Walter Dudycz is either the most sincere, earnest, and dedicated man in Chicago politics or the most outstanding actor on this fall’s ballot. Best known for his fulsome ardor–one might say grandstanding–on behalf of the American flag in the celebrated “Dread Scott” Tyler case at the School of the Art Institute, Dudycz talks a lot about “public service.” The people who have known him for a long time seem to reach invariably for the same adjectives: “honest,” “hardworking,” “sincere,” “ethical.” The people who oppose him always use the same phrase, too. They call him “the flag nut.”
Blue-eyed and boyish, Dudycz, the 40-year-old son of Ukrainian immigrants, looks like an older version of boy defector Walter Polovchak, right down to the aviator glasses. His speech, with its hint of a Slats Grobnik accent, reflects his west-side upbringing. He earned his college degree part-time, while working as a police officer, after his hitch in Vietnam. He’s given to short-sleeved shirts worn with ties, and lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in a “handyman special” he fixed up himself. He’s been cited twice for saving lives (of nonconstituents, yet) with CPR. He is probably not the most silver-tongued member of the Illinois Senate, but when he speaks, it is with real passion and–yes–sincerity.
Walter Dudycz (pronounced “DOO-ditch”) is an anomaly in Chicago politics, a successful Republican; when elected from the northwest side in 1984, he was the first member of that party to go to the state senate from the city in more than a decade. Now he’s trying an even tougher gig, to unseat an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives; as the Wall Street Journal has observed, Congress these days has considerably less turnover than the Politburo. The elderly Democratic incumbent, Frank Annunzio (who was devastatingly illuminated by David Jackson in the August issue of Chicago magazine) is 75 years old, badly tainted by the S&L scandal, seldom ventures out of Washington, and is virtually unknown to most of his constituents, but he’s armed with heaps of PAC money, the considerable might of the Democratic Party, and the congressional franking privilege: the Dudycz campaign has collected 11 pieces of mail sent out by Annunzio in the last six months; the last of them, a less-than-crucial memo on Lyme disease, was dated September 28, in violation of the House rule against sending franked bulk mail within 60 days of an election.
Dudycz’s Milwaukee Avenue campaign office sits kitty-corner to the considerably more prosperous-looking 41st Ward headquarters of Roman Pucinski. It’s a neighborhood where Chicago’s famous Bungalow Belt melds imperceptibly with the northwest suburbs, where the houses are small and neat and tend to be built of pale brick with decorative stone inserts. Dudycz’s office occupies a small storefront next to an animal clinic, and conveniently close to a McDonald’s, which must make for interesting mealtime encounters with Pucinski’s troops. The window is almost completely obscured by signs and notices, the biggest a red and white on blue banner declaring “DUDYCZ for Congress”; also designed to be read from a considerable distance are “No More Taxes” and a black and white POW/MIA flag. Other signs tout Lynn Martin, Aldo DeAngelis, James O’Grady, Jack O’Malley, and state rep candidate Josef Matuschka–these are the appellations of the new Chicago Republicanism. Also in the window are blowups of newspaper and magazine articles–favorable notices of Dudycz, a variety of hostile pieces on the eminently savageable Annunzio–and assorted bumper stickers to fill the interstices.
Surprisingly, some daylight manages to penetrate to the interior, where volunteers–there are several in the office, even on a workday morning–labor amid telephones and piles of literature. It’s evident that this campaign doesn’t have a lot of money to waste; the press kits are enclosed in plain white folders with bumper stickers pasted to the front, and all the furniture has a recycled look to it. A big jukebox crowned with a cardboard box dominates one wall; every time a volunteer goes out to ring doorbells or comes in to work the telephones, s/he fills out a raffle ticket and drops it in the box. On election night, Dudycz will pull out one name, and the lucky volunteer will lug the jukebox home.
I first met Dudycz here on a Friday morning early in September. He struck me as kind, considerate, and polite, albeit concerned about just what this reporter was planning to do to him. He also was punctual, a quality I have learned not to expect of politicians. He started out soft-spoken, to the point of being hard to understand, but when he got onto one of the topics about which he’s passionate, the volume rose and his hands moved in strong gestures. He became most passionate when he talked about the people he represents.
His parents were both born in the Ukraine; Walter is the third and youngest son of six children. His father fought in World War II and was taken to Germany as a POW. His mother was a forced laborer in Germany. Recounts Dudycz, “They took her to Germany, and she was a farmhand, a slave. Then my mother and father met in a DP camp; they fell in love; they had three children there–as a matter of fact, I was conceived in Germany, in the displaced persons camp–and I was born in Cook County Hospital, in Chicago. This may be unique in Chicago politics, but neither my mother nor father were politicians. My mother was a janitor, my father was a factory worker. They are both retired now; they both live on the west side of the city, where they’ve lived for the last 40 years, and where I grew up.”
All three Dudycz boys were in the armed forces during the 60s; two were in Vietnam. Walter went into the Army a week after getting out of high school, and on his discharge he went into the Chicago Police Department. He was a police officer for 13 years, and he spent all of it, he says, on the street. His first assignment had him working in Cabrini-Green with a black partner. He then went to the 13th district on the west side, where he remained a patrolman until 1978; cloutless, he waited five years on the list to make detective. He left the department after being elected in ’84.
“Actually, in 1982 my political career began, but at that time I didn’t know the difference between a precinct and a ward. I was apolitical. I did not like politicians then, and I do not associate with politicians today. My friends–as you can see, they’re our volunteers–are plumbers, janitors, housewives, just average people. I’m not a wealthy guy. I come from extremely modest means. My wife buys my suits from Spiegel’s. I have a scar on my face, a rat-bite scar, from where I was bitten as an infant in the tenement we were living in. I know what it’s like to be in need. I’m a family man. I’m a common man, and I represent the common people. I am living the American dream. Where else but in America could a fellow with a name like mine be a state senator, let alone even dream of becoming a congressman?”
But isn’t an ethnic name, an ethnic background, a plus in Chicago? Responds Dudycz, again starting with a straight answer and then sweeping irresistibly into campaign rhetoric: “It’s a plus to have an ethnic background if your name is Rostenkowski or Pucinski. But without–you know, I have no clout. I was a police officer, I took the sergeant’s test. I took it several times and never made the list–I didn’t have the clout. And, you know, in Chicago, in clout city, you cannot get anywhere–it seems–without clout. So I decided to become clout for the cloutless.
“It started when we had a problem with a tavern down the street from me . . . near Wright Junior College. The tavern owner was supposedly selling liquor to minors, there had been allegedly a shooting there, there were some problems–they were urinating in our gangways, breaking bottles, disrupting the neighborhood. And we had a community meeting, and signed petitions, asking the alderman to assist us. The alderman’s name was Thomas Cullerton. The Cullertons have been aldermen in that neighborhood for over a hundred years. And we presented our grievance to the alderman, and we said, ‘We have a problem with this tavern.’ And he said, ‘Ahhh, I’ll close it down,’ and he promised to tell us when the liquor commission hearings were to be, so we as a community could testify, and hopefully get this place closed down, because it was a very, very big nuisance to the community.
