When I began this story, I saw Neil Hartigan as a wimp, a dull boy, a party hack. The story that I proposed was one describing how this hack worked his way through the ranks of the Democratic Party, machine and postmachine, until he reached the top. I knew only the bare bones of Hartigan’s story, but they seemed to spell that tale.
Very early in my interviewing, my thinking changed. It is impossible to walk away from a conversation with this man without being impressed by the passion he brings to so many issues. I wondered during one of these conversations, “How can this bleeding heart be such a successful politician?” But it isn’t passion alone. He is filled with facts and figures that he rattles off–often more than you want to know.
One day he called me to say, “You know, I feel kinda bad. You’ve only seen my serious side. I’m not all that much of a heavy.” He offered to send me a videotape of a song-and-dance number he did at the 1987 Springfield Gridiron Dinner, when he spoofed Jim Thompson by singing, “I want to be president of the USA.” He said, “I broke up the crowd.” I passed on his offer, but he was right. I saw only his serious side. Which isn’t always so heavy.
The houselights dim, the young honor guard in red-and-white Hartigan T-shirts lines both sides of the aisle, the spotlight shines on the candidate, the band plays “Twist and Shout,” and to passionate applause Neil Hartigan comes down the long aisle of the Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield, grinning, shaking hands, saying hello, occasionally kissing an old friend. Fifty-two years old, he is today at a crowning moment in his 30-year political career. Here at the Illinois Democratic convention, he is formally accepting his party’s nomination to be governor. At this date in mid-August, polls put Hartigan ten points behind his Republican opponent, Secretary of State Jim Edgar. But Hartigan is confident, and a month later he and Edgar will be neck and neck. The only election he’s lost in 25 years was his 1976 run for lieutenant governor, when Jim Thompson and the Republican ticket swept away the faction-ridden Democrats after the hapless administration of Dan Walker.
At the podium now, the houselights rising, Hartigan grasps the hands of all his party’s other candidates–and of Jesse Jackson. The Harold Washington Party, on or off the ballot, could cost the democrats votes, and Jackson is here as a guest speaker to let his fellow blacks know where he stands in this election. (Coming here won’t hurt Jackson’s career, either.) And the party embraces him.
It’s been a long day of speeches, and everyone is tired. Yet Hartigan’s red-faced, passionate, off-the-cuff oratory arouses wild enthusiasm. Because he’s nearsighted and refuses to wear glasses at the podium, Hartigan can’t read the prompter. Long ago he learned to speak off the cuff.
Hartigan makes the predictable attacks on Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, but what his speech is really about is making his audience feel proud to be Democrats. “It’s time for a change. Real change,” he cries, “the kind of change we’re seeing all around the world. You know it and I know it. This is our generation around the world. This is the generation of the great unionist, Lech Walesa, who changed the face of the world. This is the generation of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for a set of ideas and came out of prison to lead a nation. This is the generation of Chamorra. The list goes on and on. This is the generation that ended the Berlin Wall. That isn’t just freedom from oppression. It’s a generation in action, our generation around the world, the people who are willing to fight and risk everything. And what about us in Illinois? What are we going to do? What we have to do, my fellow Democrats. Accept the challenge of redefining what change means for us. We have to make it clear what it means to be a Democrat. We’re going to retake this state.”
Neil Hartigan spent 5 of the last 25 years as a banker. He’s been in politics and government all the rest of his adult life and at the center of Democratic Party politics since he was born. His father, David L. Hartigan, served several terms as deputy city treasurer, briefly was treasurer, and was twice elected 49th Ward alderman.
Asked if he learned Democratic politics at his father’s knee, Hartigan edges around the question, reluctant to portray himself as so totally a party creature. Instead, he describes his father’s background. David Hartigan was the youngest of 14 children in a family of south-side Irish Catholics. His own father had been crippled in an industrial accident, and early in life David Hartigan found himself on his own. “My dad did every job under the sun,” Neil Hartigan says.
His uncle Matthew was a Democratic candidate for state’s attorney in 1930, when the party was pretty much controlled by gangsters. Hartigan says, “The syndicate offered my uncle a piece of the slot machines. He told them to drop dead. So the party dropped him and he ran against the party and lost by 11,000 votes, which in those days probably means he won by a quarter of a million. I’m told it was the toughest, most brutal election anyone had ever seen, which says a lot considering the politics of Chicago in those days.” State’s attorney was a crucial office to keep in the hands of the mob. After that election, Hartigan says, “No one in the party talked to my uncle or my father for two years. They wouldn’t even say hello.”
Meanwhile, Hartigan’s father as a very young man had come to the attention of another Democrat, Paul Drymalski, owner of the Drymalski Coal Company, chairman of the Board of Tax Appeals, and a leader of the Eastern European bloc in the Democratic Party. “I don’t know how he spotted my dad,” Hartigan says. “In those days, there was no ethnic crossing. Poles stuck with Poles, Irish with Irish, and so on. But Drymalski hired my dad as his assistant. It was amazing. A Pole giving an Irishman a chance like that! And during the Depression!”
That’s how Neil Hartigan grew roots in the Polish community. Drymalski’s grandson, Raymond H. Drymalski, remembers Christmas dinners the two families shared when he and Neil were children. On the campaign trail, Hartigan speaks Polish to a woman selling Polish sausages at a street fair, and tells her how he learned the language. She smiles happily and wishes him good luck.
Drymalski’s son, Raymond D. Drymalski, followed his father as a leader of the party’s Eastern European bloc. Ethnic slating was even more important in those days than these. City posts were divvied among the various blocs in each election. In 1943 Raymond Drymalski was slated for city treasurer. After he won, he summoned David Hartigan from the Board of Tax Appeals to become assistant treasurer and attorney for the office. In the years that followed, the city treasurer’s post was assigned to Joseph Baran and William Milota, and David Hartigan served under both of them. He was, his son explains, “the professional who really ran the office.” Well, of course, but he also had to be a loyal party man. In 1954, Hartigan got his turn at the top. Milota was elected Municipal Court bailiff, and Mayor Martin H. Kennelly named Hartigan to the treasurer’s job.
Then came 1955, that fateful year in Chicago political history. By rights of tenure, David Hartigan should have been slated for treasurer, but, as his son explains, “You couldn’t put two Irishmen at the head of the ticket.” Hartigan instead ran for alderman of the 49th Ward on Mayor Kennelly’s ticket. Neil was then 17 and he worked in his father’s campaign.
Kennelly had been elected on a reform platform four years before, but he wasn’t much of a politician, and in 1955 the Democratic Organization abandoned him in favor of Cook County Clerk Richard J. Daley. Kennelly lost, of course, but Hartigan and a few others on the Kennelly slate survived the Democratic primary. Leon Despres, the former Fifth Ward independent who was first elected alderman that same year, remembers David Hartigan as a “genial, pleasant, affable man, not very distinguished.” Despres can’t recall the issues, but he remembers Hartigan voting independently now and then during the first year or so of his term; but, as Daley gradually took control of the City Council, Hartigan more and more consistently went along.
Sworn in by his brother Matthew, now a judge, David Hartigan began his second term as alderman in a hospital bed, seriously ill with diabetes. The illness had virtually blinded him, and his younger son, David Jr., had become his eyes, Neil says. The two walked elbow to elbow in the corridors of City Hall, with young David whispering to his father the names of those he should say hello to. David Hartigan died at 57, a week into his new term. His wife Coletta turned down the traditional assistance the party offered. “She didn’t want their help,” her son says. But Neil Hartigan, in his senior year at Georgetown University, decided to take advantage of the party’s generosity. After graduating from Georgetown in 1959, Hartigan went to see Mayor Daley. Loyola University had offered him a scholarship to law school, and he asked for an afternoon or evening job he could fit around his classes. Is that all you want? asked the mayor. Yes, Hartigan recalls saying, I just need to get through school.
