By Grant Pick
The three major Democrats who hope to succeed Sidney Yates as representative of the Ninth Congressional District are now clomping around the north side and near suburbs, searching for votes in the March 17 primary. Howard Carroll, state senator and ward committeeman, is pitted against Jan Schakowsky, a consumer-oriented state representative with a feminist pitch, and J.B. Pritzker, a businessman and scion of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families. Yates built his reputation on his lobbying for arts funding; Pritzker, Carroll, and Schakowsky are more concerned with crime, education, and health care.
“Howie’s the insider who works the back rooms, and Jan’s the outsider who raises awareness but never gets much done–she’s more of a press-release politician, pushing consciousness,” says one state officeholder who’s staying neutral in the race. “With his bucks and background, J.B. goes to every event–he’s got nothing else to do–but he’s bright and talented. Now comes the campaign, where they’ll all say terrible things about each other. But the campaign is all bullshit–whoever wins will make a good congressman.” But their different political styles will affect what they can get done in Congress. And Russ Stewart, political writer for the Nadig chain of community newspapers, thinks the sometimes subtle differences in their philosophies matter a lot. “The Ninth District is going to stay Democratic, so whichever Democrat is elected this time will be in office for 20 or 30 years if he or she wants to be. This is the battle for the next generation.”
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Carroll, Pritzker, and Schakowsky participate in a candidates’ forum at the Evanston NAACP office. (Not participating are the other two Democratic candidates, neither of whom seems to stand a chance: Charles “Pat” Boyle, a product-liability lawyer and son of the former 12th District state representative Charles Boyle, and Joseph Slovinec, a former bookkeeper for the clerk of the Circuit Court. A third candidate, Daniel Joyce, a community-college astronomy teacher, will be knocked off the ballot in January because of petition irregularities.)
The rubber-faced, 55-year-old Carroll goes first. “As a member of the General Assembly,” he says, “I’ve done more for Evanston than either of my opponents.” He describes legislation he sponsored that bars paramilitary training in Illinois by making it illegal to teach people to commit violent acts: “That one chased the skinheads out of state.” He takes credit for establishing an insurance pool to cover Illinoisans denied coverage for preexisting conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. “A bank teller had come to me,” he explains. “She had breast cancer and no insurance, and she said it was more cost-effective to go on public aid than go back to work. So I did something.” He winds up: “I’m about getting things done. Anybody can talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk. Among the candidates running here, I have the level of accomplishment.”
NAACP branch president Bennett J. Johnson introduces Pritzker by saying, “His principal assets would equal the combined assets of everyone in this room.” The heavyset Pritzker, who at 32 heads an Evanston-based venture-capital firm, laughs as heartily as anyone. Unlike Carroll, Pritzker has no legislative record, so he lays out his ideas, which include federally funded math, science, and literacy centers in schools; 24-hour child care for working parents; and tax credits for small business start-ups. “Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our economy,” he says.
When her turn comes, the 53-year-old Schakowsky leaps to her feet. “You can send someone to Congress who is a real crusader, a voice for justice,” she says, her fists outstretched. “You would be squandering your vote if you did anything less.” She skims over some key concerns, including health care and senior citizens, then says, “We’ve met and we’ve organized and we’ve strategized. I want to do that in Washington, D.C., and I want you to be there with me.”
The three candidates then field questions. Pritzker says he’s for the death penalty; Carroll and Schakowsky oppose it. Because seven innocent men have been found on Illinois’ death row since the state reinstituted capital punishment, Schakowsky has demanded a moratorium on executions until a commission can determine if anyone else is there wrongfully. Carroll and Schakowsky argue for limits on campaign spending, something Pritzker has resisted because his fortune is his best weapon. Pritzker says he’s the only candidate with sufficient energy to serve, and the tireless Schakowsky does a long double take, eliciting laughter from the audience.
It’s an hour and 20 minutes before anyone even mentions the 88-year-old incumbent. Pritzker makes a brief reference to Yates’s backing for the arts, then quickly moves on.
The Ninth District stretches north along the lakefront from Lakeview through Evanston, then west in a jagged block that takes in several northwest city wards–the 39th, 45th, and 41st–and the suburbs of Lincolnwood, Skokie, Niles, and Morton Grove. The 570,000 people who live here are predominantly middle-class, well educated, and white, though the district includes small pockets of Asians, Hispanics, and blacks. The percentage of Jewish residents is high, and they make up 20 percent of the residents likely to go to the polls in the primary. It’s no accident that Yates and the main candidates bidding to take his place are Jewish. The district is heavily Democratic, so whichever of the two Republicans wins in March will surely lose in November. That’s why Yates has lasted so long–when his term expires he’ll have served 47 years, seven months, and 18 days, the sixth-longest congressional term ever.
The son of a Lithuanian truck driver, Yates grew up in Lakeview and graduated from the University of Chicago and its law school. After losing a race for 46th Ward alderman in 1939, he went into practice with his father-in-law (and made real estate investments that would later make him rich). But he was bored being an attorney, and in 1948 he made known his intention to run for Congress. The Democratic organization spurned him, backing instead a German-American candidate named John Haderlein. “That September the Chicago postmaster died, and Haderlein was appointed to the job,” Yates recalls. “Now the question was, Who is going to run in the Ninth? Nobody wanted to. Harry Truman was up for president, and it was assumed he was going to lose. They scraped the bottom of the barrel and came up with me. I said sure.”
In November Truman won, as did Adlai Stevenson Jr. for governor, Paul Douglas for U.S. senator, and Sidney Yates for representative. “That was the most marvelous election night in history,” Yates says. He managed to hold on to his seat in succeeding elections, then in 1962, at Mayor Richard J. Daley’s urging, he ran for the Senate against Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader. According to Yates, he had a chance until the Cuban missile crisis erupted that October. “President Kennedy told me it would be unpatriotic to go at Dirksen anymore,” Yates says. “I could feel the campaign going out from under me.” After his loss he accepted an appointment to the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations, but in the next election he recaptured his Ninth District seat.
