See How They Ran Political Atrocities of 1998

OK, I admit it. Between Bill and Monica and Ken and Linda and Paula and Newt, this year’s Beltway atrocities blew ours away. Our record, however, is not unstained, and this being an election year, we again demonstrated that few of our local politicos are unimpeachable.


Before her six-year-long political suicide was over, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun had taken the top Janey Award for Putrid Politics and Rancid Reform–named for ex-mayor Jane Byrne, the most rancid reformer of them all. Moseley-Braun, exercising her usual political acumen, figured she could beat Peter Fitzgerald more easily than his primary opponent, Loleta Didrickson. So during the Republican primary, she said that her voting record and the moderate Didrickson’s were identical. This effectively sank Didrickson and gave Moseley-Braun just what she wanted for an opponent: an archconservative with beaucoup millions of dollars at his disposal.

As the general election got under way, she brushed aside the advice of her horrified staff and launched into a tirade against a critical column by George Will. “I think because he could not say ‘nigger,’ he said the word ‘corrupt,'” she charged. In fact, Will hadn’t used the C word, much less the N word. She soon issued an apology.

Showing the same class she displayed on her trips to Nigeria, the senator refused to concede defeat on election night–even when it was mathematically impossible for her to win. Still in denial the next morning, she closed her concession speech this way: “In terms of the substance of what I did, no, there were no mistakes.”

Henceforth I will award not only Janeys, but Braunie Points.


The race for governor was surprisingly fun. Republican George Ryan cannily accused his equally conservative opponent, Glenn Poshard, of being “a Washington congressman.” Poshard cleverly parried, “Where else are we going to serve in Congress? That’s where Congress is.” (Depends of course on what your definition of “is” is.)

Poshard champion Mike Madigan retaliated by airing a commercial that virtually accused Ryan of murdering six kids from the same family because of a freak accident involving an errant truck driver who may or may not have obtained his driver’s license illegally.

The Illinois electorate, given the choice between a Washington congressman and a purported accomplice to murder, logically chose the purported accomplice by more than 130,000 votes.

Harry Truman offered the best analysis of this election many years ago when he said, “Given the choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican, they’ll vote for the real Republican every time.”


While Madigan was running the trucker commercials that backfired he was refusing to run a half million dollars’ worth of spots produced and paid for by the Democratic National Committee. Those ads, aimed at helping Carol Moseley-Braun, illuminated the extreme antiabortion, progun positions of Peter Fitzgerald. Mike didn’t like them because they would have also reflected poorly on the extreme antiabortion, progun positions of his own gubernatorial candidate.

Thus Madigan hoisted Braun on his own Poshard.


In a last-minute, unsuccessful quest for sympathy votes, Aurelia Pucinski, GOP candidate for Cook County Board president, started identifying herself as a single mom. That’s because her husband walked out on her in April–six months after she walked out on the Democratic Party. Two of her children are grown, and the only one at home is a high school senior. That makes her claim legally correct–in Clintonian terms.


As part of their ultimately successful bid to unseat independent, progressive state senator Jesus Garcia, Alderman Danny Solis and his machine-backed candidate, Tony Munoz, obtained the honor-roll lists of the public schools in that senate district. The two then created honor-roll certificates on which they inscribed their names–and Mayor Daley’s, though he hadn’t authorized it–and sent them to the students. Solis and Munoz also invited a couple hundred of the kids and their parents to a big party. Apparently Solis had access to the lists because his group, United Neighborhood Organization of Chicago (UNO), had been awarded a $200,000 contract by the Board of Education. Caught violating School Board rules against mixing schools and politics, Munoz said, “It was an oversight on my part.” Solis opined, “Oh…it’s a bigger mistake than I thought.”


When an officeholder involved in government finance solicits a campaign contribution from a financial firm, such as a bank or brokerage, there’s an implicit understanding that the firm will be casting its bread upon the waters. Thus financial firms become the most generous of givers. This is the way things work. It is, however, not just impolite to come right out and say, give and ye shall receive. It’s against the law.