The mayor gave him a job–as a laborer from 1 to 9 PM at the Board of Health, then at Hubbard and Dearborn. But Hartigan wasn’t a laborer very long. He offered his services to the health commissioner, Samuel Andelman, who was new in town. Hartigan helped him find his way around City Hall. “I wrote some speeches for him and some other volunteer work,” he says. Soon enough, Andelman offered Hartigan a promotion from the basement to the third floor to be Andelman’s assistant, a job Hartigan held through his three years of law school. After he took the bar exam in 1962, he became an attorney for Andelman. “The best project I ever worked on,” Hartigan recalls, “was the development of the Woodlawn Mental Health Center on 63rd Street when I was attorney for the Health Department.”
But Hartigan was already thinking about politics–serious politics. In 1960, after returning to Chicago from Georgetown, he’d gone to work in the 49th Ward Democratic Organization in Rogers Park. He wasn’t exactly welcomed into the fold by the committeeman there, who had once been his father’s opponent. But it wasn’t easy to squeeze out Hartigan completely–his family was too well known and liked. So the committeeman made Hartigan captain of the toughest precinct in the ward, the one that brought in the lowest party vote.
The 49th has never been a solid machine ward. In 1971, for instance, with Hartigan now the committeeman, he could deliver only 57.7 percent of the vote to Daley in a mayoral election that found many wards delivering 80 percent. Even so, Hartigan was highly skilled in getting out the vote. He had worked in his father’s aldermanic campaign, had managed a winning campaign waged by his old friend Raymond H. Drymalski for an office in the Georgetown student government, and had all but won a seat in the student government himself. “It was the only time in my life,” he recalls with laughter, “that I forgot the absentee votes. There were 14 students living abroad who I forgot about.” So Hartigan brought experience and an instinct for winning elections to that first precinct job. In ’63, he brought 35 young people he’d gone to school with into the precinct to work for him, and from 98th in the ward’s Democratic vote totals Hartigan’s precinct rose in that year’s city elections to 17th. By ’68 he was ward committeeman.
Meanwhile, he had convinced Samuel Andelman to send him to Springfield to represent the Board of Health. “My dad told me before he died, “If you want to know anything about government in Illinois, get out of Chicago.’ I didn’t know what he meant, so I asked for the legislative job. Well, I learned when I got to Springfield that it was really completely different. No one up here understands the kinds of resources the governor has, the power he has to affect everything.” Hartigan spent only about a year in Springfield, but he made a lot of friends, among them State Senator Paul Simon.
Things moved very fast for young Hartigan. In 1965, when he was 27, Daley’s corporation counsel, Raymond Simon, asked Hartigan to apply for the job of assistant to the mayor. Simon was also from Rogers Park and had been a year ahead of Hartigan at Loyola.
Hartigan describes the momentary conflict he faced. “I was at a crossroad. I was either going to be a trial lawyer or go into government. It was either go to work for the mayor or go into the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” He went to see Daley. It was, he says, laughing, “the single dumbest interview I ever had in my life. Here I am 27 years old and Mayor Daley is at the height of his power. It was just dumb. The only real reason I can figure out he hired me was that, at the end of the interview, he asked me, “Well, Neil, why do you want to be in government?’ I said, “Well, frankly, Mayor, I consider it sort of like a religious calling. It’s the next highest place after the church where you can help people.’ I guess he decided that was as honest an answer as you can get.” Then, Daley asked Hartigan, “How much are you making now?” Hartigan laughs again. “It went through my mind that I was making $8,000, but he’d never hire me at that, so I said $7,000. I wanted that opportunity badly enough to take a $1,000 pay cut. That was a lot of money in those days, but it was worth it. The reason I’ve always been as loyal to Daley as I have is that he had no reason in the world to give me that chance. My dad had been against him. They respected each other, but they’d been on opposite sides. And my dad was dead, anyhow. I didn’t mean anything to anyone, but he gave me that chance.”
I have heard from more than one person that Hartigan does indeed tend to see himself on “a mission from God”–to quote an adversary–and that he takes very seriously “the legacy of his father to do good”–to quote a friend. But Mayor Daley would also have noticed that young Hartigan had skillfully handled himself at the Board of Health for five years and at the age of 27 been elected president of his ward organization. Reading through the newspaper clippings about Hartigan for the last 25 years, talking to him at some length, and watching him on the campaign trail, I find it hard to imagine him botching such an important interview, or truly believing that Daley hired him only because of the answer he gave to that final question.
Neil Hartigan seems to have been imbued early on with the conviction that public service is next to godliness. He speaks of his father’s “legacy of service.” He was formed by Jesuit educational institutions that preach public service as a way of serving God. Now he believes deeply in his power to govern.
Those who have worked for Hartigan over the years call him a hard taskmaster. Without complaining, as if they even enjoyed it, his staff members speak of working two and three days straight through on a project. Richard Kateley, who was Hartigan’s staff assistant in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office from 1972 to ’76, says, “I think political people have their batteries charged up by those 20-hour days, seven days a week, whereas most of us would be depleted. You can watch them gain strength as the hours go by. It is tangible. You can feel it.”
A few weeks ago, I arrived at Hartigan’s house for a late-night interview. I didn’t look forward to it, but his campaign schedule was so rigorous that the only time he could find for a final interview and photo session was 10 PM. I arrived a few minutes early. He walked in pale from fatigue, his face deeply lined. He went upstairs, changed clothes, washed up, and came down 15 minutes later looking refreshed. He posed for pictures, and it was after 11 when we sat down at the kitchen table of his 11-room dream house. He still seemed exhausted, though the lines in his face had diminished. But as he talked, as he described his views and his political career, he changed before my eyes, becoming animated, eager, quick to laugh. I had worried that his responses would be superficial. Instead, I had to cut him off at times, out of my own fear that we’d be there all night.
We stopped talking for some more picture taking, and by now it was 12:30. Hartigan had started his day at 5 AM. But there was something he felt he’d been unclear about. He hadn’t told me the whole story. So we stood in the kitchen and talked for another 20 minutes.
The six rooms on the first floor of Hartigan’s old, grand house in Rogers Park are remarkable for his wife’s very large and very beautiful glass collection and for a huge collection of photos assembled in a hallway. The first floor is also remarkable for the absence of any reading matter except a stack of Town and Country magazines in the television room. Hartigan says the office upstairs is where he keeps the (mainly political) books he reads, but the absence of even a newspaper downstairs was striking. In fact these spacious and tastefully appointed rooms have about them the stiff feeling that no one lives here. There is no evidence that four children grew up in this house or that anyone spends any time here now, and his wife says that aside from sleeping no one does. That’s because of the campaign, she says, but one wonders if the model home look didn’t prevail all along. I asked Marge Hartigan where she and her husband sit and talk. She laughed loudly and said that when that rare occasion occurs, when they don’t just tumble into the bedroom, which she described as a disaster area, they choose the kitchen table for their chats. Indeed, that was the spot I had selected as the one comfortable place to interview her husband.
The first time we sit across from each other, however, it’s in a luxurious rented van during a Saturday on the campaign trail. A young assistant sits beside Hartigan; up front, two state policemen assigned to guard him handle the driving. Hartigan is large–six-foot-two, 205 pounds–and his arms and legs seem to spill out of his cramped seat in the van. His size, blondish red hair (artfully combed to conceal his baldness), very white skin, small but penetrating blue eyes in a large face, and elegantly tailored beige summer suit all combine somehow to make Hartigan look not much like a Chicago politician. Or like any politician at all. He looks rather more like the almost handsome Irish guys you remember as big men on campus when you were in college, many of whom went on to be bank executives. As Hartigan did, for five years.