Yates went to Congress as an unabashed New Dealer, and he remained wedded to Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal philosophy. From the beginning he stood for federal aid for education, housing, and the poor. In July 1996 he was one of 101 House members to oppose welfare reform. “All those new Democrats,” he sniffs. “I think they’re closer to Republicans.” Yates’s voting record has garnered him a rating of zero from the right-wing American Conservative Union and a high rating from the Americans for Democratic Action. Yet Yates has also brought home billions of dollars in federal money to do such things as buttress the Chicago lakefront against erosion and build the Deep Tunnel. Regular Democrats have always prized his quiet influence. “He’s been in Washington a long, long time and has rapport,” says state senator Arthur Berman, a veteran of the north side.
For years Yates has sat on the interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and when the Democrats have controlled the chamber he’s been chairman. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me,” he says. “I’ve been the luckiest man alive to work on the beauty of our country, on the parks and the arts.” Yates has worked hardest to protect arts funding, notably for the National Endowment for the Arts, which has been under fire since 1990. Today the NEA is down to a $98 million yearly budget, but, largely thanks to Yates, it has survived. Mike Dorf, Yates’s lawyer and Carroll’s campaign treasurer, says, “Yates traded fish hatcheries to save the endowment.” But asked what he regards as his greatest accomplishment, Yates mentions speeches he gave in 1952 that advanced the career of Hyman Rickover, an engineer who’d pushed the navy to move to nuclear submarines and whom the navy was failing to promote, reportedly for anti-Semitic reasons.
Yates insists that his philosophy squares with that of his constituents. “I have one of the most progressive districts in the nation,” he says. “I send out questionnaires twice a year, and the replies I get back indicate people are liberal in their outlook and are for developing arts and the humanities.”
But as he aged, Yates seemed to become disconnected from his district. During the time when school reform was hotly debated, then instituted in Chicago, Yates contributed nothing. “Nobody ever asked me about it,” he says, displaying no awareness that he might have asked about the most radical educational reform in the U.S. In recent years his health has grown frail, and he rarely returns to Chicago, keeping in touch with voters through the calls they make to his office and through the questionnaires. “I’ve become a collection of maladies,” he says. “My lungs are weak, I have a bad back, and my blood pressure tends to go up. Luckily my heart is in good condition.”
The first significant shot across Yates’s bow came in 1990, when Edwin Eisendrath, then 43rd Ward alderman, challenged the congressman in the Democratic primary. (This was before the reapportionment that followed the census, when the Ninth District’s footprint included Lincoln Park.) Eisendrath’s themes were education and the environment, and he questioned Yates’s “lifetime membership in Congress.” Yates took the attack personally. “His family had been friendly with mine,” he says. “It was kind of a shock when they turned on me, except they wanted to advance the career of their son.” Yates amassed a larger campaign war chest ($500,000) than Eisendrath ($400,000) and trounced his young opponent with 70 percent of the vote.
By 1996 Yates seemed more vulnerable. The line to replace him now consisted of Carroll, Pritzker, and Schakowsky (many more politicians who’d been in line had grown tired of waiting for Yates to leave). Anticipating that Yates would retire, Pritzker and Schakowsky put together exploratory committees but folded up shop when Yates announced that he would run again. In the general election Republican Joe Walsh, a part-time college instructor, made a point of bicycling through all 574 precincts in the district. He mocked the congressman by giving him an 87th birthday party in Lincolnwood (Yates was a no-show) and offering a $1,000 reward to the first person who sighted Yates in the district. (The doorman at Yates’s Lake Shore Drive residence called to say he’d been spotted, and Walsh dutifully wrote a check.) “I got 37 percent of the vote,” says Walsh. “Not bad.”
Last April Schakowsky talked to Yates. “He said he wasn’t going to run again and that he wasn’t supporting any candidate in the primary. He wished me luck.”
On a chilly November morning Schakowsky and an aide arrive at the Addison el station to campaign among commuters. A CTA attendant tells Schakowsky, who’s in a bright burgundy coat intended to make her stand out, she can’t shake hands or distribute literature inside the facility. “Now why don’t you call your supervisor?” suggests an irritated Schakowsky. A few minutes later the man returns to say she’s more than welcome to troll for votes.
Schakowsky greets voters with a smile. “Good morning. I’m Jan Schakowsky, and I’m running for Congress,” she says as she passes out a flyer. She’s courteous–“Oh sir, you’re so loaded down,” she says to a man who’s struggling with his luggage–but she doesn’t spend an extra second on anyone who’s cool to her. It’s women who seem most pleased to see her.
Later Schakowsky says, “There’s something special about the public seeing the person, about them getting some little glimpse of you. My goal is to meet 200 people a day, and somehow I think if I do that I can win.” Key to her strategy is connecting with women, whom she encounters at church bazaars, grocery stores, and synagogue luncheons. “I go to a lot of bingos, say in the 41st Ward, where there are women who wouldn’t identify themselves as feminists. They will lower their voices and say, ‘This is what we need–more women running for office.'”
The daughter of an immigrant furniture salesman, Schakowsky had her political awakening in 1969. “I was then a housewife living in Mount Prospect with a husband and two little kids. I went to the grocery store, and I heard this commotion. There was the grocery manager saying to a group of women, ‘If you don’t leave, I’m going to throw you out on your fannies.’ All the women wanted to know was how old the meat was.”
