Executive director of Chicago's non-profit...


June 02, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TERRY BRUNNER, executive director of Chicago's non-profit Better Government Association, was asked his reaction to the indictment of Danny Rostenkowski.

"Am I shocked by it? No," he said. "Essentially a Chicago view of your position of public trust is as a fiefdom and you can use it for your own personal enrichment in any way you see fit."

There's an old saying: "Chicago ain't ready for reform." The Rostenkowski story seems to support it. Everybody says he'll probably be re-elected.

I think this is unfair to Chicago voters. Rosty has been having trouble with them since the first reports came out about his abuse of office.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, he always won general elections with over 60 percent of the vote. Often he got over 85 percent of the vote. He wasn't even challenged in Democratic primaries.

But in 1992 a liberal reform-minded ex-alderman challenged him in the primary -- on the general theme of anti-machine politics -- and held him to only 57 percent of the vote. In the general election that year an unknown Republican, who campaigned specifically on the issue of corruption in the House of Representatives and Rosty's possible connection with it, also held him to 57 percent of the vote. He did that even though Rostenkowski outspent him by over a million dollars.

This year despite a massive party effort, with hundreds of campaign workers out on primary election day, and with a campaign appearance by President Clinton, Rosty was renominated with only 50.1 percent of the Democratic vote.

So I think Chicago is ready for reform, and I wouldn't be surprised if Rostenkowski were not re-elected to the House of Representative. I might even bet on it. I'd also bet he'll eventually be in another house -- the Big House.

* * * *

When it comes to toleration for un-reformed politicians, Chicago voters are not in the same league with the voters of northeastern Pennsylvania.

The 11th Congressional District there was home to Rep. Dan Flood for over 30 years. He died last month, 14 years after resigning from Congress in the aftermath of a kickback scandal. He was indicted in 1978 for bribery and conspiracy and was re-elected that year.

Then consider the case of his neighbor and colleague in the adjacent 10th Congressional District. That would be Rep. Joseph M. McDade. McDade is the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee. As such he can steer lots of pork to his depressed district.

Two years ago a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of enriching himself to the tune of over $100,000 in bribes and illegal gratuities from companies seeking government contracts.

He was renominated without opposition in the subsequent Republican primary election -- and won the Democratic nomination with write-in votes!

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