Hartigan has just attended an endorsement session of IMPACT, the political arm of the gay and lesbian community. Robert Adams, IMPACT’s executive director, says later that he can’t predict which candidate his organization will endorse, but that Edgar’s no-show might not help him. Likewise, Edgar’s decision to be represented by a staffer and a convertible in the Gay Pride parade might not play as well as Hartigan’s turning up to march. (And sure enough, in October IMPACT gives Hartigan a strong endorsement.) Adams says, “Neil Hartigan has shown responsiveness when we’ve gone to him. He’s listened and heard us and tried to respond. He’s done a few very important things, like issuing an executive order for the attorney general’s office banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring and promotion. That’s leadership by example. It’s the kind of clear and forceful signal we want public officeholders to send.” Adams is also pleased that Hartigan called together a gay and lesbian advisory group to be part of his campaign, without asking them to promise to endorse him.
Adams predicts that the gay and lesbian community will vote largely for Hartigan, but may not actively campaign for him. “We’ll pull out all the stops for Orr and Simon,” he says, “but my sense is that this community is not inspired by either candidate [for governor]. On the other hand, when you look at Edgar, you see a Republican who had a major challenge from the right wing and whose colleagues in the party are all conservative, by comparison with Hartigan, whose party platform includes a plank against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, that recognizes AIDS as a serious medical issue, and with a Democratic Party chairman who appointed a gay and lesbian liaison and lobbied for hate-crimes legislation and other things high on our agenda. Neil Hartigan will not be shunned by his party when he supports our issues.”
Hartigan is sweating heavily as he climbs into the van, although it’s a pleasant early-September day. He takes a Coke from the cooler and begins our conversation disarmingly. “Since we’re going to be talking about me for the rest of the day, let’s talk about you for a few minutes,” he says. The Reader? The alternative press? He seems genuinely curious. “Tell me about it.” This, say his colleagues from down through the years, is Hartigan at his most characteristic.
I oblige Hartigan with some bland remarks and turn the conversation around to him. He answers my questions straightforwardly when that can be done comfortably, gently eluding me when it cannot, and most of the time talks easily and eagerly, as people do who rarely get the opportunity to talk on about themselves. I am struck by his prodigious recall, another of the politician’s special traits. He doesn’t get every date and place right, as I’ll find when I check the files, but he is pretty close.
It was warm and breezy when we climbed into the van in northeast Chicago. The van is air-conditioned, so we aren’t ready for the 90-degree heat that hits us in Summit, a working-class suburb across Chicago’s southwest border where Eastern Europeans, Hispanics, and blacks apparently live together in peace. We are here for Summit’s centennial celebration, an occasion for a parade and a fair that offers Polish sausages, sweet corn, kolaczki, handicrafts, and lots of smiling faces.
Hartigan swings his long legs out of the van almost before it stops and is on the move, walking the parade route and shaking the hand of every man, woman, and child within reach. “Hello, I’m Neil Hartigan. I’m running for governor and I’d like your vote.” Most of the people here know Hartigan’s face. And they like him. They are warm and friendly, honored to shake his hand. This is clearly Hartigan territory, even though most people here vote Republican in the presidential elections. Lots of them say “You’ve got my vote” or “I’m with you.” Some are more solicitous. “Don’t worry, Neil, you’re gonna win this one,” they tell him.
“From your mouth to God’s ear,” he responds. I smile. That’s an old Yiddish expression, fun dayn moyl in Gots oyern, which probably derives from the Psalms, “and my cry came before Him into His ears.” I’ll learn that it is one of Hartigan’s favorite expressions. Hartigan has lived all his life in Rogers Park among Jews as well as Irish.
He moves quickly, swinging his long legs athletically. His expensive moccasins cover the ground like sneakers. Occasionally someone stops him to talk, mostly about taxes. “You won’t raise our taxes, will you?” they ask. He reassures them. A few of them he favors with his theory of taxes. “Thompson has given us 29 tax increases. That’s more than we can bear. What we have to do now is cut out the waste.”
Taxes are the biggest issue of the race. Edgar supports an extension of the income tax surcharge levied last year and due to come up for a vote again in 1991, and Hartigan opposes it. This position will cost Hartigan some votes, especially among the education establishment, but if the voices in the street in Summit are an indication, it will win him many more.
One man stops Hartigan to criticize him on abortion. “It’s murder,” he says. Hartigan lets the man say his piece, thanks him, and moves on. He turns to me and says, “That’s the trouble with campaigning. At another time, I’d sit down with the guy for half an hour and take him through the logical steps about being prochoice. But here, there’s no time for that.”
A small group of rifle-toting Vietnam veterans in Army fatigues calls to him from across the street. They’ve just marched in the parade, and now they want to pose with him for a picture. He sprints across and arranges himself as they request, smiles for the photo, then shakes everybody’s hand and moves on.
As he moves around the crowd, you can see his batteries charging. It is hot, the sun is unforgiving, his shirt is soaking wet, but he doesn’t miss a beat. There is a quality of mindlessness about his motion; it may be he has turned off his brain, it may be he’s on automatic pilot.
Back in the van, heading for the next stop, he says, “You were asking about my dad, I think.” He reaches for a couple cans of Coke. “Do you enjoy this campaigning?” I ask. “I like government a lot better,” he replies.
Columbus Park, on the west side, is our next stop. It’s Alderman Danny Davis’s annual picnic. There’s a carnival here, a canopied stage, soul food, a Public Aid booth . . . Hartigan hops out of the van and into the crowd, but this is a very different crowd–poor, black, uneasy at seeing white strangers in their midst. Hartigan is not so easygoing here, though no less nimble on his feet. Suddenly a young man stops in front of him and starts cursing. Hartigan is plainly disturbed. He keeps on walking, but now his gait is slower and less certain. One of Davis’s lieutenants, who is guiding us to the bandstand, says, “That’s got nothing to do with you. Forget it.” Hartigan relaxes a bit and goes back to greeting people.
At the bandstand, he bounds up the stairs and waits while Davis finishes talking about education. He then moves toward Davis and the mike and Davis introduces him. Politicians take care of each other. Davis has been a maverick candidate himself several times, but always ends up supporting the party, although this time around, he says, he will also support the Harold Washington Party if it gets on the ballot. But Hartigan is on the state ticket. Davis says, “If the Washington ticket gets on the ballot, it will mean a lot of hard work for us to get the vote out for the state ticket and the Washington ticket at the same time, but we’ll just have to work hard.”
Davis gives Hartigan a warm introduction. “I am glad to know that the next governor of Illinois is an individual I’ve known for years. I’ve always found him to be understanding in terms of his service to all the people of Illinois. He’s here with us this afternoon and I’m very proud to present to you for some words of inspiration, my very good friend and the next governor, Neil Hartigan.”
There is scattered applause. This is a crowd filled with kids, but they listen attentively as Hartigan tells them, “Everybody talks about the mayor of Chicago and how important he is. Why is it nobody ever says the governor of Illinois should solve a problem? The governor has ten times the money the mayor has.” When Hartigan is done the applause is more enthusiastic. When he comes down from the stage, a crowd forms around him. One young man has him sign the flyleaf of Fundamentals of Chess. Hartigan is obviously pleased, though a little disarmed. He takes my pen and signs his name to all manner of pieces of paper.
You can feel Hartigan’s wariness, but he knows that a Democrat who hopes to be elected statewide needs two-thirds of the vote in Chicago. If he can’t take the heat in the minority communities, he’d better get out of the kitchen. When a woman comes up from behind him and yells, “Hey, Hartigan, if you want my vote, you better come and talk to me,” he turns sharply and laughs. Were he the hugging kind, which he is not, he would hug her. She has broken the ice. For the next half hour he makes his way comfortably through the picnic grounds, greeting people, stopping to talk, shaking hands with the energy he showed in Summit.