Schakowsky and the other women, a half dozen in all, established the grandly named National Consumers United to crusade for clear freshness dating on supermarket food. “We would call each other up in the morning and arrange to do a store inspection, working it around nap time,” says Schakowsky. “We started translating the undecipherable codes on packaging by pressing stock boys against the shelves to get answers. It was so exhilarating.”
“Jan had been a schoolteacher, and she fit right in,” says Jackie Kendall, a fellow NCU activist who now heads the Midwest Academy, a school for community organizers. “She got to the heart of the matter, and she wasn’t afraid to stand up to people, to take on the toughest folks.” The NCU published a book on breaking the codes, the press took notice, and Ralph Nader mentioned the group favorably on the Dick Cavett Show. In time, consumer-friendly food dating became the norm at supermarkets.
In 1976 Schakowsky was hired at the Illinois Public Action Council (now Citizen Action of Illinois), a rabble-rousing organization led by Robert Creamer (whom she would marry in 1980) that lobbied for, among other things, lower utility rates, a cleaner environment, and legislation that benefited senior citizens. Early on Schakowsky became program director, marshaling the group’s members to push its legislative agenda. “Jan was an inspiration–a smart, dedicated, and serious organizer,” says John Cameron, who worked for Schakowsky then and is now the organization’s executive director.
In 1985 Schakowsky moved on, becoming executive director of the umbrella advocacy group Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens. Schakowsky increased the number of the council’s affiliates from 80 to 250, and longtime president Jerry Prete says she had a good sense of when to agitate. In August 1989, for instance, she’d gathered a group of seniors at the Copernicus Center to confront U.S. representative Dan Rostenkowski about a catastrophic-health-care bill they disliked, though this demonstration went well beyond what she’d envisioned. When Rostenkowski ducked out, angry seniors followed him to his car, and a 69-year-old woman named Leona Kozien crawled onto the hood. “Rostenkowski’s driver inched the car forward,” Schakowsky recalls, “and there was Leona on the hood. She was waving for Rostenkowski to get out, and he was waving for her to go away.” TV cameras caught Rostenkowski running away on foot, signaling the beginning of the end for the congressman.
In 1986 Schakowsky lost a race for County Board, but three years later she was elected to the statehouse. She’s now chairman of the house labor and commerce committee and acts as the Democratic floor leader, yet she’s best known for championing women’s causes. “When I first got to Springfield I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an advocate on women’s issues,” she says. “But I realized that if women weren’t pressing for better child care and nurse practitioners, all we’d hear about are airports and domed stadiums.”
Schakowsky, who’s vocal both on the house floor and in the pressroom, is perceived by some as still carrying Citizen Action’s water by introducing the organization’s bills in Springfield. “A lot of people in the legislature get our bills, and Jan has received her share,” says Creamer, who resigned as Citizen Action’s executive director in June. He denies that there’s any conflict of interest. “She’s not profiting. She’s advancing public interest positions–on campaign finance reform, toxic-waste cleanup–and that’s what she ran for office to do.”
Sometimes the legislation she introduces is enacted: voting rights for the homeless, mandatory school-conference time for employees of Illinois companies. But she got nowhere with a proposal for universal health care for Illinoisans, and when she proposed banning all gifts to legislators, including drinks and meals, the silence was deafening. Some in Springfield fault her for being uncompromising. “She can be a dog with a bone,” says one colleague in the General Assembly.
Illinois Politics periodically tracks state legislators’ records, and its most recent survey, for 1995, put Schakowsky 103rd among 118 house members when it came to shepherding her own bills into law. In 1997 only one bill that had Schakowsky as chief sponsor–concerning unemployment insurance rates–became law. By contrast, Howard Carroll could take credit for four bills.
Of course, using as a yardstick the number of bills a legislator passes can be tricky. Party leaders often have legislators in swing districts attach their names to potentially successful bills to increase their reelection prospects. But Schakowsky is popular in Evanston and hardly needs a boost, and besides she sees her mission as prodding the state to accept her views over the long term and not always through legislation. “Look, you can wait for lobbyists to come to you with a no-brainer bill that will pass, but you aren’t taking any risks,” she says. “You have to ask, ‘How is what I’m putting in the hopper helping people’s lives?’ Also, some policies have my fingerprints all over them–but not my name.” She points to an increase of $33 million in state child-care funding this year that she claims Governor Edgar budgeted after some intense lobbying by her. And she predicts that, given the MSI corruption trials, some version of her proposal to ban gifts to legislators will become law–though without her being credited. “If it’s Mike Madigan and Lee Daniels with their names on the bill I’m not going to have a hissy fit,” she says.
Schakowsky is also secretary of the Conference of Women Legislators, a caucus of 42 women that cuts across party lines. Lately the conference has focused on banning drive-through hospital deliveries, improving conditions for women at Dwight Correctional Center, and covering destitute children with health insurance. The group is chaired by Chicago Democrat Mary Flowers and Aurora Republican Suzanne Deuchler, but Deuchler says, “Jan’s the hands-on person who develops position papers and points of agreement.”
Schakowsky’s aggressive style also characterizes her legislative service office in Evanston. “A person will come in with a problem about public aid or DCFS, and you get on the phone,” says aide Iris Johnson. “If you get the state person on the line and get the runaround, then you move to the supervisor. If the supervisor has an attitude, you go higher with the problem. Jan never says to back off–that’s not like her. She feels if you have a point to make, you should be out there pushing it.”
The law firm of Carroll and Sain occupies a spacious third-floor suite in the old Dearborn Station. On the walls of Howard Carroll’s corner office hang a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, a civil-rights-era serigraph by Norman Rockwell of Ruby Bridges being conducted to school in New Orleans by U.S. marshals, and plenty of plaques and photos. An official senate seal is embossed on the black leather desk chair.
