Monday, May 21, 2012

Chicago...that toddling town

One of the gems of Chicago lore is the quaint  tale of how the Chicago Cubs  have been a miserable baseball team  for so long because of the "Billy Goat Curse".  As it has been explained,  the curse derived from an unhappy Greek saloon-keeper who had a pet goat in his tavern across the street from Wrigley Field. When he tried to enter the stadium with his goat during the 1945 World Series, he was turned back because the goat had an unpleasant odor. The Cubs didn't win that series and have never played in one ever since.   Sam Sianis,  the goat's owner, is said to have laid an eternal  curse on the wretched Cubs  over the incident.

Other versions of the team's woes  have survived, but  I like this one because it fits  perfectly  into the city's exceptional  trail of colorful characters  - whether sinister, deadly or just your  average Runyonesque  ward-heelers. One of the latter, a Democratic alderman,   once knowingly responded to a complaint that a city project would  tear up too much green space.  "You can have too much grass," he said with a straight face.

 Then there was  alderman  Mathias "Paddy" Bauer, a  friend of former titanic Mayor Richard J. Daley,  who declared early in his spotty political career,"Chicago ain't ready for reform".

Much of the city's political shenanigans was recorded by the late columnist Mike Royko, who rose to journlistic stardom simply by recording what the hooligans were uttering with an unusual writer's eye for detail. (During the  many times that I visited the Chicago area,  I looked forward to watching Columnist Irv Kupcinet on a  TV show with his unique version of the English language.  In one instance, in good form, he came up with  the unforgettable term, "misleading nomers".   Somehow it worked in the context of the Daley-controlled wards.)

Newt Gingrich never  let anyone forget that President Obama was a community organizer on Chicago's South Side where Saul Alinsky held forth for many years.  What he never said was that Alinsky was conservative in some respects, patriotic, ate at the best steakhouses  and included a Catholic priest, businessmen and a member of the Marshall Field department store  family among his many his friends.  (Of course, Newt said a lot of things that weren't true.)

Deservedly,  the Democrats were accused of all sorts of political mischief to sustain their hegemony over Sandburg's  "Hog butcher for the world".  Yet  Chicago also came to be known as the "the city that works."  My late father-in-law, a suburban businessman  with an office  in the Loop, was a Republican who praised Daley.  "I've never voted for a Democrat, but if I lived in the city, I'd vote for Dick Daley," he said.

I should tell you that these vignettes of the lives and times of the impolite  Chicago pols was encouraged by a recent Republican implosion that added another notch to the city's awkward political history,  Meet Joe Ricketts, bloated billionaire, right-winger  and founder of the on-line  brokerage, TD Ameritrade.  It surely ranks higher than a mere dishonorable mention. Although Ricketts  is full of denials, he was nearing the moment when he would put up $10 million  in an advertising assault  on President Obama, described in the plan as a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."  (I can't imagine Billy Goat Sianis or Paddy Bauer using a word like "metrosexual," can you?  In their day, it would have cost them tons of support on the street.)

The  key to the attack on Obama would be the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a dumb idea back in 2008 whose sponsors planned to stretch a few more wearying miles.

Funny,  but there may be a link to the Billy Goat Curse here. The Cubs are currently in last place and in an extended losing streak.  At the same time, thre NY Times" exposure of  Ricketts' association with the anti-Obama preliminaries probably has set back  his efforts to haul in $300 million in taxpayer money to rennovate  Wrigley Field,  in which the Ricketts family-owned Chicago Cubs, play -  when they're up to it.

Worse yet, the mayor of Chicago is a feisty Democrat named Rahm Emanuel, former top-ranking member of the Obama team.   When Ricketts called Emanuel after the Times article appeared, the mayor didn't bother to return the call.

Yep, irony of ironies, the same Joe Ricketts who also founded the Ending Spending Fund to reduce government spending.

Mitt Romney tells us to rely on the business world because they know how to do it.

On the other   hand, Mike Royko might have won another Pulitzer  playing with this one.


Jack said...

I'm an old Chicago copper and that's just what I am,
For these investigations I do not give a damn,
I'll tell all those do-gooders just where they all can go,
'Cause I don't want no changes made, I like the status quo.

I'm prompt alert and effeciaent when on the outer drive,
I haven't made a single pinch since 1935,
I'm courteous to the speeders---I praise them for their skill,
And I always have the proper change for a twenty dollar bill. (for bribes back then)

I give out parking tickets when crime is on the loose,
But we ain't got no criminals in our old calaboose,
With a storm of scandals raging it surely is a shame,
But we won't let Ben Adamowski (then the States Attorney) break up our poker game.

I hope this troubles over soon and we can settle down,
And Christmas comes again, for cops, each day in old Chi-town.
Or else I'll pack my hat and gun and northward I'll set sail,
For all the cops retire young way up in Summerdale. (The Summerdale police district of Chicago had it's own theft rings going.)

Well, now my story's over and I have had my say,
Let's separate the crooks from cops--let the chips fall where they may,
Now you've heard my story and you know that I am right,
And if God and the cops be willin'---I'll be back tomorrow night.

David Hess said...

James McCartney, a late colleague of mine and a former city editor of the defunct Chicago Daily News, once said that covering the politics of Chicago was like shooting fish in a barrel. There was rarely a day, he recalled, when a local public official failed to commit an offense against common sense or the English language. The main challenge for the newspapers then was to winnow through the day's political mishaps and shenanigans and determine which ones to publish, or to ignore. Even at that, the roiling, rollicking, brawling and diverse metropolis was competently governed because its haggling, crazy-quilt population understood that the art of governing requires compromise and deal-making -- an art that seems utterly lost in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.