Time for a Change?

When an idea’s time has come, or even if it hasn’t, the insurgent notion’s advocates normally present themselves to the public as imperturbable know-it-alls. What we like about Ken Peterson, who offers deliverance to a city plunged in the dark of winter, is his admission of how far he is from nailing down the details.

Why in the world, we asked Peterson, would anyone want to stay up until 11:30 at night to watch Ted Koppel when you can now see him an hour earlier?

“That’s exactly what they do in New York. You’d be on New York time,” Peterson responded lamely. “Of course a lot of people have VCRs. What do the people in New York do? What do the people in Benton Harbor do? What do the people in Lafayette do? They have the exact same situation.”

Lafayette! With all due respect to Purdue University, does Peterson expect denizens of our world-class metropolis to look to Lafayette, Indiana, as an example? And what about Wall Street? we said next. Thanks to the one-hour difference between Chicago and New York, the Sun-Times is able to squeeze the closing stock prices into its late-afternoon edition. Lose that hour . . .

“I don’t know what the sequence is to transmit that data,” Peterson allowed. He suggested we investigate Indianapolis. “Ask them, how do they gather and transmit this data?”

As you no doubt understand by now, this admirer of all things Hoosier seeks to change the clocks of Chicago. He wants the city to align itself with New York and Indianapolis by entering the eastern time zone. He provided us with a map of America in which Chicago appears as a snub-nosed pistol the east is jabbing into the breadbasket of the midwest.

What about the ball scores from the coast? we asked him. When we pick the morning paper off our stoop we don’t want to read “late.” We want to know who won and who lost.

“I don’t know if that’s a problem or not,” said Peterson. “We don’t have all the answers.”

An architect in Forest Park, Peterson is director of the Midwest Daylight Coalition, although when we asked him what the coalition consists of he conceded that “right now this is basically a committee to start the coalition.” He intends the coalition to involve major business interests. The committee consists of friends and relatives whose grousing about bleak winters and early dusks led a year ago to formation of the Half Hour Time Zone Lobby.

“A group of 12 core members formed the original group–engineers, computer people, housewives, schoolteachers, psychologists,” said Peterson. “Your average run-of-the-mill people, but a little more intelligent than your average people. They started questioning, why can we travel to Michigan and the sun doesn’t set until 5:20?”

To ask the question is to answer it. Michigan, a mere 90 minutes away by car, observes eastern time. Peterson’s lobby, noting that the sun actually stands atop Chicago not at noon but at 11:30 AM, proposed a new time zone running from the top of the country to the bottom a half hour ahead of central time. The lobby held a public forum in Forest Park before this initiative collapsed.

“What we didn’t realize was the political impact of creating a new time zone compared with adding ourselves to an existing time zone,” Peterson explained. “We would have had to go to Congress. It would have involved a congressional act, and it would take years, because the good old boys in the south wouldn’t have wanted to do it.”

Why not? we asked.

“It’s just a radical idea,” he explained. “Most people don’t even understand time zones have only been around 100 years.”

So now Peterson simply wants Chicago to shift to eastern time. Local time is, up to a point, a local option. A county government seeking to change from one existing time zone to another petitions the Department of Transportation, which happens to hold jurisdiction, and the DOT schedules hearings. Peterson proposes that greater Chicago–the seven counties in northeastern Illinois and the five in northwestern Indiana still allied chronometrically with them (a sixth in Indiana, Starke, broke away from Chicago last October and joined the east)–approach the DOT in concert. The DOT would weigh the request with an eye focused on commerce, and its hearings would shed an ontological light on the region. Commercially, where does Chicago stand? With New York, or with Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Saint Louis?

“I think Ken is on to something,” says Jim Benfield, former director of the now dormant Daylight Savings Time Coalition in Washington, D.C. Benfield was a key figure behind a federal law signed in 1986 moving up the start of daylight saving time from the last Sunday in April to the first.

“There is a general trend over the last 100 years to have fewer and fewer time zones. Standard time is only 108 years old. Prior to that there were about 55 time zones along railroad beds. It was chaos.

“I think the direction we’re moving in will be in favor of the way China is going. China covers five time zones, but all China observes Beijing time. Personally, I think the eastern and central United States ought to observe Chicago time, and the west coast and Rocky Mountains ought to observe Denver time. Or all four time zones ought to observe Chicago time. It’ll be disruptive for about six months, and then everybody will say, God, it’s so easy. Ken is kind of taking that first step. He’s saying, let’s get these huge population centers, Chicago and New York, on the same time zone.”

How long till one clock ticks for America?