One morning in August Carroll is at his desk explaining the connection he sees between law and politics. “Everything I do is consistent with being a problem solver. How do you create the solution? That’s what I ask myself always, whether at this law firm or in my community. I want to know what it will take to get to the future. You have to have a top-notch educational system, job opportunities for people, and a safe community. That’s why I’m running for Congress.”
Carroll grew up in West Rogers Park, the son of Barney Carroll, a business agent for the window washers’ union and a Democratic Party operative. “Mayor [Richard J.] Daley was a good friend of my dad,” Carroll says. He was 27 and a lawyer when he was tapped by local committeemen to run for the statehouse. Two years later he was elevated to the senate, where he’s been ever since, making him Illinois’ longest-serving senator.
Carroll chaired the senate appropriations committee for 16 years: “He knows everything about the numbers,” says a fellow senator. And he built a reputation as a deal maker. “At the end of each session Howie chaired an ad hoc committee between the house and senate that worked out any differences, and for him that was a major area of influence and expertise,” says Art Berman. “The ad hoc committee dealt with big items like education and roads, but if you needed something for your district–something not in the billions of dollars but in the thousands of dollars–the guy you talked to was Howie. He was able to negotiate, like when we needed help ten years ago to convert the Broadway armory [to a Park District recreation center]. My positive experience can be duplicated by many, many legislators who know and respect Senator Carroll.”
But in 1990 Chicago magazine named Carroll one of the ten worst legislators, because he asked state department directors for so many favors. “Howie works very hard for Howie,” a lobbyist told the magazine. “He’s an embarrassment to the system.” Asked about this assessment, Carroll says, “A reporter sat at a bar in Springfield and talked to some disgruntled department heads, that’s all.” Yet the magazine said its assessments were based on an informal poll of 100 lobbyists, journalists, and lawmakers.
Nevertheless, Carroll has shepherded through the senate bills to curb hate crimes and terrorist activities and to try repeat juvenile offenders as adults. Some of his ideas have seemed a little goofy. He once proposed cutting Chicago’s public schools into separate districts, which activists feared would exacerbate inequities between rich and poor areas (“The idea came from my wife,” he says). And he was so taken by the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus and its sappy message about the importance of arts education that he arranged to have a video of the film sent to every state legislator.
Carroll’s law practice, which focuses on business law, is a prosperous one. In the mid-80s Carroll and his partners–including Ken Sain, a deputy mayor under Richard J. Daley–represented U.S. Sprint in its attempt to extend its services from Minneapolis to Detroit. In the process Carroll and Sain set up their own company, Chicago Fiber Optic, and made a deal with the city to lay fiber-optic cable in the abandoned railway tunnels underneath the Loop. The Tribune characterized the lease as a sweetheart deal, but Carroll insists the arrangement was fair. “We were the sixth company in the tunnels, and we paid the same rate everybody else paid.” Eventually Chicago Fiber Optic was acquired by WorldCom, and Carroll now has equity in the telecommunications giant worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to Carroll’s federal financial disclosure statement.
Carroll no longer spends much time practicing law, devoting himself instead to politics. “I spend 60 to 70 days a year in Springfield, and my constituents are the first thing on my mind,” he says. “I take their calls and answer their letters myself.” Since 1980 he’s been 50th Ward Democratic committeeman, and he’s served nearly as long as treasurer of the Cook County Democratic Party–a tricky job back when Harold Washington was mayor and arch foe Ed Vrydolyak led the party. “Harold and I got along very, very well,” Carroll says. “And Ed and I got along very, very well. That was my role.”
Carroll has a high profile among Jewish organizations. “I’ve been chairman of almost everything,” he says. And he maintains a high profile in his district. The Howard W. Carroll Foundation underwrites Little League teams in Warren Park and a Special Olympics at Misericordia, and every Fourth of July the foundation mounts 50 Fest, nicknamed the “Howie Fest,” in Warren Park–once a three-day affair featuring three stages, skydivers, food, and fireworks, it was scaled back a couple of years ago to a parade and a band concert.
Having sponsored a bill that made it possible for localities to get state funds to pay for 75 percent of the cost of building a performing arts facility, Carroll persuaded his colleagues to provide funding for such a facility in Skokie in 1991. “That July I got a call from Howie,” says Dorothy Litwin, founder of Centre East, a performing complex then housed in the old Niles East High School. “It was late in the afternoon, and he sounded exhausted. But he said we had our funding.” The $20 million North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie opened in November 1996, and it honored Carroll at its December 1997 gala.
In the most recent round of CTA cuts, Carroll opposed a reduced schedule for the 96 bus, which snakes from the Lincoln Village shopping center to the Morse el stop. “The senator got that bus line in the first place,” says Arlene Novak, who manages Carroll’s service office and directs his foundation. “This fall he brought CTA officials to an open meeting at the Jewish community center, and he spoke about the necessity of keeping the line.” The CTA chopped evening and weekend hours on the line anyway. “But the senator is still trying,” says Novak.
Carroll has also angered constituents. In the early 90s the city wanted to evict an Orthodox Jewish high school from a Board of Education-owned building to ease crowding at nearby Clinton School, and Carroll wouldn’t help. “We met with him, and he basically said he wasn’t going to get involved,” says Lou Berkman, a longtime member of the Clinton Local School Council. “Now I avoid him.” Carroll counters that he helped get additions for Clinton and other neighboring schools. “I put the classrooms back where the kids are, not at another site. I came up with a better solution.”
At a luncheon at the Skokie-based Hebrew Theological College J.B. Pritzker says, “It was 116 years ago that a tired ten-year-old boy named Nicholas Pritzker stepped off the train in Chicago, having come all the way from Russia. He arrived with not much more than the clothes on his back. He slept in the train-station basement, and he sold the Chicago Tribune on the street corner to bring over the rest of his family. And so my great-grandfather began to live the American dream. On my bar mitzvah I received a book written by Nicholas Pritzker about his life. We need to believe in history and tradition. We need to remember.”