“To make a long story short, the 400 signatures that we obtained, and the hundred people that attended the meeting, were not notified of the liquor commission hearing. The tavern owner was boasting–whether it’s true or false, I don’t know–he was boasting that we couldn’t touch him because he had an alderman in his pocket, whatever that means. [The tavern owner] took a voluntary seven-day suspension and he said he was going to use it for a vacation in Texas, and screw you people, you guys can’t do nothin’ to me. That angered me, because the alderman refused to notify us of when the liquor commission hearing was to be. So I decided, ‘Well, it’s time to support his opponent.’ And I found out there was no opponent in the next election; as a matter of fact, there never had been an opponent to the Cullertons; this is the legendary 38th Ward, where Tom Tully, the assessor, came from; where P.J. Cullerton came from, and the Cullerton dynasty came from, and they are a rock there, and nobody ever challenged the Cullertons. You don’t do that in Chicago. They have streets named after their family. But I decided I was going to challenge him anyway–‘He’s not going to get a free ride.’ I was very upset.”
So Dudycz became a candidate for alderman. “I went out, door-to-door. I got signatures. I got signatures, I got the minimum number of signatures to get on the ballot to challenge Thomas Cullerton, and I embarked on a six-week campaign. I’d never been involved in politics in my life, I didn’t know the first thing about Chicago politics per se, but I was going door-to-door, and I was meeting a lot of people that felt just like I did. And although we lost that first election, Thomas Cullerton won with only 50.8 percent.”
After that, Dudycz says, he was approached by “certain people”–Republicans–and asked to run for state senator. He didn’t entirely trust their sincerity, but he considered the offer anyway. “What happens traditionally in Chicago–it’s my understanding–when there is a young upstart, or a troublemaker, as the established political entities may consider, they get him or her involved in a campaign where they get deeply in debt. So [the candidate becomes] very disillusioned by this political process, and just disappears from the scene. . . .
“[But] I sat down with my brother, who is my closest confidant, and we looked at the numbers, and we checked past elections, and we studied it. We figured that if certain things went right, if certain things went our way, we would give it a shot. I spoke with the Republican leaders in the Illinois Senate, and they gave some tepid support at the beginning–that if we did get the campaign off the ground, they would continue their support.
“You have to remember that just prior to that, the incumbent state senator, Bob Egan, was challenged by a community leader, a man who was president of a community organization, a lawyer, a home owner, had a wife, two-point-three kids, a dog, a cat, a gerbil–all that stuff. He was the ideal candidate to challenge the incumbent, and Senator Egan still won with 68 percent in 1982.
“But I felt there was something out there–a dissatisfaction with the status quo–the same type of movement that brought Harold Washington to the mayor’s office was building up here. In my opinion, there was not a racial thing in the city of Chicago–political sides were using race as a money-building and as a fear-building campaign ploy–but it was just a dissatisfaction with the status quo of the political system. There was a very similar discontent in this community, as there was in the black community and the Hispanic communities, and elsewhere.
“So we were going door-to-door–I do a lot of door-to-door campaigning–and I was getting a very, very strong reception. It was a very grass-roots campaign. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of people. People started getting out more, and they believed in me. And the more people showed they believed in what we were doing, the stronger I felt, and the more determined I became. And the more determined I became, the harder I worked. And the harder I worked, the harder the volunteers worked, and the harder the volunteers worked–we just kept feeding on each other, and building our campaign. And we won, with 56 percent of the vote, in ’84. And then the machine–whatever that means–their leaders, certain leaders, came up to me and said, ‘Enjoy your four years, ’cause you’re going to be out of here after ’88, because you’re a one-termer; we don’t need Republicans in Chicago, we don’t need people like you in Chicago.’ And so I served for four years. In 1988, I was targeted for defeat. And we won with 66 percent of the vote.
“I think that it’s more than me individually that won. I think it’s more me the symbol of the average person who’s tired of the system, the political leaders that we have. If it wasn’t me, it would be somebody else who would just get out there and speak for the general public. And I believe this.”
Like any good Chicago boy, Walter Dudycz was raised a Democrat; in fact, his parents are both still registered members of the party. His decision to run as a Republican was one of pure pragmatism.
“In order to get ahead in the Democratic Party in Chicago, you must become a precinct captain, you must pay your dues over a period of years, you have to deliver for the machine–that’s how you work your way up the ladder. I didn’t do that. I was not willing to be a precinct captain and deliver garbage cans in order to serve the public. I’ve dedicated my life to public service. I’m 40 years old; I’ve spent 22 years in public service. But I was not willing to become a precinct captain for the local political machine and to deliver votes for whomever is chosen by a back-room group of people.
“Somebody asked me, my first race, ‘Are you a liberal, a moderate, or a conservative?’ And the best answer I could give him was, ‘I guess I must be a liberally moderate conservative.’ Our system requires you to run on your label. You must run under that big D or that big R label. So if I had to run under one of the labels, the one that I would have the best chance of being a credible political voice with would be the Republican. The Democratic Party is sewn up around here–all the committeemen, and they have all the votes. The Republicans, for all practical purposes, are minimal, if that–I don’t want to say ‘nonexistent,’ because there are some here–but the impact of the established Republican Party is just minimal. For someone to claim that they elect people like myself for party [labels], that’s a fallacy. I didn’t get elected with the Republican Party; I got elected in spite of it in ’84.
“I did get help from those circles, because for their purposes, a Republican senator who’s not controllable is a lot more desirable than a Democratic senator who’s adversarial. I wasn’t chosen because they loved me. They didn’t support me because of my ideology–I opposed the governor on ‘Build Illinois’ every time he presented it. And I opposed other issues which I felt were against the best interests of our community. I would say I’m a fiscal conservative.”
Dudycz believes that the old political lines–the city is rock-solid Democratic, while the suburbs are reliably Republican–are starting to fall apart. “I predict a taxpayers’ revolution on November 6. I predict a voter backlash against the established parties, just like has happened in Du Page County in the spring primaries. I predict it will happen in Cook County this election. Voter discontent–other countries have revolutions; we have elections. What we have to do is continue urging nonpolitical people, people that are not traditional, lifelong political types to get involved in government, because that’s where we’re going to get our changes. Labels are irrelevant at this point. It’s very, very interesting to see how the system works in Springfield, when you have the leaders of both parties cutting deals and coming up with packages. The taxpayers don’t have the slightest idea what’s being done to them. I think that something’s wrong with the system that does not allow their elected representatives to truly be effective in their behalf.”
But in a traditionally Democratic district, and given the average Chicagoan’s lifelong inclination to vote Democratic, with union leaders and everybody else telling the constituency to vote the straight party ticket, how can he hope to overcome inertia and win?
Walter Dudycz sits back in his chair, points a finger, and gives it to me straight. “I tell my constituents to vote their pocketbook. I’m telling them that this election every politician’s going to give you political literature. Read it all, but when you go to vote on November 6, bring your tax bill with you. Vote your tax bill, vote your W-2 form, vote your property tax bill. Let them guide your vote. If you are satisfied with the services you are getting from [government], reelect those people. If you are not satisfied, maybe you should replace those people. And to the people who say, ‘One person doesn’t make a difference,’ I disagree. One person makes a phenomenal difference. Because one person influences two, who influence four, eight, sixteen–it just doubles and multiplies.