City treasurer Miriam Santos, seeking the state’s highest legal office, may not have grasped this simple statute. For some inexplicable reason, she’d decided to run for attorney general, the one absolutely unwinnable state office for a Democrat this year. Press accounts allege that she sought campaign funding from a financial firm that automatically records all conversations. She’s alleged to have suggested that contributions would be tied to future business–triggering a federal investigation that effectively ended a campaign that should never have begun. Having lost the election overwhelmingly, she now is in danger of losing her incumbency–and future fund-raising calls may have to be made from a cell phone.


Conservative Republican Peter Fitzgerald was the only millionaire to buy both a primary and a general election. Conservative Republican millionaire Al Salvi bought the primary, but lost the general. Liberal millionaire John Schmidt lost the gubernatorial primary, running third to two low spenders. Democrat millionaire J.B. Pritzker spent at least $1.5 million ($107.04 per vote) to come in third in the Ninth District congressional primary. Political analysts said he should have bought a better hairdo.


Al Salvi keeps shooting himself in the foot while it’s in his mouth. Two years ago, while running for the U.S. Senate as a progun candidate, he committed political hara-kiri by falsely accusing James Brady (of the Brady bill) of being a machine-gun dealer. This year, while running for secretary of state, he suggested that the selling of driver’s licenses in the incumbent’s office was “widespread,” despite the incumbent’s best efforts. The problem is, the incumbent was GOP gubernatorial candidate George Ryan–a man in charge of a vast political organization on which Salvi, who was on the same ticket, depended for votes.

Ryan began referring privately to Al by another name that starts with an A. That vast political organization then somehow failed to deliver for Salvi, who remains a right-wing millionaire in search of an office to buy.


John Schmidt, the millionaire liberal who helped civilize Rich Daley and make him presentable to the Lakefront, had every reason to expect the mayor’s endorsement in the gubernatorial primary. After all, he’d served as Daley’s first chief of staff and later carried the mayor’s water while serving as the number-three man in the U.S. Justice Department. But Daley, who easily could have delivered the extra eight points Schmidt needed for victory, looked the other way and let his brother John deliver the primary for Glenn Poshard. Schmidt happens.


Another year, another round of exposes by the press and an endless investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office. But Alderman Ed Burke, the Energizer bunny of power brokers, just keeps going and going and going. Strangely, Mayor-for-Life Daley refuses to make a move against Burke–though last year he quickly ousted another scandal-soaked alderman, Pat Huels. What does Burke know that we don’t?

That, however, is not a reformer’s worst nightmare. While Burke will go on collecting consulting fees, Larry Bloom, the formerly pure former alderman from Hyde Park, fell into a hole dug by a Silver Shovel. In the course of that federal sting operation, he was taped discussing ways to hide a bribe as a campaign contribution. He copped a plea by admitting to lying on his income tax returns and is now a convicted felon.

If Chicago still ain’t ready for reform, reformers apparently ain’t ready for Chicago either.


Daley, the first Me Generation mayor, turned his back on Schmidt because he takes an active political role only when it’s to his distinct personal advantage. The Democratic Party knew, for example, that Carol was mostly gone and it would be wise to nominate a stronger candidate in the primary election. But, Daley figured, Moseley-Braun might then run against him for mayor next year and the rest of the African-American community would blame him for not having backed her. So he blocked the entry of other Democrats and sacrificed a U.S. Senate seat.

More on the Rich Watch:

Following through on promises of reform after the crony scandal that unseated Alderman Huels last year, the Daley administration actually increased spending on controversial no-bid contracts by 63 percent–chiefly because of a $6.7 million no-bid award to contractor James McDonough, a longtime family friend.

Daley continued defending his ward remap even after a federal appeals court again found discrimination and ordered another black ward drawn. The mayor, having spent some $10 million of your money on this case, called it “a very narrow” decision.

Denying that lower Wacker Drive was being fenced off for the winter as a means of driving away the homeless people who seek shelter there, the mayor explained that the fences are officially to prevent illegal parking. But Hizzoner expanded: “You don’t want somebody living down there. You would not want your parents to live down there.” OK.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations by Archer Prewitt.