Nicholas Pritzker became a pharmacologist, then a lawyer, starting what has become one of America’s great fortunes, now valued in the billions. His great-grandson is proud of his clan–of its business acumen and its record of philanthropy. “Look at the Pritzker School of Medicine, the Pritzker wing at the zoo,” he says. “That generosity and involvement speak to the direction of my family. You may think I could buy an island somewhere, but the values that have been instilled in me led me to public service. What good is a family name if you wear it like an empty suit?”
Pritzker was born in 1965 to Sue and Donald Pritzker and named Jay Robert after his father’s two older brothers (J.B., or Jay Bob, for short). Donald Pritzker, eager to establish his independence from the Chicago-based clan, bought a motel near the Los Angeles airport and began to expand it into what would become the Hyatt chain, the centerpiece of the Pritzker business empire. Don was finance chair for Edmund Muskie’s presidential bid in 1972, and Sue served as a top official of the California Democratic Party. As a boy, J.B. was immersed in their political world. “I knew Alan Cranston, John Tunney, and Ted Kennedy,” he says. Then in 1972, at the age of 39, his father died of a heart attack while playing tennis.
J.B. was seven. “After my father died my mother became an alcoholic,” he says. “I had to pick her up off the bathroom floor, call the ambulance, and get her to the hospital. It was not an easy time.” When she died in a traffic accident in 1982 J.B.’s siblings, an older brother and sister, became his guardians.
His sister Penny, who now directs Pritzker real estate operations and also chairs the Museum of Contemporary Art board, says she, J.B., and their brother Tony grew very close in those years. She describes J.B. as someone who developed a public persona as a shield. “J.B. is affable, a genuine person, and you naturally like him. Even though our parents weren’t there for him, he got a lot of positive self-esteem from others in the midst of what could have been devastatingly harmful. He has always seemed older and wiser than his years. He had a candy business as a boy, and by the time he was 12 or 13 he was working behind the front desk at our hotels. He could have ended up a wayward soul, but he didn’t.”
After prep school at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, Pritzker went to Georgetown University and worked part-time as a legislative aide to Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who serves a San Francisco-area district. Pritzker transferred to Duke University, where he found time to volunteer in the U.S. Senate campaign of former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford. When Sanford was elected in 1986 Pritzker went to Washington, becoming a legislative assistant at 23–the youngest in the Senate. “I went to meetings with 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds,” Pritzker recalls, “and at first I was quite content to sit quietly and listen. But eventually I became someone who played at the table.”
In 1988 Pritzker became an aide to Illinois senator Alan Dixon. “J.B. was very bright, energetic, with good judgment,” says William Mattea, who was Dixon’s legislative director. “I’d call him a self-starter. He worked on transportation measures, and he had a real feel for the process here.”
Pritzker returned to Chicago and earned a law degree at Northwestern in 1993, the same year he married his wife, Mary Kathryn, who’d been an aide to South Dakota senator Thomas Daschle. But rather than go into legal practice, Pritzker went into business for himself–“a family tradition,” he says. Today the Evanston resident is president of New World Equities, a $4 million venture-capital firm that invests in telecommunications and technology start-ups. Yet according to his personal financial disclosure statement, Pritzker’s income, at least $650,000 in 1996, comes almost entirely from various inherited blind trusts.
Since returning to Chicago, Pritzker has thrown himself into so many anticrime and Jewish causes that he threatens Carroll’s status as chairman of “almost everything.” With David Pollack, a New York investment banker, Pritzker founded a group called Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century, which holds forums for yuppies and links them up with political campaigns in Chicago and New York. Through the Illinois State Crime Commission, a small Lisle-based advocacy organization, Pritzker helped lead a 1995 petition drive to make permanent the provisional funding of a federal community-policing initiative, COPS. Pritzker’s flyers list significant involvement in 16 organizations.
Pritzker contributes money to many causes, but he also contributes his labor. “I’m a community activist,” he likes to say. Last year when the ISCC pressed for passage of legislation making it illegal for convicted domestic abusers to own firearms, it was Pritzker who organized support among women’s and anticrime groups, says ISCC executive director Jerry Elsner. “J.B. took on the gun lobby with guts and his powerful name–and that’s not like saving the whales or buying lollipops for kids. But he didn’t give us a dime. We think the world of him–for his energy and not for his money.” Art Johnston, a Lakeview bar owner and longtime gay activist, says, “When I first met J.B. I had my reservations. I thought, gee, here’s this wealthy guy buying his way into office. But I’ve seen him late at night with his sleeves rolled up at a fair-housing meeting in the 46th Ward, and that got me on his side.”
Pritzker knows the price of a half gallon of milk (“It’s two bucks–make that a buck 80”), and he says he and his wife have “a normal life with our share of crises.” He adds, “My opponents like to portray me as the rich kid, but I believe we are a product of our experiences and not our money. I am an individual apart from my belongings. I’ve become well educated on the issues, and I’ve been fortunate enough to focus not on my financial security but on the needs of the community. My personal experience is that people don’t care how much money you make, but that you’ll fight for the issues they care about.”
Carroll would have voted for the new federal welfare-reform act, Pritzker only if protection for seniors and illegal immigrants had been written in. Schakowsky was horrified by the legislation. “We no longer guarantee payments to needy women and children, and that’s bad,” she says. “It’s sad the word ‘entitlement’ has become a dirty word.” Schakowsky and Pritzker both oppose a ban on partial-birth abortions, though Carroll “would support a ban if it’s properly written.” Carroll is alone in questioning the concept of same-sex marriage, but he does favor a registry for gay couples. “There’s a magic to the word ‘marriage’ that doesn’t necessarily apply in a gay or lesbian situation,” he says.