“The Tax Accountability Amendment, for example, started out in my district here. A couple of people got very upset because of the tax situation. We got 500,000 signatures. Yeah, the people didn’t win this one–because the big business, the big unions, the special interests were very successful in striking it down. But the ultimate authority is with the people–you and I, and the average person. Whether I’m there or not is irrelevant–we need the Jesse Jacksons, we need the Walter Dudyczes, we need the Harold Washingtons, the dissenting voices from whatever established system there is, and we need to continuously monitor and change [the system], because any of us who stay in a certain position too long get comfortable, and we get caught up into it–we become part of the problem. I believe in limiting terms of service. I believe that, whether you’re a congressman or a state legislator, you have no inherited right to be in that office.
“My opponent, Frank Annunzio, has been a congressman for 26 years. I think he’s a nice man, as a person, but I don’t think he knows what his staff is doing. They are insulted that someone dare mount a serious challenge to him. He has always had an opponent, but in the last 18 years, he has never had a serious challenge. I mean, it’s always been an opponent in name only. And that’s not healthy. It’s not healthy, whether it’s him, or me, or anybody, to run in a race that you can’t lose. It’s not healthy for us.”
Isn’t that part of the system now–the way things have been gerrymandered and set up in favor of incumbents? “Yeah, but I’ve broken the mold before,” says Dudycz.
At times, he says, he’s been extremely frustrated in Springfield, “because I’ve been looked upon by the suburban Republicans as ‘one of those Chicagoans.’ And then I’ve been looked upon by the Chicago Democrats as ‘one of those Republicans.’ So I’m kind of like a Maytag repairman, sitting by myself. But that, in itself, has its benefits, because that allows me my freedom to vote my conscience, and to vote my constituency. Because when I vote contrary to partisan position, they’ll say, ‘Hey, look at this guy, look how he voted. Well, what do you expect–he’s a Republican from Chicago!’ I cannot toe the party line at all times. I told [Republican leader] Pate Phillip, when I ran originally, that I couldn’t vote the party line always, and he told me, ‘You vote your district.’ So whenever he would ask me if I could vote a certain way, I’d say, ‘Look, when I first ran for this, you told me, ‘Vote your district.'” He has not always been happy, but he has always respected that.
“Now I am attempting to oust a longtime incumbent congressman. Yeah, I’d love to do that. But you know what–if I don’t, well, I’ll be state senator, and I will continue to represent my district. But if I am able to replace Frank Annunzio as the congressman, I won’t think that I can go out to Washington and reform the world by myself, no. I’m going to try to learn as much as I can, and encourage others–irregardless of whether they’re Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians.
“If you see something wrong, change it. You can change it. You can get involved in it. Two good examples: In 1964, I was picked up for curfew. I was a kid–six high-school friends and I left the Riverview roller rink after a high-school skating party–and we got out after 10:30. It was not a big offense, but I was thrown into the back seat of a police car, taken to the police station, roughed up a little bit. And they called our parents, who made our behinds sore. It was the Wood Street station, right on the second floor. Ten years later, that was my office. I changed it from inside.
“In 1974, I bought a house, a handyman special. [The city] had chopped down a tree in front of the house before I purchased it, and I wrote a letter to the old Mayor Daley, that I’d like a new curb in front of my house because the sod was being washed away–the curb was busted up. And I got a nice letter back from him, saying, in effect, ‘You’re on the list, kid.’ I waited for six years. So finally I said to myself, ‘Damn, I’ve been waiting six years for a curb. My wife and I keep sodding it, and the city doesn’t do anything!’ So in 1981 I went out, got myself a half-dozen bags of Sakrete, a couple of two-by-fours, and I put my own curb in. It’s still up there. I put my initials on it, the date, and it’s still up there. I did it myself. If you want it done right, you do it yourself. I hose my street down, I hosed my alley down today, so do my neighbors. We have to lead by example. You gotta show your children, you have to show the people in the community that government’s not all corrupt. I don’t put my morality on anybody else; I don’t want anybody else putting their morality on me.
“I wanted to be a priest, until I discovered girls in high school, and I decided celibacy’s not my thing. So I decided on public service. It sounds corny, it sounds real corny, but I really believe in it. And you know, I’m not unique. There are a lot of people out there who believe that government means serving the public. It does mean that! Not everybody subscribes to it, but that’s what it means! Public servant–not public pirate! And we have to encourage people.
“One of the photographs I’m proudest of in my entire political career is a picture of myself with Harold Washington and Ronald Reagan, the three of us. We’re all smiling, and we’re talking. That photograph tells you that you can have different sides, ideologically–from the right-wing Ronald Reagan faction to the Harold Washington populist liberal faction–in the city of Chicago, federal government, local government. The extremes. The bottom line is, everybody wants good government, and I really believe that both [Reagan and Washington] meant the same thing, wanted the same thing. We work in a system that is not as good as it can be–but we keep working at it, to improve it.”
Jean Mayer is the cochair of SONSOCC, the Save Our Neighborhood, Save Our City Coalition, a 6-year-old amalgam of the 17-year-old Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation and the 13-year-old Northwest Neighborhood Federation. She also chairs the board of the Southwest group, which covers the area around Midway airport. “They’re similar neighborhoods, in terms of housing, population, income level, and concerns–the economic stability of the neighborhood, anticrime concerns, school reform, housing equity,” says Mayer, who lives in capo di tutti ei capi Mike Madigan’s district and has dealt with hordes of politicians on her area’s issues. A major issue in recent years has been guaranteed home equity programs, which insure home owners against loss of property value and therefore–theoretically, at least–relieve some of the tension associated with neighborhood integration. A home owner who chooses to participate is assessed a fee, which goes into a pool; after a five-year wait, if a good-faith effort to sell the house results in offers below the appraised value, the home owner gets back the difference between the appraisal and the price received.
A similar home equity program, recently dropped after being in place for some years, is credited with boosting the confidence of home owners in Oak Park. Such programs are needed, insists Mayer, because “once a neighborhood starts to decline–like Austin, Roseland, Englewood–city services decline, and schools go down the drain.” Walter Dudycz was the first elected official in the state of Illinois to show any interest in the concept.
“We’d had no help from Byrne or Washington–although toward the end he told us he would support it, he didn’t get around to doing anything–and Tim Evans kept stalling it in the Council. So Walter Dudycz told us that if we couldn’t get anything through the City Council, he’d try to get something passed in Springfield. He had legislation drafted in Springfield, and it got a lot of support,” from voters in Chicago.
“When it was obvious that it was very popular, Madigan jumped on the bandwagon, and [the issue] was grabbed in the senate by Ted Lechowicz. Walter Dudycz was then a cosponsor, and he was very helpful–instrumental–in rounding up Republican help in the senate.
“He’s been very supportive on other issues–he has always been extremely supportive of any issue the neighborhood has come forth with. His influence is limited; it’s a Democrat-controlled legislature.
“But Walter Dudycz is a regular person. You can talk to him. He understands how regular people feel. There’s a lot of respect for that man on both sides of town. We think he’s a really great guy–he’s always been there when we called on him. He always seems happy to see you, unlike some representatives.
“He’s one of the few politicians I know of who has maintained his integrity. I think he likes the perks and respect–who wouldn’t? But I think he’s sincere.”