“A hundred years,” Benfield predicts. “We’re a really stodgy, stubborn country. God, we’re stodgy! We’re the only nation that isn’t metric and the only nation that doesn’t have high-denomination coins. [Benfield happens to be a lobbyist for the coin industry.] We’re really stuck in our ways when it comes to things that involve time and money. There’s a very fundamentalist flow in our decision makers. Don’t complain. Take what’s given to you.”

Although commercial considerations will sway the Department of Transportation, Ken Peterson is drumming up support locally with a populist pitch based on the notion of 365 extra hours of daylight a year. According to a position paper from the Midwest Daylight Coalition, the benefits of more afternoon sunshine are multifarious. “More daylight for all after-work activities. Leisure, sports, recreation, family, and other outdoor activities all year.” Also “People with night blindness (retinitis pigmentosa) would have more quality daylight time for activities.” And “Less urban crime. . . . The average person is safer in the early-morning twilight than in the evening twilight period.” Furthermore, “People who have Seasonal Affected Depression would have additional opportunities to be out in afternoon daylight, potentially lessening the effects of SAD.” Plus “Less energy used by business.”

Peterson goes so far as to argue that joining eastern time will reduce auto accidents. “In the morning,” his position paper maintains, “people get in their cars awake and refreshed and turn on headlights right away, because it is dark and becoming lighter. Versus in the evening people are tired and forget to turn on headlights, because it is still light out and becoming darker.”

We pointed out that at this time of year, it’s already pitch dark at 5 PM, when the evening rush hour begins. Move the clock up an hour, and the rush hour really would begin in twilight.

“There’s a whole lot of unanswered questions which more research and more feedback will help us define,” said Peterson.

Peterson’s brief for eastern time has not persuaded us. “Chicago is sort of the bedrock of central standard time,” says Joanne Petrie, a DOT attorney, and we agree. Let America embrace Benfield’s vision, in which New York and the rest of the country synchronize their watches with Chicago’s. For Chicago to fall in line would be to abandon the city’s midwestern roots, estranging itself from its own state to suit Manhattan. We spoke to our editor, informed him of our reservations, and encouraged him to contribute his own reflections on Peterson’s folly.

“But I grew up in New Jersey,” he replied, “so I think 11:30 is a perfectly natural time to watch Ted Koppel.”

Ron the Reformer

Last month the rank and file of the Teamsters chose a reformer named Ron Carey as their new president. This historic election, which saw direct balloting supervised by the federal government, was the yield of a racketeering suit filed against the Teamsters in 1988. For a taste of the old union and its associates, consider the title of this suit:

United States of America v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, AFL-CIO; the Commission of La Cosa Nostra; Anthony Salerno, a/k/a “Fat Tony;” Matthew Ianniello, a/k/a “Matty the Horse;” Anthony Provenzano, a/k/a “Tony Pro;” Nunzio Provenzano, a/k/a “Nunzi Pro;” Anthony Corallo, a/k/a “Tony Ducks;” Salvatore Santoro, a/k/a “Tom Mix;” Christopher Furnari, Sr., a/k/a “Christie Tick;” Frank Manzo; Carmine Persico, a/k/a “Junior,” “The Snake;” Gennaro Langella, a/k/a “Gerry Lang;” Philip Rastelli, a/k/a “Rusty;” Nicholas Marangello, a/k/a “Nicky Glasses;” Joseph Massino, a/k/a “Joey Messina;” Anthony Ficarotta, a/k/a “Figgy;” Eugene Boffa, Sr.; Francis Sheeran; Milton Rockman, a/k/a “Maishe;” John Tronolone, a/k/a “Peanuts;” Joseph John Aiuppa, a/k/a “Joey O’Brien,” “Joe Doves,” “Joey Aiuppa;” John Phillip Cerone, a/k/a “Jackie the Lackie,” “Jackie Cerone; ” Joseph Lombardo, a/k/a “Joey the Clown;” Angelo LaPietra, a/k/a “The Nutcracker;” Frank Balistrieri, a/ k/a “Mr. B;” Carl Angelo Deluna, a/k/a “Toughy;” Carl Civella, a/k/a “Corky;” Anthony Thomas Civella, a/ k/a “Tony Ripe;” General Executive Board, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America . . .

The list of defendants continues for another nine lines.

We asked the noted labor lawyer/author Thomas Geoghegan if he knew Ron Carey. He does. And does Carey have a catchy monicker of his own? we wondered.

“No, he’s nicknameless,” Geoghegan told us. “To meet him you’d understand why. He’s got a lot of personal dignity to him, actually.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Kathy Richland.