Lighten Up, Harold

Memo to the mayor. Call 573-8700.

What we hear from the campaign trail is that Harold Washington isn’t letting up for a minute. Crowds galvanize him. While his enemies bury each other in lime, the mayor rolls on. in that inimitable way of his — a whiz at both progressive government and regressive campaigning. Anyone in his way he lets have it: Dan Rostenkowski’s a drunken driver, Mike LaVelle’s “dumb,” Ed Vrdolyak’s an “anti-Semite.”

When he talks that way, we’re not sure if the mayor’s firing on all cylinders or only one. He’s had a long, hard four years and he’s had to run two campaigns for mayor, back to back.

Maybe he’s pooped. And that worries us because of the other thing we hear from the campaign trail. Which is that the mayor’s not exactly in fighting trim. He weighs too much.

“He’s too fat. I think he’s going to have a heart attack one of these days,” said a correspondent in the field who’s a well-wisher. It was no challenge for us to locate scribes around this newspaper who wish the mayor well, and to a man they wish he’d lose some weight.

We called around. The ballooning of an already fleshy physique is generally laid to the mayor’s success in swearing off cigarettes a year or so ago. Also to a lack of sleep, a lack of exercise, and a diet weighted in favor of greasy fast foods. Observers say the mayor — who turns 65 on April 15 — could lose something from 15 to 40 pounds and never miss them.

The mayor shows incredible energy, we were told emphatically by all observers. He sails along at a pace that drives far younger men into the ground. And so forth and so on. “There’s no reason to question his health,” insisted one political ally, who thought we were fishing around for “the kind of story you’d expect to read in the Enquirer.”

We’re not saying he’s sick. We concede he’s got twice the energy of men with twice his life expectancy. It’s just that since his triumph over nicotine, either doctors have stopped giving him good advice, or he’s stopped taking it. The mayor’s boasted about staying in office 20 years and we don’t believe it; more likely, this is his last campaign. A friend who claims to be close to some of Tom Hynes’s people told us a month ago that Hynes’s goal in ’87 was to position himself as a high-minded, good-government administrator who’d appeal to everybody in 1991, or sooner, when the race for mayor was run again and Harold Washington wasn’t in it to hold together black voters. Of course Hynes lost his high-mindedness about ten minutes after the gloves came off, but we have pondered the theory.

If the mayor’s foes make calculations based on his actuarial prospects, his allies despair to think about them. The mayor better be made of steel; because the black-Hispanic-white progressive coalition he’s put together wouldn’t last long without him.

“Washington is far ahead of his people, far ahead of those who support him,” said one admirer, who told us, “I’ve always been a little worried about his weight.” By “far ahead,” he meant: as a progressive politician. He predicted after Washington “a fairly unstable time. There might be a strong push for a black-white alliance, but along the wrong lines.”

He said, “I’ve kind of given up worrying.”

We haven’t. Do it, mayor. When the election’s over, take a day off. Sleep, go swimming, eat an apple, read a book in a hammock.

And call Weight Watchers.

Lotto Bunk

“So why are you against hope?” we asked a senior editor at the Sun-Times.

We were genuinely puzzled. This editor had been arguing that the Illinois Lottery took advantage of the desperation of the poor. He considered it a damnable thing.

Oh, sure! we countered. Let the poor stew in their misery. Hammer a No Exit sign over their lives.

Neither of us gave an inch.

We waged this debate several years ago, when the lottery was new, and over the years our feelings on the matter have only hardened. Last year’s protest against those helpful billboards, HOW TO GET FROM WASHINGTON BLVD. TO EASY STREET, baffled us. Gosh, CTA maps should be so easy to read! We wondered what these natterers would make of a sign that said: “No Way to Easy Street. You Can’t Get There From Here.”

Is that the message they want the poor to hear?

A man’s got to have a dream. “What’s your scheme?” a friend once asked us. “Don’t let the grass grow. You got to be out there scheming.”

A well-educated white man with connections downtown, this friend was putting together a deal that could have set him up for life. As it happened, his deal ran through several thousand dollars of his wife’s money and cost him his marriage; but even today he is never without a glint in his eye, a bounce to his step. He’ll be back.

The down-and-out have to make do with the opportunities available to them. One happens to be the Illinois Lottery, which, surveys show, is far more popular among the poor than the rich. A poor man with a Lotto ticket in his pocket is a poor man who’s put his money to work. He’s got a ship that — one in every seven million times — is sure to come in.

Everybody needs that.

That’s why we got so excited reading about fresh developments in the Illinois State Lottery. Just the other day Springfield announced the new Lotto-7 game: it promises an even bigger pot than Lotto, if at twice the odds. And a few days earlier, the papers told us about a superlottery that’s being cooked up by Illinois, six other states, and the District of Columbia. The jackpots could reach $80 million.

Any man or woman who can run down to the corner and for a buck or two buy the right to announce “I got something going that could see me a cool 80 million” is a human being who need defer to no other in self-esteem.

But there’s even more to be said for the lottery than that.

As the signs in the trains and buses like to remind us, “All profits benefit Illinois schools.” The net enters Illinois’ Common School Fund, and it’s disbursed by the state board of education.

The total disbursement from the Common School Fund during fiscal 1986 was a little over 1.6 billion dollars. The lottery provided $551,793,482 of that amount. The rest came from taxes.

“If it weren’t for the lottery, the money would come from someplace else and the taxpayer would be paying more,” a board of education official explained to us.

The good news is that for fiscal 1987, lottery receipts are running some 12 percent ahead of 1986. And the superlottery, whenever it gets going, is certain to jack receipts up even higher. That’s why it’s in the works.

Illinois’ continuing commitment to education is guaranteed.

The Illinois Lottery is a godsend! May it live forever! It gives the underclass an opportunity to deal directly and ambitiously with their lack of advantages, while middle-class people like ourselves, who would not be caught dead squandering money on a game of chance like Lotto-7 that will offer odds of 15 million to one, make out like bandits: we’ve got the poor and desperate subsidizing our taxes to the tune of over half a billion dollars a year.

Yet that old editor of ours disapproved. He didn’t have a practical bone in his body!

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.