What does Walter Dudycz see as the major issues in his congressional campaign? “One issue is personal style–Frank Annunzio has been isolated in Washington for more than 20 years. Most people don’t know it, but he even sends his brother Joe to stand in for him at parades. My style is one of community involvement.
“As far as legislation goes, the only thing that can be said about Frank Annunzio is that he sponsored the Olympic coin, and he’s the spokesman for the S&L industry. I’ve sponsored collective bargaining for police officers and fire fighters, the Tax Accountability Amendment, senior citizens’ rights, veterans’ rights, educational choice–I am a proponent of the voucher system–and a lot of tax issues. Frank Annunzio got a ‘Big Spender’ award from the National Taxpayers Union; I’ve gotten a bunch of ‘Taxpayers’ Best Friend’ awards from National Taxpayers United of Illinois over the years. Frank Annunzio voted for a 35 percent pay raise, boosting his salary to over $120,000. The pay hike he gave himself is more than the average family of four in his district earns. I sponsored legislation to reject a pay hike for Illinois [legislators]. I favor the line-item veto for president, the balanced budget amendment, school vouchers.
“I’ve repeatedly challenged Frank Annunzio to a debate–his people have ignored me every time. I asked the League of Women Voters to sponsor a debate, and they refused.”
Dudycz is irked by a seniors’ group that endorsed him only two years ago as a friend to oldsters and now issues statements castigating him. “The only difference is that the man who is now director of the group is a Democratic candidate for representative. It’s simple partisan politics.”
On another important national issue, and one particularly close to Dudycz’s heart: “I believe we need strong defense–but we need a cautious perspective.” Dudycz says he’s afraid of another Vietnam in the Middle East, that American men and women will be sent to fight and die for no reason.
John Dineen, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7, is not particularly thrilled to be called by a reporter, but gruffly agrees to speak about Walter Dudycz, whom he calls “a very effective legislator and a very ardent supporter of law and order issues, police issues. He was willing to go out front and represent us on many issues other people wouldn’t handle, like collective bargaining.”
According to Dineen, who has known Dudycz for 15 years, the former detective was “the driving force behind securing collective bargaining for police officers in Illinois. Anything within reason the police community has wanted, he’s gone after.” Anything within reason? Have they asked him to do anything that wasn’t reasonable? “We’re always reasonable,” responds Dineen, stiffly.
“Walter Dudycz was a hardworking, energetic police officer, both as a patrol officer and as a detective. He is dedicated to public service. He has taken that dedication to public service into the legislative field.”
“He’s a down-to-earth sort of fellow, with a good sense of humor. He seems to be in tune with what’s happening–this sounds like a campaign statement, doesn’t it?” says Steve Vetter, who cheerfully admits “We like him a lot, and we don’t have anything bad to say about him around here.”
Vetter is editor of the Community Free Press, a free biweekly paper that serves Dudycz’s northwest-side stomping grounds. Founded in August of 1989, the fledgling journal has a circulation of 25,000, and according to the boss reflects the mores of its readers. “Generally speaking, we’re conservative–in line with the area. We’re proreligion. We’re probusiness.”
And they’re pro-Dudycz. “He’s more of a regular guy than a lot of politicians. He’s in touch with the regular people. I think that comes from being a police officer.”
Asked about Frank Annunzio, Vetter says carefully, “Mr. Annunzio is too liberal for the constituency, and has been in Congress too long. I think he’s lost touch.”
John Hoeger worked with Walter Dudycz when they were both burglary detectives on the west side, from 1980 to ’84. Today, he’s still a detective (“Bein’ a loud-mouth Republican, what would you expect?”), as he has been since 1971, and a volunteer for the Dudycz for Congress campaign. “As a young detective, he always impressed me. He didn’t get involved in the street things a lot of the guys do [with suspects and other citizens]–tricking ’em, mistreating ’em, making jokes about ’em, laughing at ’em. He didn’t think it was right. Generally, the police have no respect for the people they’re handling. They’re cynical. But [Dudycz] treated everyone professionally.
“There’s a lot of honest cops and do-gooders, but they aren’t usually good street cops. They’re mostly sitting at desks. Walter Dudycz was almost a do-gooder, but he was very good on the street. He wasn’t afraid to make arrests, or go on midnight raids. If you had to arrest a dangerous suspect, or go make a hit on a flat, he was the one you wanted on the radio, on backup. And he was good on paperwork, he was good in court. He was never afraid to get involved.”
During a wave of smash-and-grab robberies, Hoeger says, Dudycz never objected to being the decoy, the one who dressed as a woman and drove down the street with a purse on the front seat. He was good getting the victims to attend lineups. “He’s just good at dealing with people, especially people in situations they’re not used to.”
Hoeger calls Dudycz’s style “leadership by example. He wouldn’t sit and lecture nobody–never. He just lived it. . . . We were working at Jackson and Kedzie, where it’s as rough as you can get–he still kept his ethics and standards. I don’t think you can just sit down and say, ‘I want to be ethical.’ It’s just in you–or it’s not.”
Dudycz’s ethical grounding is still in place, according to Hoeger. “Sometimes he sends contribution money back, if there’s something he doesn’t like about the guys who are giving it. He’ll say, ‘I don’t like it–they seem unsavory–I don’t want to get involved with them’–to the consternation of the professionals back in Washington.”
Hoeger turns coy when asked about the numbers of volunteers he’s running for the congressional campaign. “Let’s just say it’s in the hundreds. I promise you that every doorbell in the district will be pressed at least once. The machine has the power to pull out everything at the last minute, but real grass-roots support–we’ve got that.”
John Hoeger calls Commander LeRoy O’Shield “180 degrees from Walter Dudycz, a loyal Democrat, on the other end of the political spectrum.” O’Shield, who was sergeant to both Hoeger and Dudycz, and is now commander of the Austin police district, says, stonily and repeatedly, “I am apolitical as a police officer.” His assessment of Walter Dudycz as a cop: “He was a very intelligent, energetic detective. He is an honorable person. He’s a team player, and it was a pleasure to work with him.”
Tactical Sergeant Tom Spanos, another member of the old property crimes team: “He was a very honest policeman, a very, very ethical police officer. He was a real professional–hardworking, sincere. Hey, this sounds flattering, I know, but it’s the truth! He was a clean-cut kid, a real legitimate guy. He was always real soft-spoken, and he kept a low profile. He was the kind of guy you’d want backing you up.
“He was conscientious. He didn’t go in there with a policeman’s attitude–a lot of guys are suspicious of everybody. Hey, you can get that way, working on the street. But he was an open-minded investigator. He went in neutral. He’d get all the facts, and then he’d make up his mind.”
Kevin Tynan thinks Walter Dudycz is a terrible person, a hypocrite, a cynical manipulator of his own ethnicity, an enemy of old folks, a friend of big business, a gun nut, a double dipper, and, in general, a threat to the people of the 11th District. Kevin Tynan is Frank Annunzio’s son-in-law and campaign manager, and a former S&L industry executive. Tynan recently made headlines in the Sun-Times for his father-in-law’s attempt to get him a job with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in 1983.
He is eager to assist a reporter profiling Walter Dudycz, providing, on one occasion, 15 pages of faxed records from the Cook County comptroller’s office and Illinois Public Action. Tynan even denigrates the famous CPR life-saving incident in Norridge: “The Park District guy says Walter Dudycz didn’t save the guy’s life [actually, the heart attack victim was a woman]–he just stood there and looked concerned.”