The three would have different priorities once they got to Washington. Carroll would improve the physical plants of schools, including wiring them for computers and paying for it through a federal tax on casinos. He also wants to set up boot camps for nonviolent juvenile offenders convicted under federal law (235 youngsters are now doing federal time), a program similar to one he helped institute in Illinois. “Let’s scare them straight,” he says. Schakowsky wants to hike the minimum wage again and talks seriously about universal health care. Pritzker wants tax breaks for small businesses and envisions extending health care so that all children under five are covered. He estimates that would cost $24 billion. “But for every dollar you spend,” he says, “you’ll save six down the road in preventing chronic diseases and in helping brain development.”
But in general there’s lots of agreement between Carroll, Schakowsky, and Pritzker. They all want to hold town-hall meetings in the district to glean constituent views, something Yates never did. They also oppose a balanced-budget amendment, and you’d need an electron microscope to figure out who’s more pro-choice or more pro-Israel. And they’re all staunch gun-control advocates. “In action I don’t think there is going to be much difference between them,” observes political consultant Don Rose. “Carroll could turn out to be a pretty good pork-barrel congressman, but on 100 votes you wouldn’t see 5 votes separating the three of them. They will all be liberal Democrats.”
On October 13 the Cook County Democratic committeemen endorsed Carroll in the race. By December he’d nailed down support from eight of ten committeemen in the Ninth District and two of three in the suburbs, and he had the backing of mayors in Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, and Lincolnwood. Mayor Daley, who studied with Carroll at DePaul’s law school and shared an apartment with him in Springfield, is rumored to be for him, though he hasn’t made a public pronouncement. The only major city executive who didn’t endorse him is Evanston’s Lorraine Morton; she says, “Mr. Pritzker knows how to operate in Washington, and he doesn’t walk lordly with his money.”
Thom Mannard, Carroll’s campaign manager, says that Carroll has a strong base of support in his senate district, which makes up 20 percent of the Ninth Congressional District. Mannard also says that the Carroll effort will rely heavily on regular Democratic precinct workers to get out votes. If that strategy reinforces his image as a hack, his camp doesn’t much care. “What’s a hack anyway?” says 50th Ward alderman Bernard Stone, a Carroll ally. “It’s someone who serves, and Howie serves his constituents well.” Mannard says, “The great majority in the district feel things are going along OK and want someone who isn’t going to have a negative impact on them, who can take care of things and retain the status quo.” Yet the reputation of the party organization has been muddied by the City Council high jinks of Patrick Huels and Ed Burke, and Carroll can only hope that nothing rubs off.
Carroll has been in Springfield so many years that he has a long record for his opponents to mine. He’s likely, for instance, to get lambasted as a big taxer. “Howie doesn’t make our worst list, but he almost does,” says James Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois. Carroll responds, “Tobin has ranted against me every time I’ve run for the senate, and my numbers keep going up. Really, the more I’m painted in a certain way, the more I look like a Renoir.” He may also get blasted for taking contributions from the tobacco lobby for his campaign fund and for his foundation. Carroll concedes he’s taken cigarette dollars–he offers his own example, a 1996 New York dinner courtesy of Philip Morris–but he says he’s also voted against industry interests.
Pritzker argues that his age, riches, and lack of experience qualify him for Congress. “I’m not a politician, no one can buy me, and I bring youth and energy to the job,” he says. Yet he also frequently calls himself the only candidate with Washington credentials–“I know the process and the people there”–and he compares himself to Yates. “Sid Yates was elected to Congress in his 30s, like me, and he’s one of the wealthiest members. He has served pretty well.”
The opposition grouses about Pritzker’s noblesse oblige attitude. “He’s never passed a bill,” says Mannard. “I don’t think answering phones for a senator should get you to Congress.” Mannard also thinks that the Pritzker family’s investments in hotels, casinos, and other businesses will present a conflict of interest on critical votes. “J.B. is my neighbor, and he’s a really nice guy,” says Marjorie Benton, a Democratic Party activist who has backed Schakowsky for years. “I’m glad he’s in politics, but I’d advise him to cut his teeth elsewhere. Why not run for alderman?” Carroll adds that Pritzker’s aristocratic background works against him: “There’s a feeling that J.B. just doesn’t have the gut for the problems regular people face.”
Mike Cherry, Pritzker’s finance cochairman, counters, “Do people want someone in sackcloth and ashes to represent them? Experience on the school board isn’t necessary. And when J.B.’s in Congress and the family wants to influence a hotel bill, there are other ways for them to do that than to go through him. He’s not in the casino or hotel business.”
Pritzker started out with a small constituency. He has attracted a few powerful backers, notably Mayor Morton and 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller, but he’s been forced to build much of his organization from scratch. Mark Poole, his campaign manager, says, “Let’s say you go to a meeting of the Mooses of Chicago, and J.B. speaks and impresses you. You sign a card that says you’d be willing to pass petitions to get J.B. on the ballot. So you pass the petitions, which are due to the state board of elections on December 8. Now you’re with us, and in January you’re back talking to your neighbors, lumping each in the plus, minus, or undecided column. You go back later to turn undecideds into pluses, and on primary day in March you make sure every one of your plus votes gets to the polls. We’ll be two deep in every precinct.”
“We’ll be four deep, guaranteed,” vows Jerry Morrison, Schakowsky’s campaign manager. “Pritzker is buying allegiance, and Howie has the machine. But we’ll have a couple thousand volunteers on the streets stumping for Jan because they believe in her. This is a grassroots campaign, like Abner Mikva used to run.” Mikva, the former congressman and White House counsel, has endorsed Schakowsky, as have the IVI-IPO, Jesse Jackson Jr., Dawn Clark Netsch, and Chicago aldermen Mary Ann Smith and Joe Moore. Morrison has also established a “field school” for 20 young political junkies from around the country who’ve come to town to organize 25 precincts apiece for Schakowsky; they get free room and board, but no pay.