Davis later tells me he admires Hartigan for “his tenacity and his honorableness at maintaining his commitments to his friends.” Which raises the subject of Hartigan’s support for his old friend Tom Hynes, in Hynes’s abortive race against Harold Washington in 1987. “It didn’t take a genius to figure out that supporting Hynes might backfire on Neil in his own career. But it’s difficult to turn your back on an old friend.” What will that support do to the black vote in November? “Well,” Davis says, “it’s not going to help him, but I hope–I think–he’ll be able to overcome it.”
Back in the van, another Coke popped open, Hartigan puts his head in his hands and says, “It’s tragic what’s happened out there. These people have been totally ignored for 15 years. Rotten education, rotten housing, no jobs, and nobody in the governor’s office even notices.” Lifting his head, he tells me about an idea he has of creating jobs through the environmental movement. He is chairman of the National Attorney Generals’ Committee on Asbestos. “It’s a $150 billion problem in this country. Of the 20,000 public buildings in this state, a third have asbestos in them. That means a whole new industry.”
He describes a small business on West 16th Street, in the heart of the ghetto, where “three young engineers created 75 new jobs in the community at $6 to $13 an hour, in a recycling plant.” He is almost breathless as he says, “I’d like to create an environmental academy and take young people from 16 to 25 and train them for all these new jobs that are going to come into existence. How can you expect kids to stay in school if they don’t see any hope for the future? What I want to do is take the environmental problems, and in addition to dealing with the crisis aspect deal with it as an economic-development opportunity.”
Next stop, WIND, a radio station owned by whites but operated by and for Latinos. Hartigan is here to make a commercial in Spanish for WIND to broadcast. The script is handed to him to study for a moment, and then we are ushered into a studio. In four quick takes, he has it down well enough to satisfy the producer. When she is finished with him, she asks if he will take a few minutes to tape an interview with the news director, who will add his own Spanish translation of Hartigan’s remarks as a voice-over and broadcast the interview the next day. Now Hartigan is the professional, answering questions directly, citing facts and figures off the top of his head about taxes, Hispanic representation, his plans for economic development, and so on.
Now we are almost at the end of the day’s campaigning. Hartigan will drop me off and then go home for a series of meetings. But first there is the annual Ukrainian picnic in a park on West Grand Avenue. Julian Kulos, the chairman of the Ukrainian Democratic Committee, explains that he had wanted to get Hartigan to the festival on Sunday, when the crowd will be much larger, but there was no room on Sunday’s schedule. Today fewer than 1,000 people are present and most of them appear to be downright uninterested in Neil Hartigan. They’re polite when he greets them but there is hardly an enthusiast in the crowd except for the chairman and his buddies. As Hartigan makes his way through the crowd a teacher grabs him by the arm and for ten minutes talks to him about drugs in the schools.
A few minutes later, following a group of costumed singers onto the open-air stage, Hartigan begins with his standard vision of change around the world and change in Illinois. But he adds a detail. “You know and I know,” he says, “none of us will be free until the people in the Ukraine are free.” Campaign talk, but the applause is enthusiastic. He repeats the phrase a couple of times, with variations. Each time, the crowd is raised from its lethargy to applaud. The rest of his ten-minute speech about jobs, economic development, housing, education, drugs, the mismanagement of the state by the Republicans is greeted listlessly. This crowd is clearly not interested in local politics; its eyes are on the homeland. Perhaps they’ll vote for Hartigan because he touched their hearts, if only for a moment. He hopes so. In this town of so many diverse communities, a politician had better learn quickly what things matter most to each. Hartigan seems to be expert at it.
At the IVI-IPO candidate-endorsement meeting in June, a member rose with a sheaf of papers that he said identified Neil Hartigan as Mayor Richard J. Daley’s liaison with the Red Squad. This was the notorious Intelligence Unit of the Chicago Police Department that conducted surveillance against and operated as agents provocateurs inside the civil rights and antiwar organizations of the 60s and early 70s. In 1974, the Alliance to End Repression sued the Police Department and obtained the Red Squad’s records, which made it plain that Hartigan was indeed the man in the mayor’s office from 1965 to ’68 to whom Red Squad reports were automatically sent. In 1981, the police signed an agreement to end all political spying; in ’85 20 plaintiffs were awarded a total of $306,250. Hartigan was never subpoenaed during the long trial, and no evidence was ever unearthed that he was at all instrumental in Red Squad activities, but it was an association that remains a blot on his record. Hartigan says he played no role in police spying but never questioned it. “I assumed it was a normal part of police work,” he says, even the spying on Catholic priests.
And what does Hartigan think now about the Red Squad activities of Mayor Daley’s regime? “Well,” he says, “you’d never find any operation like that in any administration of mine.”
Don Rose, who was a plaintiff in a companion suit filed against the police by the American Civil Liberties Union, is now a consultant to Hartigan’s opponent, Jim Edgar. Rose called the alliance’s attorney from those days, Ric Gutman, and according to Gutman asked him “for some dirt on Hartigan.” Gutman promptly sent Rose some Red Squad records with Hartigan’s name in them (Gutman sent me some, too), and these were the papers that turned up at the IVI-IPO endorsement session.
Unfortunately for Rose, the tactic backfired. The crowd booed. It seems that in the eyes of IVI-IPO liberals Hartigan’s record over the last 20 years has absolved him of his sins in the 60s. “It is irrelevant ancient history,” says Sam Ackerman, longtime IVI leader. Diane Lowenthal, administrative director for IVI-IPO, says that Hartigan was “the first gubernatorial candidate in 42 years to get the two-thirds vote of the membership needed for endorsement. Most gubernatorial endorsements don’t have nearly the membership support that Hartigan got.” Ackerman says the vote was even more remarkable because Hartigan hadn’t had the chance to seed the organization with allies. “It is traditional in all political groups for candidates to recruit new members to vote for them,” Ackerman explains. “Usually, the new members in IVI are recruited early enough so that they can pass a two-months membership rule. But this time, the Edgar people on the board got the endorsement session moved up to June. Who ever heard of endorsing a candidate in June for a November election? So Hartigan’s new members couldn’t vote. The two-thirds vote for him therefore didn’t include any new members, which is unheard of.”
Receiving police spy reports was a minor activity for Hartigan in the three years he was assistant to Mayor Daley. His biggest job was handling liquor licenses–granting new ones and taking away old ones. Both Jacky Grimshaw, a former aide to Harold Washington and now a private consultant, and Joseph Gardner, who also worked for Washington and is now a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, recall Hartigan’s role in helping the Woodlawn Organization close down the taverns along 63rd Street, then known as Baby Skid Row.
The job of handling liquor licenses suited Hartigan’s view of himself as a crusader. He cracked down on licensees wherever he found evidence of gambling, drugs, prostitution, liquor sales to minors, or any other infraction. He wasn’t popular with the mob. One night, he says, three men pinned his wife Marge against a garage wall as she was returning home. “Here she was, 26 years old, eight months pregnant, and they’re threatening to kill me, kidnap our children. The next day, they actually did try to kidnap my son. They were always calling her up and following her. Our kids grew up, in those years, with police protection. My wife lost the hearing in one ear when a guy walked up to her and said, “You Neil Hartigan’s wife?’ When she said yes, he smashed her across the face. And I’m walking around with a .38. It was really scary.”
In 1969, Daley called Hartigan into his office to ask, “How would you like to be attorney for the Park District?” Hartigan says he gasped and said, “The what?” Daley repeated his question. Hartigan says, “Going to the Park District was like going to Nome, Alaska. For all practical purposes, I was deputy mayor at that point.” But Daley prevailed. “It will be a wonderful opportunity,” he told Hartigan, who stopped arguing. You didn’t argue with the mayor.