Tynan professes himself concerned that Dudycz is misusing his ethnicity to appeal to voters. To whom? I ask–the famed Ukrainian bloc? “Don’t laugh,” says Kevin Tynan.
From Teamster Local 727 (Michael G. Coli, president; James Coli, secretary-treasurer):
For over a quarter of a century, Chicago’s Italian American community has reaped tremendous benefit from the national presence of Congressman Frank Annunzio. . . . Congressman Annunzio has always been present to answer the call of the Italian community.
Now however, the Italian community risks the possibility of losing Frank Annunzio as a congressman. His opposition in the November 1990 Congressional election is well organized and is extremely well funded–and as you are aware, funding can make or break a modern congressional campaign. Therefore, as a proud Italian American who is cognizant of Frank Annunzio’s many accomplishments on the behalf of our community, I ask that you respond to this “financial call to arms”. . .
Let’s provide Congressman Annunzio with the funding that he needs to win his November election so he may continue to serve Italian Americans in the same fine manner as he has since 1964.
Sincerely yours, Michael G. Coli, President
On finances, asserts Dudycz, “The record of where his money and where my money comes from is very clear. Most of my money comes from the district. I’d say that 75 percent of his money–and he has over ten times as much as I do–comes from out of state.
“He’s spending an incredible amount of money; this is a typical ploy of the incumbent. He is also chairman of the House Administration Committee, so he’s in charge of all the perks–and he’s given himself the most perks. Rostenkowski is throwing a fund-raiser for him in Washington, D.C., for $500 a person–whose money is that? There’s no way that I’m going to match him–he’s going to outspend me at least four to one. But you cannot buy the election anymore. At least, I hope not.”
Fund-raising in the 11th District, from January 1 through June 30, 1990:
Frank Annunzio had on hand $352,562, with more than 67 percent coming from various PACs–$45,700 from business PACs, $43,500 from union PACs. Business interests that donated include Aetna Life Insurance, American Express, the American Insurance Association, AT&T, the Chicago Board of Trade, Bear-Stearns, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Central Pennsylvania Savings Association, Chase Manhattan Bank, the Commodity Futures Association, Commonwealth Edison, Equitable Life Insurance, First Colonial, Goldman Sachs, Greyhound, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, the National Confectioners Association, Pepsi-Cola, the Professional Insurance Agents Association, Prudential Life Insurance, United Savings of America, United Technologies, and UPS, among others.
Frank Annunzio has accepted more than $50,000 from the savings and loan industry in the last decade, including $12,000 from a Maryland S&L earlier this year, and what he termed “a stinking $3,000” from star S&L skunk Charles Keating.
Walter Dudycz raised $118,583 in the first half of 1990, with $24,401, or 20.5 percent, coming from PACs. Major contributors for this race were the 66 PAC [Phillips Petroleum], the American Medical PAC, [Auto] Dealers Election PAC, Harris FEPAC [a communications technology company], National Can Employees PAC, Quaker Oats, and the Republican Leaders Fund.
Chicagoans are now showing some ability to move away from voting straight party tickets–but are they getting away from ethnicity?
“Everybody has ethnic pride,” says Dudycz. “The Harold Washington Party has blacks on their slate to attract blacks, to show the Democratic Party that they cannot be taken for granted, they must be part of the equation. Everybody must respect that. As a Republican, I encourage it, because, politically, it helps the Republican Party. The Democrats, naturally, discourage it, because it hurts them. There is no secret that many people vote based upon their ethnicity, of the sound of their voices. It’s no secret that the consonants in my name, the way it’s spelled, will attract a certain kind of person to vote for me. But the same goes for my opponent. Annunzio has a ballot name that’s going to attract a certain ethnic group, strictly because of his background. So there is a pattern there; you can’t get away from it, wherever you go. Dukakis was running, and he had the pride of Greek heritage. Well, that’s fine, as long as we don’t forget the most important fact that we all are Americans, and we should all try to recognize that, and not lose sight of it. We’re all proud of our background, our birthright, and our true identity as Americans. This is Chicago, the melting pot of America.”
But is it melting fast enough? I tell Walter Dudycz of a friend of mine, an intelligent, educated man, the editor of a suburban newspaper, who has admitted in print that he always votes for the guy with the Irish name. As a nonnative, I find this both strange and appalling. Can Walter Dudycz overcome this kind of knee-jerk ethnicity?
“I think I have more Italians here [as volunteers] in my office than Frank Annunzio,” replies Dudycz, who recites a litany of Latinate names as proof. “Irregardless of background, if you know the individuals, if you believe in them, you’ll support them, regardless of whether they have an Italian name or a Ukrainian name, or a Polish or German or an Indian name, or African American. I think we have to get away from [ethnic identification]. Those who have openly–without getting into names–capitalized and utilized the racial fears and the hatred, and fanned the racial problems in our city, the leaders of the white faction and the black faction–when the cameras are off, they’re buddies. It’s not a question of black and white–it’s a question of green in this city, green. They use black and white to get to the green–and that’s the sad truth about the system.
“This is very important.” He sits straighter and points at the tape recorder. “All of us that are in public service–all of us who are elected–owe those who put us here. My opponent owes those who put him in–and it comes out to about eight or nine Democratic ward committeemen. Actually, his original allegiance was to the old Mayor Daley, who put him there–‘You are going to be a congressman’–poof! [Snaps fingers.] He became a congressman. Forget about his qualifications; he was a congressman.
“They are appalled at the thought of someone like me, someone not sponsored, someone who has not earned his stripes, challenging him. I owe people, too–but I owe a hell of a lot more people than he does. I owe 200,000 people that I represent, because they are the ones who elected me.”
A 60-second radio spot, opening with the sound of gunfire, and replete with sentence fragments:
An epidemic of shootings, muggings, and murders are forcing many Chicagoans to hide behind closed doors–afraid to walk their own streets–and moving the Police Superintendent to demand tougher gun control laws.
Despite this senseless violence, there’s a man running for Congress who’s actually against tougher handgun control. Against mandatory criminal background checks on gun purchases. His name is Walter Dudycz.
Dudycz believes handguns should be available to almost anyone. Even former mental patients.
Not surprisingly, he’s earned the endorsement–and a $5,000 campaign check–from the National Rifle Association. . . .
Frank Annunzio. On your side and fighting hard.
Paid for by Annunzio for People Committee.
“It’s ridiculous to claim that Walter Dudycz favors allowing former mental patients to have guns. We’ve had a lot of calls from all over the city about that ad,” says Dudycz’s press secretary, Brian McFadden. “People are outraged. They’re sending checks.”
Like many street cops–as opposed to their politically connected superiors–Dudycz believes in the right to bear arms. And, say what you will about the NRA, it represents three million individual members–a claim Charles Keating could never make.