Aware that her chief political asset is her gender, Schakowsky frequently points out that Illinois’ congressional delegation has no women besides Carol Moseley-Braun and that it’s time that changed. Schakowsky’s the most charismatic of the three candidates, and when she makes appearances she likes to recall the good old days fighting for freshness dating. “It isn’t a big, sexy thing perhaps, but it’s an empowering lever,” observes Mary Ann Smith. “You can’t always get your hands around the big stuff.” Pritzker’s campaign manager, Mark Poole, admits, “We’ll never be a better woman than Jan is.”
But Schakowsky’s detractors like to complain that she’s so busy talking she never gets anything done for anyone. “I passed a law to get women credit on their own,” says Carroll. “She didn’t. I passed a law on gender-based home care. She didn’t. I passed a bill to give women choice on OB-gyny. She didn’t. I’m write ’em into law–I actually do it. She stands and yells more than she gets results.”
But Schakowsky’s biggest worry may be the difficulties her husband, Robert Creamer, has got into. Citizen Action, the organization he headed, has traditionally raised much of its budget through aggressive phone and door-to-door solicitation. “We’ve always operated on a shoestring,” says current director John Cameron. “But there were a series of financial ups and downs, and we developed a significant debt.” Creamer claims the debt was largely “manageable,” but last spring Citizen Action ended up with at bank overdraft of at least $1 million. The FBI was called in to investigate the overdraft and whether it might be related to an alleged $2.7 million check-kiting scheme involving an Oregon affiliate.
Creamer won’t discuss the particulars except to say, “In the end no bank ended up with any loss, and there’s no question, I wasn’t using the money for my own purposes.” But on June 6 he resigned from Citizen Action. “My general view was to fight, but one of the reasons I left quickly was so there wouldn’t be any impact on Jan.” Spokesmen for the FBI, the local bank, and the U.S. attorney’s office refused to comment. Creamer, now a public-affairs consultant, says he’s unaware of any ongoing probe.
“I’m running for Congress–Bob isn’t,” asserts Schakowsky. But the question is whether she, having worked for the organization and maintained ties to it, knew about the problems. She says flatly, “As close as Bob and I have always been, and though I worked there and have sat on the policy board, I’ve never been involved in the business end of the organization.”
Nevertheless, the Creamer issue is potentially deadly. The controversial business dealings of Geraldine Ferraro’s husband that dogged her when she ran for vice president still haunt her political prospects. But both Pritzker and Carroll know they need to be sensitive when it comes to two-career families, so neither can afford to raise the issue directly. “It wouldn’t be my style to make any comment on that,” says Carroll. Moreover, Pritzker sat on Citizen Action’s finance and policy boards in the early 90s, though he says he got off because he didn’t like some positions the organization took, such as its support of gaming.
Late one afternoon Schakowsky sits down in her Evanston campaign headquarters to place her daily batch of calls to potential contributors. “I prefer changing the kitty litter to doing this,” she says. “I’ve run through the people I know. Now I’m calling mostly strangers.”
Her mission today is to get backers to become official sponsors of an upcoming fund-raiser at Girlbar, a lesbian club in Lincoln Park, that will feature Margarethe Cammermeyer, an army colonel who lost her national guard commission when she was outed (she’s now running for Congress in Washington State). “This is Jan Schakowsky, and you know I’m running for Congress,” she begins. She often gets voice mail or an answering machine, but she goes on with her spiel, saying that she’s excited Cammermeyer is coming and that she’s putting together a benefit committee, and asking for a callback.
When she reaches a live body she presses her case. “Could you join the benefit committee?” she asks an estate planner. “I want your name. Your name is golden, and I want to list you.” The woman hedges. But on the next call Laurie Dittman, a veteran politico, agrees to join the committee. A gay businessman pledges a donation but says he won’t lend his name to the event. “I’m fairly closeted,” he informs Schakowsky. A prominent woman lawyer promises that her check is in the mail. When Schakowsky feels the moment is right, she will ask the person to “max out”–contribute the limit of $1,000 an individual can give in a federal race–but often she’s shot down. “If it were just you and J.B. I’d do it,” a man tells #her, “but I’m close with Howie.”
Carroll and Pritzker also spend hours each day hunting for funds. “I’m forever dialing for dollars,” says Carroll. Pritzker and his operatives believe he has to raise the bulk of his war chest to blunt suggestions that he’s buying the election. “I intend to raise every cent,” he says. “But if I get into the last couple weeks of the primary and it’s close, I’d rather be on the campaign trail than talking on the phone.” Presumably Pritzker himself would then finance a TV blitz that might swamp Schakowsky and Carroll. “He can buy more TV than God could,” cracks one north-side legislator.
In early October Carroll’s and Schakowsky’s campaign chiefs invited Pritzker’s chief to a meeting about setting a limit of $600,000 on spending, including caps on how much would come from political-action committees and how much from out of state. “We were talking $1 for every resident,” Mannard, Schakowsky’s chief, points out. Pritzker’s chief never showed up. Pritzker contends that Schakowsky and Carroll have benefited unfairly from being officeholders–mailing newsletters to their constituents, using state funds, trumpeting their accomplishments. He says they should resign before he discusses campaign caps.
According to Common Cause, the watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., the average 1996 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives cost $490,947. The average winner laid out $667,425 (Newt Gingrich shelled out the most, $5.8 million). As it now stands, each camp in the Ninth District is racing to come up with $800,000 or more, and Carroll and Schakowsky are worried that Pritzker will go well beyond them.
