The [Thursday] Papers
By Steve Rhodes
All the eulogies for Leon Despres are nice, but where have these folks been for the last 20 years?
It seems impossible to me to praise Despres to the high heavens while staying silent about the current mayor - or even endorsing and voting for him.
Folks like Despres are actually marginalized by mainstream media as fringe figures who are beloved upon death but treated as curiosities in life. Similarly with Studs Terkel, who was often treated as cuddly and lovable - or a village idiot - while the content of his political and cultural observations was ignored.
Meanwhile, the Rahm Emanuels and Desiree Rogers' of the world are celebrated for their contributions to . . . the worst parts of the status quo.
The Peter Fitzgeralds are shunted aside to make room for the Ray LaHoods.
I'll take Despres.
Anyway, we here at the Beachwood offered our own tribute to Despres in August 2007.
And yes, I actually own - and read - his memoir.
In 2005, the New York Times wrote a piece about him titled "Age 97, and Still at War With the Old Daley Machine."
Despres also had words with the Times about the New Daley Machine, which he said was easier to live under than the old one but was still corrupt at that.
"Mr. Despres lamented what he portrayed as the corruptive influence of the contractors who fill the mayor's campaign coffers and Chicago's increasingly one-sided civic debate. Even as the mayor vowed last week to curtail patronage in city hiring, Mr. Despres pointed out other ways that Richard the younger had consolidated power in what he called a 'supine City Council'."
Despres kept fighting even into his 100s. Men and women half his age who call or called themselves reformers have already given up - or never began in the first place.
Among the highlights, gleaned from Despres' 2006 book Challenging the Daley Machine:
1. "It took me a good period of time to see that partisan patronage was a hemorrhage of city energy. It was an embezzlement of public funds for the benefit of an election army . . . the great defect in Chicago government operations was the patronage system itself. I prepared a careful but dramatic memorandum detailing the extent of partisan appointments in city employment. It carefully estimated the annual waste of $40 million, detailed the impairment of city government, and used those facts as the basis for criticism of the budget."
2. "The [43rd] ward's Democratic committeeman, Alderman Mathias 'Paddy' Bauler, the boss of the precinct captains gathered in the room, made his famous pronouncement to the Chicago Tribune city hall reporter Edward Schreiber.
"'Chicago ain't ready for a reform mayor,' he said.
"Schreiber later personally acknowledged to me that he had changed the quotation to 'Chicago ain't ready for reform.'"
The real question to ask, though, while reading his piece, is why Despres didn't have more support. Then again, looking around today it isn't hard to understand.
2. "His long life touched many chapters of Chicago's history," the Tribune reports. "Heise once walked with Despres through Oak Woods Cemetery and saw Enrico Fermi's tombstone. 'I did his will for him,' Despres said. Olympian Jesse Owens is also buried there. 'He worked on my first campaign,' Despres recalled."
He also once took Frida Kahlo to the movies.
I think y'all can read my mind on this one.
2. "He was a major participant in the debate on every major issue Chicago has faced in the last half century, and his strong voice made a great contribution to the way our city has evolved in that time," Daley said in a statement.
This one too.
3. "There was a period of time when he was the only voice of independence in the Chicago City Council," said Ald. Joe Moore said. "He was courageous."
Ditto. Or is that Trippo?
4. "Dare I say it," Terkel once dared to say, "he has the elegance of a Renaissance prince, devoted to the well-being of his fellow citizens."
- via "The Grand Independent," Tribune editorial today
Kings of Leon
And I don't mean ideologically. I mean with a devotion to clean government, the public interest, social justice, and protecting our hard-earned tax dollars.
Why is that so hard?
"The move marks the first time a government agency has raised a potential hurdle for Mayor Richard Daley and organizers who want to bring the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago."
The Stroger Show
Meanwhile, he's right about this:
"Well, you know, the mayor passed nine taxes in two years. Let's see you write about that, and then I'll talk to you about everything else."
I can hear some folks responding now by saying "Yeah, but the mayor isn't incompetent."
On the other hand, he's had more top aides convicted of patronage fraud than Stroger has, hasn't he?
Is This Elevator Going Down?
"Perhaps of greater concern is that after an elevator fails an inspection, the city doesn't have a record of whether it was brought back up to code, according to the latest data obtained by the Tribune."
Pols Passing On Pay Hike
Children's Museum Court Ruling?
The Road To Indy
"Some drive with the control of a fine lead pencil; others with a crayon. Sharp pencils drive fast, fast, fast. "
The Beachwood Tip Line: Ragged glory.
Posted on May 7, 2009
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