Most of the mud that Annunzio’s people sling at Dudycz seems to flake off with little provocation, a collection of red herrings and venial sins that would hardly raise an eyebrow even in an outpost of political purity like Topeka, Kansas. One puddle’s worth of Democratic mud that stuck long enough to make the evening news was the charge of double-dipping. Like most state legislators, Dudycz holds a second job. Like many of them–those who don’t have their own law practices or insurance firms–it’s with local government, in this case the Cook County Sheriff’s office. The Annunzio camp has found three issues in this. First, there’s the double-dipping itself, with the overtones of political payoff implicit in a Republican sheriff offering a job to a Republican legislator. This is a Chicago habit that might cause questions in other parts of the country, but is so commonplace here when applied to Democratic bosses offering jobs to other Democrats as to evoke yawns rather than outrage. Second, and more tellingly, there’s the charge that Dudycz used a county car when campaigning for reelection to the state senate. “At one point, I made an error in judgment, and put a cartop [sign] on it,” admits Dudycz, who adds that he has been on leave of absence since August, and no longer has the car. Third is the fact that his brother Bohdan was given a state job in 1985, although no evidence has been presented to show that Walter Dudycz himself instigated the offer.
Most serious is the charge that there were, depending on the version, 85, 86, or 87 days in the last three years for which Dudycz was paid by both the county and the state. The Annunzio camp has also suggested that Dudycz didn’t do any work for the $23,000 he got from the county last year.
“Walter Dudycz is the director of the community services program, directing the operation of the work-release program,” mostly of people who have been convicted of drunk driving, says Bill Currie, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “He schedules and coordinates them–if Skokie needs graffiti cleaned up, community services does that. If a local government needs some cars cleaned up, community services does that. They do hundreds of thousands of hours of cleanup work every year.”
According to Currie, who says a television reporter who made a big deal out of the situation “was shown the records, but didn’t want to take the time to go through them,” only two days are actually unaccounted for. The seeming two-places-at-once days are due to “an anomaly in the billing service. Walter Dudycz has been very assiduous over the years to make sure there’s no conflict. There’s a lot of misinformation going on here. . . .
“Payday is on the 1st and 16th. In order to get a check out in a timely manner, the records have to go in on the 14th–so they anticipate the days worked, that you worked the 15th and 16th. The next check, if you actually missed those days, that’s corrected. The audit will show that Walter Dudycz was here and working the days he says he was.
“He’s done an exemplary job; he’s won awards all over the community. Within the administration of the sheriff’s office, there are no complaints [about Dudycz’s performance].
“He works weekends and nights. He gets out there and hustles that job. He finds the projects, he schedules the projects, and he gets them done.”
“I think Walter Dudycz is a phony–to present himself as the champion of taxpayers, and then be on two public [payrolls] and vote for the Sears bailout,” says Democratic media wizard David Axelrod, who recently signed on with the Annunzio campaign. “I think Dudycz is basically a guy who’s found himself a hook, whether it’s taxes or the flag thing. I think he’s basically an opportunist. The only thing that distinguishes him from a Newt Gingrich or a Jesse Helms is that he’s less intelligent.
“Double-dipping is double-dipping, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, and breaking promises is breaking promises. He’s riddled with problems, and those problems are going to come home to roost.”
The Democratic dismay over Dudycz’s double-dipping is a trifle disingenuous.
A survey of Chicago’s 18 state senators reveals one undertaker, Howard Brookins; one insurance broker, John Daley; a professor of law, Dawn Clark Netsch; and six lawyers–Arthur Berman (who also worked as a consultant to the Chicago Board of Education while he was chair of the Senate Education Committee), Howard Carroll, John D’Arco, Jeremiah Joyce, William Marovitz, and Richard Newhouse. Most of the rest hold other government jobs, though they are listed as “full-time legislators” in the state’s official Blue Book: Ethel Skyles Alexander is “a consultant with the Recorder of Deeds,” says a staffer; Emil Jones Jr. says he’s worked as a masonry inspector for the city of Chicago for the last 25 years (“It’s a matter of public record”); Dudycz’s Blue Book biography says he’s on leave of absence from the Chicago Police Department and makes no mention of his job with the sheriff’s office; Robert Raica, the only other Chicago Republican in the Senate, works as a city paramedic; Frank Savickas works for the Chicago Park District; Margaret Smith failed to return several telephone calls to confirm or deny reports that she used to work for the sheriff’s office under Richard Elrod but was fired by Sheriff James O’Grady for being a “ghost payroller.” Thaddeus Lechowicz, to his credit, is listed in the Blue Book as a senior systems analyst for Cook County. Only the aides of Earlean Collins and Miguel del Valle contend that their bosses are really and truly full-time legislators. “Oh, you’re thinking of Representative Miguel Santiago,” said a staffer at del Valle’s office. “He has a county job.”
“Double dipping is more on the Democratic side, and it’s the guys from Cook County more than the others,” says Republican state senator Judy Baar Topinka of North Riverside, who is an authentic full-time legislator. “The salary is very difficult to live on–but you know if you double-dip, you’re gonna get hit.” She points out that most of the lawyers are, in a sense, double-dippers of a different sort: by being in the legislature, they attract clients who seek political clout; those clients are then passed on to partners, while the legislator attends to political business. (Does anyone seek out the law firms of Phil Rock, William Marovitz, or John D’Arco because of their superb grasp of legal precedent?)
Topinka is impressed by Walter Dudycz’s progress since he came to Springfield. “He’s grown a lot in the office; he caught on really quickly. He’s smart, and he’s a better-than-average senator. Walter does think, and he fights with his leadership for the things he believes in.”
“As a candidate [for state senate], I was told I would be able to maintain my job as a Chicago police officer if I won,” says Walter Dudycz. “Several other legislators are police officers or fire fighters, including Roger McAuliffe [the representative from the same area]. Five weeks before the election, I was told by my supervisor that I would be forced to take a leave of absence, and that my job would not be guaranteed. [Then Police Superintendent] Fred Rice told me I would have to leave the senate to work as a policeman–but he wouldn’t explain why. That’s when I said I’d be a full-time legislator.” For this treatment, Dudycz has a discrimination suit pending against the city.
From 1984 to 1987, Dudycz says, he was a full-time legislator, in contrast to the overwhelming majority of his colleagues; in 1987 Sheriff James O’Grady came to him with the offer of the community services program. “My first two years as a legislator, I made less than I did as a policeman, because there I could work overtime. I didn’t know O’Grady. I’m sure politics had something to do with it, but he came to me because I had a reputation for honesty, integrity, and competence. I took it because it was a very exciting challenge.” Because of the number of weekend hours required, Dudycz says, the job is flexible enough to permit him to be a full-time county employee as well as a legislator.
“He’s a very hardworking guy, always on time, very organized. He’s very conservative,” says James “Pate” Phillip, the state senate minority leader from Du Page County. “He’s bright, articulate. He has very good habits. You know, he has no political background–I think he’s done extremely well. He gave the Republican caucus an insight on city problems–things like gangs and drugs. I’d say we now have a much better understanding of political and crime problems.”
Does Dudycz toe the party line? “He’s fairly independent. Sometimes there are problems, but most of the time he cooperates. Sometimes he has to do his thing–but that’s true of most of our guys. The Democrats are much more controllable–they’ve all got a [second, government] job, or they’ve got a relative who’s got a job, even the downstate Democrats.”
And what about Walter Dudycz’s job? “Almost every senator has something else. You only pay us $36,000 a year, and you can’t live on that.”
