful election night, Bloom made up his mind to run. “I knew,” he says, “that Tim Evans was not going to be able to do it. He was not, that night, mobilizing his forces. He was not on the phone to people. The black elected officials do not look up to him as a leader and I knew then that Sawyer would not be able to govern effectively, if only because of the way he was elected. So I didn’t see either of them getting it. And I sensed that the city was ready to carry forward to some extent some of the initiatives of Harold Washington, but they wouldn’t go for either Evans or Sawyer. And I saw myself as the logical bridge to a new coalition and a new generation in Chicago, someone who is progressive, who had stood with Harold Washington because it was the right thing to do but was going to go beyond that style of confrontational politics and could be credible in the black community and in the ethnic community as well.”
It took Bloom several months to get used to the idea he might run for mayor and win. “The hardest part was to try to understand how my life would change if I was elected.” In March, he started looking at the numbers. He carefully watched Sawyer to see whether the new mayor could build a base. He talked to people who might support him financially. The initial soundings were not encouraging. Most people, he says, said “You’d be a great candidate. Here’s a small contribution. If it looks like you could make it, come back and I’ll be good for bigger money.” Bloom had $35,000 when he announced.
As of mid-October, he had raised slightly more than $100,000. “The key,” he says, “when I was talking to people, was when Bill Zimmerman, a very sophisticated adviser and media consultant, looked at it and thought it was very doable. And, after all, he was the one who took over Harold Washington’s media and political consulting in January ’83, when Harold had 12 percent of the polls. Zimmerman thought he was a winner at that point. He said to me that he looks at this stage and finds me in better shape now than Harold was then.”
Bloom admits that his major problem is still to be taken seriously. When Ed Kelly hinted that he would announce his candidacy, it was front-page news. When Bloom actually announced, the story appeared much farther back. His charge that Sawyer was going to spend $4.5 million more than he had to on a city-run waste-disposal system in order to pad the payroll, although a more economical private system was available, didn’t excite the papers. On September 11, the Tribune’s Thomas Hardy scoffed at Bloom’s “crazy notions” and pointed out his “vain efforts” to be an important actor in the political arena. “If Chicagoans wanted competence and political disarmament from their mayors,” Hardy says, “Republican Donald Haider would have received more than 4 percent of the vote last year.”
On the other hand, Mike Royko, in a September 29 column whose headline read “Best spot for Kelly is on a park bench,” said of the potential candidates, “Except for Ald. Larry Bloom, who seems to be afflicted with both honesty and intelligence, those who want to be mayor are a pretty motley crew.”
Bloom says, “My candidacy was greeted by the pundits with a healthy degree of skepticism. It just amazes me how unimaginative people who are considered to be political experts are, how they’re so hidebound by tradition that in Chicago you can’t win unless you’re Irish, or come from the machine, or you’re a tough guy, or, more recently, unless you’re black. These same pundits are the ones who never gave Jane Byrne a chance to win or Harold Washington or Jimmy Carter. Never gave any one of the seven dwarfs, including Mike Dukakis, a chance. And they are considered to be the luminaries of the political world. One of the disappointments for me has been the unwillingness of the political writers to have an open mind about the changing face of Chicago politics and that there is, by virtue of the dynamics of this election, a real opportunity for a person like me. Not just me. It could be somebody else. I saw, in this one election, the opportunity for someone who is not the product of one of the established political power bases to get elected. And I think that if I saw it, the pundits should see it too.”
Where does Bloom stand on the issues that he says he will run on?
“Sometimes a white leader can do things that a black can’t do in a black neighborhood. This is the perfect example. A black mayor fears that if he suggests tearing down a CHA building, the black community will jump all over him. I could do it. Maybe it will take a white to do it. A black mayor always fears the challenge of a rabble-rouser. It’s like Nixon going to China and Reagan signing the arms-control treaty. I’m not saying I’m the only one who could do it or that a black leader couldn’t, but it might be easier for a white leader who will get black votes but is not dependent on the black community for his political survival and is at the same time sensitive to the needs of the black community.
“Tim Evans’s support of maintaining those CHA high rises on the lakefront was evidence of his timidity. Not so much that he wants to preserve captive votes, but more because he wants to avoid any opportunities to criticize him. It’s easier just to leave everything as it is. I would have no such timidity.
“I supported the White Sox stadium project because it was clear that there were realistic ways to deal with the people who had to be displaced. I talked to them. They wanted to make sure they had comparable replacement housing in a neighborhood they wanted to move to. The way it was handled was very good. I know the people were satisfied; they told me so. Yes, development does cause displacement, but it doesn’t have to mean a rotten deal for the people displaced. It can be handled sensitively. It hasn’t always been such, but it can be. You also have to be sensitive to the fact that you may be displacing community institutions. All that may cost money, but the people in Armour Square received about $1 million. What’s that in the long run for a stadium that was going to cost $150 million?