The competition for donations has been intense, forcing traditional liberals to make choices that are sometimes painful and occasionally divide couples (federal election reports show, for instance, that philanthropist Irving Harris maxed out for Pritzker, while his wife, Joan, did the same for Schakowsky). Penny Pritzker, cochair of her brother’s finance campaign, reports “tremendous enthusiasm” among people she calls; the opposition complains that people who do business with the Pritzker family must feel obligated to give. Schakowsky campaign consultant Peter Giangreco also complains that Carroll is “cashing in IOUs that go back 30 years.”
It’s the “woman thing” that’s increasing Schakowsky’s bottom line. “I’m finding a lot of women who are delighted to find someone like Jan, who they can identify with and help,” says Marjorie Benton, who’s beating the bushes for her friend. Schakowsky is also on EMILY’s List, a Washington-based political-action committee founded in 1985 to assist Democratic women. The 45,000 members–90 percent of them women, 2,000 of them in Illinois–are asked to support two endorsed candidates with a gift of $100 or more in an election cycle. Schakowsky won placement on the 1998 list early, which could translate into $100,000 in gifts.
All this money goes toward paying staff and preparing advertising, including television spots and mass mailings. “Direct mail will be king,” says Victor Crown, assistant editor of Illinois Politics. “You can reach seniors, blacks, and women in particular, whereas TV doesn’t have as much bang for the buck.” Soon mailboxes will be bulging with slick pieces of literature, which will grow more negative the closer the Saint Patrick’s Day primary looms.
The campaigns estimate that the outcome of the primary will be determined by 90,000 or so voters. How Jews cast their ballots will therefore be critical, and the perception that Pritzker is throwing around his money to corner Jewish votes was reinforced in December when he was given an award by the Zionist Organization of Chicago at a benefit dinner for the group. Hedy Ratner, codirector of the Women’s Business Development Center and a Schakowsky backer, charged that the organization reneged on giving her a prize in favor of Pritzker, who would buy tables at the dinner. Pritzker says, “They came to me and offered me the award. I had no idea about Hedy Ratner.” And he feels no contrition about buying tables. “That’s part of my obligation to support causes I believe in.” (The Zionist Organization of Chicago did not return phone calls.)
This month Pritzker lambasted Carroll for taking money from the American Muslim Council, which Pritzker claims supports Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. Moin Kahn, the council’s Illinois representative, had a hand in organizing a fund-raiser for Carroll on January 16, but Kahn condemns Hamas. The national spokesman for the council, Fahhim Abdulhadi, says, “We emphatically condemn every act of terrorism,” though he added that the group takes no position on Hamas. Carroll responded by accusing Pritzker of “race baiting,” trying to tie all Muslims to terrorists.
Schakowsky’s campaign manager, Jerry Morrison, notes that 55 percent of recent primary voters in the Ninth have been women, and her campaign consultant, Peter Giangreco, observes that in many recent Illinois primaries women candidates–from Moseley-Braun to Netsch to various state representative hopefuls–have cleaned their opponents’ clocks. Saul Shorr, a Philadelphia-based media consultant whose ads put Netsch in a pool hall and Nancy Kaszak at a piano when she ran for state representative, is doing Schakowsky’s television ads. If she pulls off a victory, it will be based on the votes of women, seniors (who make up 16 percent of primary voters), and those who like her fighter image. She should be strongest in Evanston and on the lakefront.
Contrary to the common perception, the Ninth District isn’t all that liberal. “Yates probably represents 20 or 30 percent of the voters,” speculates political writer Russ Stewart. That’s good for Carroll, since 58 percent of the primary vote lies off the lakefront. In the more conservative wards and townships west of Ashland, including the senator’s own district, his message should have the greatest appeal.
Carroll has other advantages. He had greater precampaign name recognition. He has the endorsement of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union and the city’s biggest Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which is powerful in the northwest-side wards. Daley’s support is tacit, but some of his workers, including Michael Vaske, assistant commissioner of general services, are already helping out; the rumor is that former state senator Jeremiah Joyce will soon join them. Yates has said he won’t be endorsing anyone in the primary, but he’s closest to Carroll. “Howie was always one of Sid’s best friends,” says Mike Dorf, Yates’s lawyer and Carroll’s campaign treasurer. Carroll will have an even better shot if the turnout is low, because the organization’s ability to get out the vote will have more effect. And the dismal Democratic primary for governor could easily drive the turnout down, as could media attention given to President Clinton’s problems if it continues to swamp other political coverage.
Pritzker, who’s being helped out by campaign workers allied with 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell, is the wild card. “There’s a mixed history of wealthy guys getting in,” says consultant Don Rose. “Locally Dick Phelan and Al Hofeld have done well–and then not so well.” Victor Crown says millionaire prospects in Illinois aren’t doing as well this year, pointing to gubernatorial hopeful John Schmidt and state senator Peter Fitzgerald, who’s taking on Moseley-Braun. He also points out, “TV ads also aren’t getting the numbers that they used to, because the public is desensitized to them–and there is also resentment of the rich.” But Rose responds, “They [the Pritzker family] have one of the finest images around, and they have lots of ties and are a major employer. That can’t hurt.”
Going door-to-door, Pritzker has found voters reacting favorably to his surname. If he can market himself as a Pritzker, as the young outsider, and as “everybody’s Jewish son,” in Russ Stewart’s phrase, he could come in second to Schakowsky on the lakefront and second to Carroll in the interior–and eke out a win. But that’s the least likely scenario. Partisans for Schakowsky say early polling puts her ahead, though Carroll’s folks say he’s setting the pace. Crown says, “Carroll has the edge at the moment because nobody’s paying attention to the governor’s race.” A prominent Democratic officeholder says, “It’ll be her, two to one, because of the woman thing.” o
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Kurt Mitchell; Jan Schakowsky, Howard Carroll and J.B. Pritzker photos by Kathy Richland;.