“The main problem” with the Park District, he says, “was in the granting of permits. It didn’t make any sense the way it was done. I restructured that whole process so that it was more rational and fair and created some free areas where permits weren’t required.” This policy ran into trouble a few years later, when neo-Nazis, claiming they were using a free area, tried to hold a demonstration in Marquette Park.
In the era preceding the 14-year reign of Ed Kelly, the Chicago Park District was more evenhanded in its treatment of minority communities, though it could not have been called generous. Hartigan convinced the Park District to acquire land for 50 new parks, many of them in inner-city neighborhoods. Jacky Grimshaw says, “Why he did that I don’t know. It may have been politically motivated, but I do know that he was very responsive to us when a lot of other Daley folks didn’t seem to care about the problems the black community was having.”
Another well-known black woman, Margaret Burroughs, founder of the Du Sable Museum of African American History and now a Park District commissioner, has warm memories of Hartigan’s days at the Park District. “He came to the museum when it was still in my house and donated a bust of Lincoln,” Burroughs recalls. In 1969, after her collection had outgrown her house, Burroughs asked the Park District for the use of an abandoned police station in Jackson Park. “It could have been handled a number of ways,” Burroughs says, “but the way Hartigan handled it, we got our building. I credit him completely. It was the first time a community institution had been allowed to use a public parks building.” The museum opened in 1971. Since then, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum has been located in Harrison Park, and Burroughs says the Puerto Rican community is negotiating now for a museum in a park. Hartigan is now a trustee of Du Sable and has hanging in his house a piece of African sculpture that was a gift from Burroughs.
Meanwhile, Hartigan was doing other kinds of things more directly tuned to building a political career. He was elected committeeman of the 49th Ward in 1968. In those days, a committeeman’s job was chiefly to be patronage boss of the ward. The committeeman funneled jobs from the Mayor’s office and from city departments to residents of the ward who earned those jobs by doing political work. Committeemen also dispensed garbage cans, parking variances, and other favors, and, long ago, baskets of food at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some committeemen got rich selling jobs and favors, a practice that would all but disappear in the 80s with the Shakman decrees outlawing political hiring and firing.
By the time Hartigan became committeeman, the 49th Ward was being transformed by the group of independents led by Michael Kreloff, David Orr, and Woods Bowman. Hartigan didn’t join hands with them, he was strictly a Regular Democrat; Kreloff recalls Hartigan saying at a meeting of independents, “You’re trying to break down the walls of the party from the outside. I’m trying to do it from the inside.” Instead of relying on patronage workers in elections, Kreloff says, Hartigan brought into the ward organization volunteers who were not indebted to him but simply agreed with his politics.
Kreloff is now chief of Hartigan’s Consumer Protection Division. “We weren’t friends,” he says. “We fought tooth and nail. To be sure, we always had a sense of Neil that while he was a loyal regular, he was one of those voices trying to open up the party. But we always wanted him to do more.”
In 1975, Kreloff ran against Hartigan’s candidate for alderman, Esther Saperstein, an old family friend. David Orr was Kreloff’s campaign manager. Kreloff lost but it was close, 51 percent to 49. In ’79 Kreloff and Orr switched places and this time Orr won. In 1976 Woods Bowman had been elected state representative against Hartigan’s candidate.
By 1979 Richard J. Daley was dead and the Machine was coming apart. Jane Byrne beat incumbent Michael Bilandic to become mayor. Hartigan didn’t much care for Byrne. “Byrne made Neil and the independents friends,” says Kreloff. In 1980 Hartigan decided not to run again for committeeman, and although he didn’t say so openly he supported Kreloff’s bid for the position. By ’83 he was openly supporting independents, working for David Orr’s reelection to the City Council and, a year later, Woods Bowman’s reelection to the General Assembly. “I think it was the first time a regular supported an independent,” Kreloff says, “and it took a lot. He took a lot of heat for it.”
In the ’83 mayor’s race, Hartigan supported Richie Daley in the primary but worked for Washington in the general election. Most of the regulars either quietly supported Republican Bernard Epton or sat the election out, but Hartigan actively campaigned for Washington, says Kreloff.
“I have campaign literature with his name on it. He made speeches and worked for him generally. All of this is not to say that Neil is an independent,” says Kreloff. “You can’t always be sure where he’ll stand on an issue the way you can count on the independents. You have to make sure you get to him. But if you explain the issues to him, make clear what it’s all about–well, I’ve never been disappointed.” If in the past it wasn’t always easy to get to Hartigan, Kreloff says that has changed. “He is getting our perspective now. And nationally, he’s in touch with the progressives on the Democratic National Committee. In the state, Woody Bowman is one of his closest advisers. Dawn Clark Netsch is close, too. And his campaign manager, Bill Filan, was a McGovern man.”
I’m ahead of my story. I was telling about Hartigan’s rise in the ranks of the Democratic Party and in Illinois politics. When we left him, he was attorney for the Park District, ward committeeman, and man about town in Democratic circles. And now it is 1971 and the ambitious young lieutenant governor, Paul Simon, decides to run for governor. Hartigan is already well enough known that Simon invites him to be his running mate. Opposing Simon in the primary is maverick Democrat Dan Walker, and Walker wins. But so does Hartigan, and both of them win in November, too. Hartigan, at 34, becomes the youngest lieutenant governor in the nation.
Despite appearing together at a press conference the morning after the election, Walker lets Hartigan know he’s not going to be a factor in the new administration. He’s not welcoming any henchmen of the evil Chicago machine. “I wouldn’t have a desk, a job, an office, he said,” Hartigan recalls.
Well, he got a desk and an office and a staff of 12, but he didn’t have a job. The 1970 state constitution had virtually dismantled the office of lieutenant governor, leaving that official only the tasks that the governor chose to assign him; and Walker wasn’t about to assign Hartigan any. Hartigan’s first and almost his last assignment was to attend Richard Nixon’s ’73 inauguration. Walker was above such frivolities. Hartigan wasn’t. He went to every event, appeared daily in the newspapers, and on his return cracked to reporters at the airport, “It was a helluva way for a couple from Rogers Park to spend a weekend.”
Back in Springfield, Hartigan had to figure out ways to make himself useful. His first act was to name Manuel Toledo to head his Chicago office, making Toledo the highest-ranking Hispanic in Illinois government. And over the next four years, despite Walker’s continual opposition, and even though his office budget was cut midterm, Hartigan imposed himself on the legislative process.
His most notable accomplishment was a bill that consolidated the state’s numerous programs for the elderly into a cabinet-level Department of Aging. Marvin Greenbaum, today a marketing specialist, recalls how Hartigan outmaneuvered Walker and engineered that bill through the General Assembly: “I had worked for Governor Ogilvie and was then at the Welfare Council of Chicago. At that time, there was a division of the Department of Public Aid devoted to the aged, but it was buried and underfunded. Neil called a meeting of all the representatives of social service agencies to get their support for his plan. I was a young gadfly and I was throwing questions at him left and right. I left that meeting feeling a bit of bravado. Neil stopped me in the hall and said, ‘I’m hiring you tomorrow and I want you to write everything you said in there into that bill.’ I was shocked. I thought, ‘Is this guy nuts?’ I expected him to say, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ But that was a bright move. This will sound arrogant, but I think he took some potential negative competition off the streets. He saw that I had some insight into these things and he needed the skill level. So why not hire someone who is a potential problem, put them on your staff, and co-opt them. And then, when I got a handle on the whole thing, I realized he knew what he was doing, that this was the right way to go. I came around from thinking this guy is a political opportunist to thinking he’s a pretty bright guy with good ideas.”