“About Uptown, I don’t know much yet, but I get very concerned when I hear that the only way to protect low- and moderate-income housing is to work through one particular organization. I don’t support that idea. There are a variety of ways to protect the interests of low-income people. For instance, you can go to developers and say, ‘If you want city assistance, either you do some low-income housing or you make provision to internally subsidize low-income people.’ A number of developers have already found that acceptable.
“One thing you have to realize is that when you build or renovate you increase or create new tax revenue. Revenues from upper-income development can be used to subsidize low-income housing. Encouraging development increases the income the city gets to support its enormously expensive infrastructure, especially industrial and business development.”
Bloom proposes that industrial and business development be encouraged by “sitting down with business, planning, and academic people to figure out what kind of business and industry is most likely to be developing in the next 20 years, which of these businesses would find what we have in Chicago attractive, and then, in a coordinated fashion, go after them. We would use all our resources and really concentrate on a few areas and, in addition, make sure that our tax structure and our zoning laws will dovetail with what these people want to do.
“Then, I would go to the schools and say ‘This is what we are trying to attract. Why don’t you work into your curriculum the kinds of things that will prepare students for these jobs?’
“You will hit on some and miss others, but at least you’re taking a coordinated approach that analyzes the future situation and gives you a better chance of success. And so far as the schools are concerned, you’re giving kids something that is relevant.
“A mayor has to give this kind of leadership. Not just lip service, but real leadership. You have to twist arms. And there is another way that a mayor can use, that mayors in Chicago have never done. A mayor cannot speak for an issue from his chair. He only presides. But he can leave his chair, turn it over to the president pro tem, and go down to the floor and speak as a member of the body and really push what he believes in. I would use that kind of symbolic pressure to get what I want. You’ve got to have some emotion on an issue that’s important to you.”
“One very radical way to deal with that bureaucracy is to suggest that legislation be enacted in Springfield that would authorize local governments to declare educational emergencies. You’d need a super vote to do that–two-thirds or three-quarters. It’s an extreme measure. Then, once this law is passed, a local body like the City Council could stop the school system in its tracks and install a total new administrative structure. You would guarantee teachers’ salaries and benefits, but otherwise, you would, in effect, put the schools in receivership, not financial receivership, but educational receivership. That’s a very radical approach, but we may get to something like that.
“This idea was stimulated by something that happened in New Jersey where the state took over the schools in one city. I don’t want the state to take over our schools. I want to be sure we keep local involvement. It would take a lot of guts by the city to get rid of the Board of Education and the teachers union, but we are getting to that point, I think. If I am mayor, I am seriously considering making this law part of the legislative package I send to Springfield. The union won’t like it, and if they have a better suggestion I’d be willing to listen, But if I’m not satisfied that they have anything better to suggest to break the morass in the schools, I would push ahead with this legislation.
“I believe, in general, in the principle ‘keep politics out of the schools,’ but a mayor has to step in when the board and the union are clearly not acting constructively, as happened in the ’87 strike.”
“Unless we can find ways like this to cut costs, the only way to avoid tax increases is through economic development. If you need $100 million, and we will probably need $100 million more a year, just to keep up with wages, health care, and waste disposal, we have to broaden our tax base with new buildings, new industry, and with people who are not now paying their taxes. And with new sales taxes. That’s why development is so important. If we can’t do that, we’re going to have to start cutting back on services. It’s going to be very difficult.”
“We also need to get police officers off unlimited medical leave. In the Police Department, you can have 365 days a year of medical leave and it doesn’t count against your vacation time. The medical leave is much higher than in other departments around the country. There’s something going on here. I just can’t believe that Chicago police officers are less healthy than those in other cities. What they are doing is abusing the system. We have to find a way to control these abuses and get those people out on the streets.”
Skeptical pundits in town say Bloom has no chance of being elected mayor, but might as well run–he’s got nothing to lose by trying. Bloom laughs. “The problem with that wisdom is that you don’t go through the hell of running for mayor unless you believe you have something to gain, namely to win. I don’t enjoy begging for money, especially with a $100,000 debt left over from my 1984 state’s attorney’s race, which I lost badly. Yet part of running for mayor is calling people and asking them for money, money that they could easily spend on themselves or some good cause and you have to convince them that the most important thing in their life is to spend $1,000 for Larry Bloom’s campaign. And what’s it gonna do? Go to help pay for one minute on television. It’s not easy to convince people that’s a good way to spend their hard-earned money. You don’t go into this just for your own pleasure or because you have nothing to lose. There are lots of people who have nothing to lose, but who don’t take the step. I’m doing this not because I have nothing to lose, but because I think the city has something to gain.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Art Wise.