Rostenkowski isn't Chicago's only disgrace


July 30, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Dan Rostenkowski is drawing the heat. But several other Chicago congressmen are nothing for the city to brag about.

Let's start with the new darling of the media and Washington liberals, Rep. Bobby Rush.

Rush is viewed as a glamorous figure because he was once a top Black Panther, the founder of the Illinois chapter of that scary organization.

But a grown man can't spend his whole life wearing a beret and talking tough. So he moved on to business and politics.

He went into insurance and says that he did quite well. And he became part of the Harold Washington movement and was elected to the City Council.

Now he is a new member of Congress and is an intriguing figure because of his transformation from paramilitary radical to mainstream, establishment politician.

So his many admirers choose to ignore a part of his past that

borders on the disgraceful.

For many years, Rush was a deadbeat. When he and his wife split, Rush was ordered to pay child support.

Maybe I am old-fashioned. No, not maybe. I am. So I believe that when you father children, you are financially responsible for them.

Apparently Rush doesn't share this view because he fell thousands and thousands of dollars behind. His wife would go to court, the judge would issue an order, and Rush would ignore it.

His wife had to live, so she went on public aid. That meant that Bobby Rush was letting the taxpayers support his family.

So eventually Rush was sued by the state for the thousands of dollars given to his wife.

Rush was not some ghetto illiterate, lacking job skills. He's a college graduate and, as he has boasted, was good at the insurance business. And few aldermen are poverty-stricken.

But he ducked his child support and he let the taxpayers support his family.

Now he is a member of Congress, deciding how billions of dollars of other people's money should be spent.

Then there is Rep. Mel Reynolds, another congressional newcomer. He has the distinction of being the only rookie on Rostenkowski's powerful Ways and Means Committee (also known as the Take It and Spend It Gang).

Reynolds also has an unusual background. He was born to a poor family in the South and grew up in public housing. But he hit the books, got through school and has the distinction of having been a Rhodes Scholar.

After various academic jobs, he ran for Congress against goofy Gus Savage and lost. But he kept at it and last year he won.

Reynolds has many admirable qualities, which he gladly recites at length.

However, he does have what might be considered a character defect. He doesn't like to pay his bills.

He's being sued by at least eight creditors for more than $50,000. Judges have ordered him to pay up, but so far, the creditors say, he has ignored the court orders.

One banker is quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "You have no idea how many lawyers we wore out chasing this man. He could have paid us off a dollar a week and we would have taken it. He's just ignored his responsibility."

He still owes $14,000 for a student loan he used to attend Harvard.

A contractor wants $12,000 for remodeling work he did on Reynolds' campaign office four years ago.

An airline says he stiffed them for more than $9,000.

When a longtime adviser and friend recently told Reynolds that he should pay his bills, Reynolds flew into a rage, told off the friend and slammed down the phone. They haven't spoken since.

In a more restrained mood, he told the AP: "When you're an African American . . . instead of people waiting to give you a chance to pay, they sue you."

That's probably true. But if you are a Greek American, a Polish American or a Bulgarian American and stiff the bill collector, you're going to get sued. That's just the nature of our economic system. People like getting paid for their goods or services.

As a matter of fact, if you fail to pay the new taxes that Reynolds' congressional committee has created, the IRS will not only sue you, they just might walk in and grab everything you own. And that will happen even if you aren't sure what goods or services are being provided by the federal government. And if you didn't order them in the first place.

Now that Reynolds is making $133,600 a year as a congressman (President Clinton says that makes him part of the "rich"), he says he will soon get around to paying his bills. That's good. The rich really should pay their college tuition.

Finally, we have Rep. Luis Gutierrez, another alderman elected to Congress last year after a district was drawn that looked like a reptile, so Gutierrez could pick up enough Hispanic votes to win.

Gutierrez is part of a group that wants to erect a statue of Pedro Albizu Campos in Humboldt Park. The statue will be a symbol of Puerto Rican pride.

I believe in ethnic pride. But I'm not sure about the late Mr. Campos. True, he was a leader in the movement for an independent Puerto Rico, which is OK with me.

On the other hand, he was believed to be part of a plot to assassinate President Harry Truman and a shooting that wounded five congressmen.

Maybe they should put up a statue of Luis Gutierrez instead. At least he pays his bills.

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