While Greenbaum was researching and writing the bill, Hartigan was lobbying for it in the General Assembly and among public interest groups. He wrote letters to every legislator explaining what the bill would accomplish. He had a lot of groundwork to do. If Hartigan wasn’t exceeding his office, he was certainly venturing far beyond its confines; and this was a revolutionary effort–Illinois would establish the first state department of aging in the country. Greenbaum recalls that Arthur Flemming, the federal commissioner of aging, flew into Saint Louis to confer with Hartigan because this was such a new idea.
The bill cleared the General Assembly about six months after Hartigan hired Greenbaum, and because of the widespread support it enjoyed, Walker had to sign it. Hartigan became known as the state’s major advocate for senior citizens. He has since managed to get through the legislature a series of bills to benefit the aged. His popularity with seniors was demonstrated in August at a box lunch party on Navy Pier attended by some 1,500 cheering representatives of senior clubs and centers, a racially and ethnically mixed crowd that came from all parts of metropolitan Chicago.
Someone who doesn’t like Hartigan sneers at what he’s done for the aged. “It was just a way to make political hay with a big voting bloc,” says this detractor. Hartigan explains himself differently. “When I was growing up,” he says, “we didn’t have one set of parents. We had 50 sets. You couldn’t do any more in front of Mrs. So-and-So than you could in front of your own mother. That’s the way my neighborhood was. Then, when I’m grown, and going door-to-door getting votes, I see these same people, especially the women, who were the giants of my childhood. There’s Mrs. So-and-So. She’s widowed, living in a two-flat with a hot plate. That’s it? That’s the payoff? Fifty years of working, raising a family, paying taxes, and that’s it? I see the elderly as Mrs. So-and-So living in that two-room flat in a 26-flat in Rogers Park. She doesn’t know where to go for help. There were 44 programs in 23 departments. It was a wonderful way to create jobs for bureaucrats, but it didn’t help Mrs. So-and-So one bit. That bothered me a lot.”
Marvin Greenbaum wasn’t the only bright young liberal Hartigan recruited to his office while lieutenant governor. Richard Kateley was another. In 1973 Kateley, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, had just returned from two years studying Turkish politics on a Fulbright scholarship. Once he’d been active in Texas Democratic politics; in 1968 he’d dropped out of graduate school to work full-time on the campaign of William Clark, an antiwar Democrat running for the Senate against Everett Dirksen. Now Kateley looked around and decided there wasn’t much future for him in the badly depressed academic marketplace of that era. He went to see Hartigan about a job. “He hired me because he wanted a research-based office, which I could certainly provide.” Kateley says his work focused on energy, economic development, and aging, the issues that Hartigan was most concerned with. “Neil’s approach to issues, whatever they were, was to find out what’s going on, do the research, and propose solutions based on that, which made us simpatico. A lot of people in politics talk about getting the facts, but he truly does it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have an emotional attachment to an issue, but he’s fundamentally research-based.”
As his term as lieutenant governor progresses, Hartigan is making friends in the legislature and around the country. In 1973 he is named the youngest member of a new 58-member Advisory Council of Elected Public Officials, which has been created to bring a wider spectrum of opinion to the Democratic National Committee. The year before, Hartigan served on George McGovern’s political reforms committee.
In 1976, the last year of his term, he is elected chairman of the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors.
He is getting good press around the state. Editors begin by wondering why Walker doesn’t make use of Hartigan’s obvious talents, and as time goes on they berate the governor for ignoring him. Early on, a Chicago Tribune editorial asserts, “It is true that Mr. Walker is trying to maintain an independent stance and that Mr. Hartigan represents Daley’s regular Democratic organization in Chicago. But Mr. Walker could still be making a serious mistake. Mr. Hartigan may be the Democratic committeeman of the 49th Ward, but he is no Max, the Precinct Captain. Tho only 34, he has been a leader for reform in Democratic ranks. . . . He is also remarkably expert in urban affairs . . .”
Meanwhile, the relationship between the legislature and the governor is eroding to the breaking point. Walker vetoes bill after bill and rules by decree, so alienating the legislature that at the end of the winter session of ’74, the General Assembly adjourns without approving a large part of Walker’s budget. The General Assembly also responds by butchering Walker’s agencies. But the antagonism between Walker and the legislature can’t compare with the enmity between the governor and the lieutenant governor. Hartigan makes one of his first moves against Walker early in ’73, when he opposes Walker’s attempt to slash the Illinois Arts Council budget. Hartigan offers his support to the Save the Arts in Illinois League, established to fight Walker’s proposed cuts, and sends adviser Philip Krone to testify in Springfield. Hartigan is credited with getting $1.2 million for the Arts Council even though Walker tried to cut the agency’s budget to $497,000.
Midway through his term as lieutenant governor, Hartigan runs into trouble. He is charged by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC) with playing a role, as a director, in the collapse of Apollo Savings & Loan in 1968. The FSLIC says Hartigan “abandoned his responsibilities, stopped attending meetings, and resigned at the 11th hour of Apollo’s financial disaster.” He is further accused of taking a variety of gifts from the S & L and of getting preferred rates on a mortgage. All the charges are later dismissed, and U.S. District Judge Joseph Sam Perry, who hears the case, declares, “My review of the record has failed to reveal any wrongful or improper action of any kind by Mr. Hartigan and certainly nothing remotely approaching any fraud in his discharge of duties as director.” An editorial in the Champaign-Urbana Courier passes a typical judgment: “[The events] seem to mean Mr. Hartigan, as a director of Apollo, was guilty of nothing more than possibly some naivete. He admitted relying heavily on the advice of Mr. Kelly [the S & L president] in voting on such matters as applications for loans and other company business. A little more independent study by Mr. Hartigan as director might have been welcomed by Apollo depositors.”
Hartigan might have thought harder about why he’d been invited to join Apollo’s board of directors. Hartigan was 28, without business experience, and had no observable qualification other than his position next to Mayor Daley. Apparently Daley didn’t think his protege’s youth and inexperience disqualified him from the S & L board; when Hartigan asked his advice, the mayor urged him to join. A man on the move, Hartigan was flattered by the invitation.
Even before 1974, when Daley becomes severely ill, there is speculation that the mayor might step down. According to the Sun-Times in May of 1974, Hartigan is the most frequently mentioned successor.
But Daley makes enough of a recovery to run for and win a sixth term. And now the 1976 gubernatorial election is approaching. In October of 1975, after a year of speculation, Hartigan announces that he intends to run against Walker in the Democratic primary. But the kingmaker, Richard J. Daley, doesn’t like the idea; apparently he’s afraid that young Hartigan might not win, even though an August ’75 Tribune poll puts him ahead of Walker by 10 percentage points. A 10-point lead is not big enough for the mayor–he wants his nemesis out of Springfield. Besides, seniority still counts for something. State Treasurer Alan Dixon, who obviously has Daley’s blessing, announces in October of 1975 that he will run, and Hartigan says he’ll defer to Daley’s wishes.
Then it’s settled? No. A month later, Secretary of State Michael Howlett enters the race and now it’s Howlett who has the organization behind him. Dixon backs off in exchange for the party’s endorsement for Howlett’s office, a patronage haven of 3,500 jobs.
But Hartigan, having given up on the governorship, now wants to be secretary of state himself. Says the Tribune in December of 1975, “When Lt. Gov. Neil Hartigan rallied his friends, neighbors, and precinct workers Sunday in his fight to be slated for Illinois Secretary of State, it was a textbook example of politics, Chicago-style. There were the requisite signs, freshly painted, touting Hartigan for secretary of state in English and Spanish (Hartigan has long courted the Latino vote). There was a good-time band playing good-time Irish and Jewish songs. (Hartigan’s 49th Ward has many Jewish voters.) And among the speakers who endorsed Hartigan were a Latino . . . a black woman . . . a Jewish senior citizen . . . a union leader . . . and an Irish ward committeeman and party honcho.”