“When I ran for the state senate, the Republicans were hoping to get a majority,” recalls Dudycz. “They had two sure things–[Republican senators number] 28 and 29. And if they were to wrestle control of the senate from the Democrats, they needed a majority, and that’s 30. I was a long shot. It turns out they were overly confident in the two sure things–they recruited ’em, they nurtured ’em, and they spent a lot of money to prepare ’em, and they knew they were going to win those. Then there was a crap shoot with this fella Dudycz in Chicago. I was doing very well on my own, I was building momentum, so they decided, ‘What the hell. If he wins, we will wrestle control of the senate from the Democrats, and we will have our 30. He may be a little too independent, but at least we’ll control the gavel.’ So that’s when they decided to back my campaign.
“Well, as it turned out, the two sure bets lost. And the long shot came in at 56 percent. So we stunned everybody–not just the Democrats, the Republicans too. They still didn’t get it. They still didn’t get it. You gotta reflect your community–I don’t care who you are. You gotta reflect your community. You cannot be part of the good old boy network anymore. They’re still there–I see it changing. I am a part of that change.
“You need checks and balances. At least during Council Wars, they kept an eye on each other. The media sold a lot of papers, there was a lot of fuss, but you had checks and balances. When there’s a single party system, things are just rammed down your throat, and there’s nobody to keep an eye on the candy store.”
“Walter Dudycz is the only Republican that voted against the Build Illinois program,” notes John Hoeger. “Well, only 10 percent of it was things the communities needed–the rest was boondoggle garbage. The governor put a lot of pressure on him. First they tempt you with the goodies; then they put on the pressure. But he held firm.
“He spends time with citizens on both sides of the issues. He sits down with ’em, gets ’em coffee, lets ’em scream and holler, and he talks to them. Even if he doesn’t change their minds about some particular issue, he converts a lot of them to Walter Dudycz.”
“I’ve watched him over the years,” says political editor Steve Neal of the Sun-Times, “and he’s very effective at generating publicity, and framing issues to get attention–although sometimes he has a tendency to overkill,” as with the flag controversy. “He’s a stronger challenger than Annunzio is accustomed to facing, but I think his message seems to be all one of attack, rather than the positive programs he’d offer in Congress.”
Does Neal think he’s honest? “Yes.” What about the double-dipping? “It’s not something I’m sure a lot of taxpayers are thrilled about. But he’s a politician, and this is something engaged in by a lot of politicians, especially in Cook County. It undermines his credibility a little bit, although the General Assembly is not a full-time job.”
Whom does Neal pick to win? “I think that Frank Annunzio’s going to have the resources to make it a very effective campaign, and more than match what Dudycz is doing. He’s been around a long time. Walter Dudycz is not necessarily the strongest candidate the Republicans could have put up–Roger McAuliffe might have been better.”
“He strikes me as incredibly outspoken, and maybe painfully honest,” says a Springfield-based news media source who prefers to remain nameless. “My sense of him is that he does believe in the issues he takes up very strongly. Dudycz has basic, fundamental beliefs–he doesn’t play to the public.
“He can be outrageous in the manner in which he promotes his position, and he can stand up and give the good quote that sounds offbeat–but I think he’s sincere. A lot of these guys, you get the impression that they don’t really believe it–they’re just saying it for the voters. But I think he’s sincere.”
This source points out that Dudycz doesn’t always head in the directions one might anticipate, or say the things that might play well at home on the northwest side, and cites as proof an incident during last June’s debate on a piece of anti-hate-crimes legislation remembered in Springfield as the “gay-bashing” bill. The bill included gays among several minorities it sought to protect, and therefore was opposed by certain conservative elements. “A right-to-life group was circulating a really scurrilous letter about gays, and Walter Dudycz stood up and said, “This is terrible.’ That wasn’t calculated to win him votes back home.”
“I have to admit, even though Dudycz is not one of my favorite people, that letter is something he should be commended for,” agrees Rob Schofield, the ACLU’s Springfield-based legislative director, who calls Dudycz “a run-of-the-mill conservative state senator.” The letter, says Schofield, “was all about the fall of Rome and the evils of homosexuality. I remember Dudycz got up, and I thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ But Dudycz stood up, and he read the letter. He said it came from people he thought were his friends, and he couldn’t believe they wrote that letter–and then he voted for the bill.”
“I’m not a homophobic. I’m not a homosexual, either,” says Dudycz. “I’m an American, and they’re Americans, and I think we have to focus on the crisis that AIDS represents. We must eliminate AIDS. We have to be tough on crime, no matter who that crime is aimed at.”
This attitude is in marked contrast to that of Roger McAuliffe, the Republican who represents the same area in the state house of representatives: before consenting to an interview, he asked whether the Reader is a “homosexually oriented” paper; he feels it would be held against him in his district if he were to be quoted in one.
Both Annunzio and Dudycz are antiabortion, except in the case of the usual Big Three Exceptions: rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. In this, they are both squarely in tune with the 11th District. But Walter Dudycz says he can see some shades of gray in the black-and-white issues of abortion.
“I am very uncomfortable, being a man, about possibly being in a position where I must make a decision on something as personal as a woman’s reproductive system,” he volunteers. “I’m very concerned that that kind of decision may be given to me and other men. Some people may say that makes me prochoice. No, because I also have the responsibility as an elected representative that I make a decision based on what I believe is right.
“It’s a case where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s a very personal thing. I’m a member of the legislature who is prolife, and there are many members of my family who are prochoice. We have many discussions, and it’s something which is very, very difficult for all of us.”
You can’t talk about Walter Dudycz without talking about the famous flag-on-the-floor foofaraw. It is his least excusable moment, his most inglorious hour, the one single thing that earned him the name of demagogue from many observers. It was also his biggest headline grabber, and an action well and thoroughly applauded by his constituents, as well as one overwhelmingly endorsed by his colleagues in the General Assembly.
It was one work by a student at the School of the Art Institute, shown in a school exhibit running February 17 through March 17, 1989, that set off the fireworks. Scott Tyler called his piece “What Is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag?” It consisted of a flag on the floor and a book for comments set on a shelf near it; to get to the book, art lovers had either to step on the flag or turn into amateur contortionists.
Notified, he says, by veterans’ groups of this alleged act of desecration, Dudycz went to the School of the Art Institute to see for himself. According to John Hoeger, “He asked the [police officer] who was standing there what he would do if [Dudycz] picked up the flag from the floor. He said, ‘I’d have to arrest you.’ [Dudycz] thought about it for a minute, then he left and got in his car. Then he got back out of his car–left it double-parked–went back in, picked up the flag, folded it in the proper military manner, and handed it to the police officer.” Hoeger claims the School of the Art Institute first called in the press, an assertion that Joyce Rowe, a spokeswoman for the school, vigorously denies. “Walter Dudycz had a media entourage with him quite frequently. He held numerous news conferences in front of the museum. As for folding the flag, he did it many times. At one point, he was coming every day.”
“Walter Dudycz does not occupy much time in my thought processes,” says Tony Jones, dryly. “It’s like remembering indigestion from two years ago.” Jones is the Welsh and witty president of the School of the Art Institute, and he has no love at all for Walter Dudycz.
“It was political grandstanding of the most callous kind,” charges Jones of the daily drama enacted by Dudycz and his Old Glory-bearing, fatigue-jacketed supporters. “Talk about draping yourself in the flag–it was practically spray-painted on him!”