Even so, Hartigan backs down. After intense jockeying, Daley’s final ticket has Howlett running for governor and Hartigan for reelection. Howlett beats Walker in the primary, and Hartigan takes 67 percent of the vote against Joanne Alter, then and now a Sanitary District commissioner. But only Alan Dixon survives a general election sweep by Jim Thompson and his Republican slate. Thompson beats Howlett by a record 1.4 million votes. The Democratic civil war had been too much for the electorate.
Hartigan was temporarily out of politics. He says, “That whole period wasn’t the happiest in my life. If I’d lost on my own, well then, it’s yes or no. But this was different. But it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I was 38. It was tough to start all over again, but almost always, over the years, I never knew what the next step would be. You look as far down the road as you can, then you take it as it comes.”
He says he looked around and decided to go into business. “I figured I was young enough that I still had some time to invest in myself. And I could learn something that I knew nothing about. I got offered a job at First National Bank and I told them that I didn’t want to be a shill–a lobbyist–that I wanted to do serious work. And it turned out that they never asked me, in the five years, to lobby or do anything political. I enjoyed it. I could easily have seen myself staying there.”
William McDonough, the since-retired vice chairman of the board of First National, worked closely with Hartigan at the bank. He says rumors that Hartigan was recruited by then-chairman Robert Abboud for his political clout are not true. “Both Bob Abboud and I saw Neil as a very promising executive. We had a subsidiary, Real Estate Research Corporation, which has since been sold, which was losing money and needed to be improved. We hired Neil and put him in charge of it and he did a very good job and turned it around and made it profitable.”
Richard Kateley, who went to RERC with Hartigan and is now its president, says, “We were at the end of a big real estate downturn and RERC had failed to cut back when it should. Neil made the hard choices but he did it in a very humane way. He came in and said, ‘What are the facts? What are the alternatives? What’s the plan? Let’s execute it!’ But he was clearly sensitive to the human issues involved and everybody seemed to understand that the decisions had to be made. First he downsized the company, and then he brought along a new generation of leadership. The woman who was vice president when Neil arrived was president 18 months later.”
When Hartigan was done turning RERC around in 1978, McDonough, who then headed worldwide banking operations, says he convinced Hartigan to come over to the bank proper and take charge of the Western Hemisphere. McDonough describes Hartigan as a “hands-on executive who figures out where to go and goes there.”
Hartigan grimaces as he says, “When I left the bank in 1981 I was earning $100,000 a year and had a pension that, had I stayed, alone would have paid me more than I make as attorney general. But that was my choice. I wanted to be in government. I had 3,300 stock options that I had to give up and all sorts of perks. As head of the Western Hemisphere, my ports of call, on a tough day, were Buenos Aires, Rio, Santiago. It was a fascinating job. I don’t need to travel all over the world as governor on some hoked-up trade mission. I’ve already done it all.”
China was Hartigan’s biggest perk, what he calls “the most fabulous experience of my life.” In 1978, he, McDonough, and vice president Norman Ross succeeded in opening China to American banking. During their first trip to Beijing, Bank of China officials asked if First National could hold a board meeting in China. “They had never seen a Western board meeting. McDonough looks at me as if to say, ‘Now what do we do?’ So I say, ‘From the logistical point of view we’d need a lot of support to do that.’ I go down a list which is a ‘be sure to ask for everything you can think of because they’re sure to turn you down’ list, but they gave us everything we asked for, including two planes because the bank wouldn’t want to send its whole board on one plane.”
When the three men walked out of that meeting, Hartigan says, “We couldn’t believe it. McDonough did a buck-and-wing down the corridor. We had won a deal we never thought we could. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We celebrated in our room with the only bottle of scotch I could find in town.”
For Hartigan, the board’s trip to China, which included exquisite accommodations and festivities, was all hard work. “It’s lovely to be senior vice president, but when everybody else is a board member or a CEO, you’re doing all the schlepping. I did it for all of them. I was killing myself.” McDonough recalls that he and Hartigan even “flipped luggage around” because the Chinese were not yet prepared to deal with “groups like that.” McDonough adds, “We did it all. And I think that’s an interesting characteristic of Neil. When there’s something to be done, he doesn’t stand around saying ‘I’m an important fellow.’ He just wades into it.”
As a consequence of those trips, First National realized a very lucrative expansion of the bank’s operation, McDonough says.
Ten years later, Hartigan went back to China with a delegation from the U.S. attorney general’s office and spoke again in the Great Hall of the People as a representative of the states’ attorneys general.
Hartigan hadn’t pulled completely out of the political game. In 1980, still 49th Ward committeeman, he played the odds in a party that had all but fallen apart since Richard J. Daley’s death in 1976. He was one of only four committeemen to support Richard M. Daley for state’s attorney against mayor Jane Byrne’s handpicked candidate, Alderman Edward Burke. Rich Daley won that race, but it was a dangerous move. Suppose Byrne had used her clout against Hartigan’s bank, which did a lot of business with the city. Byrne was not known to be above such things. “It was the right thing for me to do,” says Hartigan. In 1980, he resigned as committeeman. He’d decided that with Byrne controlling party politics, the job was an albatross around his neck.
In 1981, independent 43rd Ward Alderman Martin Oberman decided to run for attorney general. Oberman is bitter yet. “I believed that the attorney general’s office had never been utilized as it should be,” he says. “I spent a year putting together a campaign to turn that office into an active public interest office. I had given up everything else in my life except my aldermanic duties. I’ll never forget the culmination of that year. The Sun-Times published a poll showing that I was way out in front, and that day, out of the blue, Hartigan, who had retired from politics, announced he was going to run. What really happened was that Jane Byrne wanted him slated because it dawned on her that I might well win that race and they wanted to make sure I didn’t become attorney general, which they would have good reason to fear. We now know that Hartigan was anxious to get back into politics and was happy to respond to the call. He claims Byrne didn’t like him either, which may be true, but she liked him a lot better than she liked me.” Oberman saw quickly that he couldn’t win against Hartigan and dropped out of the race.
Others, including Hartigan, tell a different story in which Byrne plays very little part. They say that when Adlai Stevenson was putting together a ticket for his 1982 run for governor, he asked Hartigan to run for attorney general. Hartigan responded happily. He had, as Oberman observed, been itching to run for something. Stevenson lost to Thompson by a hair, but Hartigan was elected.
Oberman contends that Hartigan went into the attorney general’s office and “did all the things you shouldn’t do. He raised the budget to staff up those regional offices with political chairmen and their wives, and mouthed a lot of platitudes about being a public interest attorney without really doing anything.” Oberman concedes that his judgment about Hartigan is not as objective as he would like. In 1985, Hartigan did it to him again. Aiming for the top, Hartigan announced in 1985 that he would run for governor. A couple months later, Adlai Stevenson declared his candidacy. Backing him were Mayor Washington in Chicago and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. Phil Krone, a longtime friend of Hartigan, says, “Washington called Neil and told him that Madigan was for Stevenson and he needed Madigan’s support for his legislative program so he had to go along and back Stevenson, too. Furthermore, Stevenson and Washington went back a long way together [they had started in the Illinois House together in 1965]. With both Madigan and Washington against him, it would have been carnage for Neil to stay in the race. He had to withdraw.” So Hartigan ran for reelection as attorney general, after Oberman had already declared his candidacy. This time, Oberman stayed in the race, in the hope that Hartigan had wounded himself by backing down. Hartigan clobbered Oberman and went on to win the general election by half a million votes.
Most of Hartigan’s enemies espouse left-liberal politics. Most of them refuse to be quoted. They maintain some relationship with him and don’t want to jeopardize it. They say, off the record, “Get an X-ray machine and x-ray his spine. You’ll find two feet are missing.” And, “He’s no mental giant, though he may be no worse than any other mainstream politician.” And, “He can’t be trusted to come through when you need him.”