Jones is not interested in questions of Dudycz’s beliefs: “The issue of sincerity has nothing to do with it. A part of my responsibility as an educator–a moral responsibility–is to make sure that debate can take place.” Walter Dudycz was responsible for having state funding for the school reduced to $1 last year, which meant, says Jones, that assorted programs had to be cut back or out, including a high school teacher program that affects teachers from all over the region, a film studies series, a lecture series, and more. “By punishing us, what he effectively did was to punish Chicagoans and other Illinoisans interested in arts programs.”
“He really exploited the flag issue. It showed him to be a true political opportunist,” says Rob Schofield of the ACLU. “He probably felt strongly about it, but the stuff with the demonstrations and trying to go in and pick up the flag from the floor–that was calculated for media consumption from someone planning a congressional campaign. And it was mean-spirited to get the funding for the school cut. Again, it was the act of an opportunist.”
“I think he was sincere. I also think he’s a little wacky,” says a reporter who covers the 11th District. “He was out in front of the Art Institute when it was two degrees out there, carrying the flag when there wasn’t a soul around. That makes him a kook, but it makes him sincere.”
Dudycz seems uncomfortable and somewhat defensive about the flag controversy, as did his press secretary when it was mentioned to him earlier. And he points out that the flag is not a factor in this campaign: “In this race, the flag is not a controversial issue, because we both stand on the same side of the issue.
“None of my literature has been pushing flag stuff. I have not been boasting about the flag. When the incident happened, I wasn’t a candidate for anything, I didn’t intend to be a candidate for any office; as a matter of fact, I’d just won my reelection as a state senator. The end results show that the Supreme Court declared that flag desecration is constitutionally protected, and the Congress refused to pass an amendment. I don’t agree with that, but I must accept it, because we are a country of laws, and the laws of our country now state that it is protected speech to burn or to desecrate the American flag.”
Is flag desecration really a problem? Are there really that many people doing it?
“No, but the flag represents a personal feeling for everyone–and everyone has a different feeling about what it represents,” says Dudycz. “Based upon my upbringing, and my life experience, the flag was something to be respected. And at the time that I was involved in the incidents, there was a law on the books that said [flag desecration] was against the law. My assertion has always been that, if the law is unconstitutional, challenge it; if it’s constitutional, enforce it. But don’t ignore it.”
What constitutes desecration? Is it only things like stepping on a flag, or burning a flag, or is it also putting the flag on inappropriate things?
Dudycz knows where this line of reasoning is heading: Mike Royko once criticized him for distributing campaign litter bags decorated with the flag. “There are those who will say I put the flag on a garbage bag, on a litter bag. Well, you know, that wasn’t the flag–it was an imprint. The Chicago Tribune has the flag imprinted on the front page, and people use that Tribune to line their bird cages, too. That’s not desecration. Had Scott Tyler painted his own flag, or crocheted one, or photographed one, or drawn one on his own, that would not be the actual item. It’s the actual item that I’m concerned about. It’s a matter of respect. It’s a symbol–it’s not the piece of cloth that’s important. But it’s a symbol of everything that is good with America. It represents the soul of America. And when you burn the flag–”
Isn’t burning the flag the proper way to dispose of it? That’s what they taught me in Girl Scouts.
“That’s absolutely right. The proper way to dispose of the flag is to burn it without ceremony and in private when it is torn and tattered. On the other hand, if you take that flag and you burn it in front of people, hoping to incite a negative response, you may be inciting a riot, or you may be provoking a fight.”
So why not just prosecute the flag desecrators for incitement to riot, instead of desecrating the flag?
“But the fact is that, at the time, the law was on the books. The law was on the books.”
The cynical–and commonly accepted, in many circles–view, I tell him, is that he got a lot of headlines, a lot of publicity out of the Art Institute thing, and so did the alleged artist, and that’s why both of them did what they did–to get headlines, and sound bites on the evening news. If it really wasn’t, as he avers, his intent to put his name and face in front of the public, might it not have been better just to ignore the whole thing?
“In retrospect? Would it have been better if we had not been in Vietnam? Would it have been better if Kennedy had not gone to Dallas? How about if Michael Bilandic had paid attention to the snowstorm in ’79? There are so many things we can speculate about in the past. I cannot undo history.”
Was Walter Dudycz guilty of an error in judgment?
“I acted according to my own conscience. I did what I believed was right at the time. I’m sure the artist, and the school, as well as the veterans and others who were pro- or anti-, were all doing what they believed sincerely was right at the time. It was not a political ploy by anyone. I do not believe, unlike some, that Scott Tyler was doing this for his own personal aggrandizement, because I don’t believe any of us imagined that display would have been so controversial, and would have gotten such notoriety. And I think it happened that we became part of the display–the question was ‘What is the proper way to display the flag?’–and we were all answering it in our own way.
“Do I regret what I’ve done? Absolutely not. I have a clear conscience.”
Dudycz points out that he had unanimous support in the senate for his proflag legislation; there were only a few dissenters in the house. The governor signed it. He didn’t get state funding for the School of the Art Institute cut down to a single buck without a lot of help, and few voices in state government were raised in protest. This particular attack on free speech was a very popular cause indeed.
Walter Dudycz on limiting terms of office:
“Twenty years is an extremely long time to spend in one office. People get too comfortable, they get lackadaisical. That’s not healthy for the country. I think that none of us should have an unrestricted term of office, whether it’s Rostenkowski or Annunzio or me. I don’t know what the magic number is, but I think about 12 years [in one office] is in the right ballpark. If I lose, I do not intend to be a state senator for 20 more years. That’s not serving the public.”
“The question for that district is, do they want to pick somebody who is to the right, or do they want to return somebody who was either asleep at the switch or up to his eyeballs in the S&L situation?” asks the reporter who covers the 11th District.
“Frank pretty much votes the way the leadership in the House tells him to vote, which is liberal. He’s too liberal for the district.
“The Annunzio camp is trying to make Walter Dudycz the issue, and he shouldn’t be the issue. Frank Annunzio and his record should be the issue. If you make Walter Dudycz the issue, then you’re just doing exactly what the Annunzio people are hoping for.”
“He’s hardworking and practical. He represents his community extremely well,” observes Bill Currie of the Cook County Sheriff’s office. “He may not have an understanding of art on a certain level–but he represents his constituents. He doesn’t see how art and the First Amendment and the flag go together; a lot of people don’t understand that. But he represents his community.”
A Chicago Democratic politician: “If Dudycz wins, they’ll take out the eraser at redistricting time, and that will be that.”
“I believe that we all get our dues in the end. We all do,” says Walter Dudycz. “I believe in God–I’m not a religious fanatic, but I believe that we reap what we sow, good as well as evil. My parents always said, ‘You have to give back.’ OK, my mother was only a janitor–but she was the best janitor she could be. And what’s wrong with being idealistically practical? What’s wrong with seeing the good in people?
“You know what makes me different? I’m gonna tell you what makes me different. What makes me different from most politicians is that there is absolutely nothing special about me, and I accept it, and I live with it. After a while, people start calling you by your title, and you start believing it. And that’s the beginning of your downfall, when you start believing their buttering up.
“If I win–if I win this one in November, on election night, on the news, Dan Rather’s going to say it’s the upset of the century. And I think we can pull it off.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Kathy Richland.