The one detractor besides Oberman who was willing to let me name him was Don Rose, who is being paid by Jim Edgar to oppose Hartigan. Rose remembers working for Hartigan in 1980 when he was thinking of challenging Alan Dixon for Dixon’s Senate seat. But Hartigan says that he never considered taking on Dixon, that Rose worked for him in his ’82 race for attorney general. Rose says, “Hartigan is the most unprincipled politician I’ve ever worked for. If principles were bones, he’d be an amoeba. Probably his most egregious action in office has been leading the charge on the Edison rate increase. He, in fact, organized all the other government officials to support that thing. He’s close to [Commonwealth Edison CEO James J.] O’Connor and he carries O’Connor’s water for him and got Daley to accept it, which Daley later regretted.” Rose also says that Hartigan has no personal loyalties. “The only person I’ve ever known him to be loyal to was O’Connor.”
Yet it seems that on every other occasion when Edison needed water carried, Hartigan was unavailable. Sue Stewart, executive director of the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB), says, “Hartigan has committed money and staff to help us fight utility rate increases. Some years it’s not enough and the effort has not been as great as we would have liked, but other years, especially this one, when it’s been particularly difficult, he’s been a helpful ally.”
The “egregious case” of which Rose speaks is the one the Illinois Commerce Commission finally shot down in 1987, after strong protests. The deal would have permitted Edison to put three of its new nuclear plants into a subsidiary that would then sell electricity back to the parent company at wholesale rates far higher than the wholesale market prices usually charged for electric power. Retail rates would have been driven up as a consequence. Edison offered to put a five-year cap on rates in exchange for a huge onetime increase, but the deal would have wiped out Edison’s pending obligations to consumers, which have resulted in several rebates since then.
Hartigan backed the utility’s plan. “It was a colossal error,” Sue Stewart says. “Hartigan signed on without really understanding what was involved and, once on, couldn’t gracefully back out, and so there were some very tense relationships there. But I can’t think of another time when we were at odds with him, and to his credit, since ’86 he has been very cautious about deals that may look good on the outside but are bad inside. You can certainly say he learns by his mistakes and is not above reconsidering positions from time to time.”
Rose points to the Ragsdale abortion case as Hartigan’s “second most egregious case.” He says, “It was an appeal to the Supreme Court which he initiated. He persuaded the Department of Health to go along with him on it. Well, you know how fast he had to turn around on that after the Webster decision.”
Ragsdale originated as a suit brought by a Rockford doctor against the Illinois Department of Public Health; it sought to overturn a new set of regulations of surgical facilities that would have effectively put many abortion clinics out of business. As attorney general, Hartigan was the lawyer for Public Health, and when the state lost in the lower courts, Hartigan appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last year, Ragsdale suddenly came to be seen as the vehicle by which the Court was apt to reverse itself fundamentally on abortion. Under considerable pressure to do something, Hartigan reached an out-of-court settlement that snatched Ragsdale from the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
Having written a fair amount on abortion, I am bewildered by Rose and others who are still angry at Hartigan over Ragsdale. Hartigan settled Ragsdale to the satisfaction of the Department of Health, the ACLU, and the prochoice movement, and brought the full wrath of the antiabortionists down on himself. He settled only at the 11th hour, but he did keep the case from the Supreme Court, thereby preserving Roe v. Wade a little longer. Julie Hamos, an attorney who’s a public policy consultant for Planned Parenthood and other groups, says, “I only got to know Hartigan in the Ragsdale case. I went to him–so did lots of others–and put the case to him and I was very pleased with the results. Now I’m liking him and trusting him more and more.”
Others accuse him of being a hypocrite who changed his position when it became clear that the public opposed it. But Hartigan insists that his position–which happens to be one increasingly popular among politicians–remains unaltered: “I am personally opposed to abortion, but support a woman’s right to choose.”
Whether Hartigan, a Catholic, made the Ragsdale compromise out of political expediency–many elections are riding on abortion and Jim Edgar has long been very strongly prochoice–or whether he simply acted judiciously to preserve Roe when the full implications of his appeal became clear, is not easy to discern. Deputy Attorney General Michael Hayes, who was Hartigan’s chief aide on this case, insists that Ragsdale was never seen by his office as prochoice or antiabortion. He says, “It was originally a public health case, developed in response to the revelations of abortion scandals in the Sun-Times in 1985. The object was to protect women from the hazards of some abortionists who were operating under unsanitary and unsafe conditions.”
More importantly, it was only in July 1989, when Ragsdale was already on the Supreme Court docket, that the Webster decision–revealing the Supreme Court’s inclination to return all abortion law to the states–made the Illinois case a potential landmark. Only then did the prochoice movement emerge from its 15-year lethargy. Some of its leaders went to Hartigan seeking a settlement that would keep the case out of the Court. Hartigan agreed, and both sides managed to give up enough to settle. Earlier, as State Representative Barbara Currie points out, “both sides were so dug in that I was not sanguine about a settlement at all.” Hayes says the settlement “both set some basic regulations for abortionists and, at the same time, preserved the right of women to choose.”
For settling the case, Hartigan is called spineless by some. The logic evades me.
Fred Glazer, press spokesman for Comptroller Roland Burris, who is now running for Hartigan’s office, says that Hartigan is generally credited with “creating the modern attorney general’s office.”
For instance, the charge made by Marty Oberman and others that Hartigan opened 18 regional offices to create patronage jobs for his cronies to fill may have some truth to it, although Hartigan insists that there are very few cronies in any of his offices. But look at the results. Created in 1983, these offices, which complemented preexisting offices in Springfield and Chicago, handled 1,500 consumer complaints alone in 1984. By fiscal year 1990, that number had risen to 10,000. The total number of cases handled in the regional offices rose from 2,600 in fiscal year 1984 to 37,000 in 1990. If the people staffing those offices are cronies, they are pretty hard-working cronies. Hartigan says he created these offices because people outside Chicago and Springfield had no access to the kind of assistance the legal advocate for the citizenry should be providing.
Hartigan has managed in his nearly eight years as attorney general to get 87 bills through the legislature, with some others still pending. Some of these bills amended earlier ones; others broke new ground, such as the 1983 Illinois Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act, which uses fines paid by convicted offenders to fund shelters for battered women, abused children, and other services. While the individual sums are not large, in the first three years of the act $1.3 million was distributed to not-for-profit organizations operating such services.
I asked all kinds of people, some of whom have known him for years, why they think Neil Hartigan has a wimp image. “Because he takes so long to make a decision, because he’s so cautious,” Mike Kreloff says. Jacky Grimshaw nominates his pale skin. “He just looks so colorless,” she says.
My own nominee is Hartigan’s voice. In normal discourse it is not the voice of authority. Only when he is making a public speech does it display any real color or texture.
Julie Hamos advances a theory that assumes the public doesn’t appreciate Hartigan’s very creditable record as attorney general and tries to explain why. “In that kind of office, you are involved in a million issues, a million decisions,” she says. “None of them stand out unless they become controversial the way Ragsdale did. The attorney general is not like the mayor or the governor where every major act is news. In the attorney general’s office, it’s just day-to-day working out a million little problems.”
Someone else says, “Neil doesn’t know how to market himself.” It’s an odd remark, given all the publicity that Hartigan has garnered for himself over the years, but the fact is that until this past year Hartigan had a very small, very inefficient PR staff in the Attorney General’s Office.
And that, perhaps, is why my inquiry into Neil Hartigan, which ends with my holding one point of view, began with quite another. It is common for journalists to discover that the story they started to do turns into quite a different one–sometimes a very affirmative story turns out to be discouragingly negative, and sometimes the opposite is true.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.