In Rostenkowski's district there are no term limits

November 04, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

CHICAGO -- Rumor has it that somewhere in the nation, men and women are campaigning for Congress.

They are making speeches. Buying TV ads. Debating opponents, discussing issues, asking for votes.

But not here.

Not in the 5th Congressional District of Illinois. Not on Chicago's North Side.

Not where Danny Rostenkowski lives.

Some might consider a 17-count federal indictment an impediment to re-election. To Rosty it is not even a pebble in his shoe.

He has no TV or radio ads. He has no campaign manager. He has scheduled no speeches or rallies. His campaign headquarters is staffed by an answering machine.

And he almost certainly will win a 19th term Tuesday.

His indictment on charges of payroll abuse, embezzlement, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and witness tampering? The loss of his chairmanship, though not his seat, on the House Ways and Means Committee?

What is that? Accusations. Mere accusations.

And what is an accusation compared to what Rosty has done for Chicago?

Other cities and states get a few slices of federal pork from their congressmen.

Rosty provides the entire pig, including the snout, ears, tail and squeal.

He gets roads, airports, bridges, sewers, hospitals, colleges, office buildings, apartment complexes -- all with federal dollars.

In other states, people are talking about term limits. In the 5th District of Illinois, nobody is talking about term limits. And Rosty has served in the House for 36 years.

"You can say the system is terrible, but it takes years to master the legislative process," said Bill Daley, son of Chicago's late mayor and brother of its current one, "and Rostenkowski did it."

Boy, did he do it.

Reporters can find scores of examples of what Rosty has done, even if they cannot find Rosty himself these days.

Take the "Pork Chopper."

Rosty thought a military surplus helicopter would be a nice gift to the people of Chicago after the city's fire department lost one over Lake Michigan last year.

These choppers cost millions, and cities across the country line up to get them.

But Rosty didn't line up.

Schmoes line up. Mopes line up. People who don't know the ropes line up. All those doofusses elected under term limits will line up.

Rosty picks up a phone. And he calls -- who knows? A general? The Secretary of Defense? Bill Clinton? All would take his call -- and he asks for a helicopter.

Did I mention that other cities wait and wait and wait to get one of these babies?

The new one will be Rosty's fourth.

And now the voters are supposed to throw this guy out of office? Because he has been there too long? Because he got a five-finger discount on some stamps?

Ho, ho, ho, as Santa would say.

The guy running against Rosty is a Republican called Michael Flanagan, a lawyer, who is 31, and decided to run for office while playing darts in one of Chicago's yuppie bars.

He is going house to house ringing doorbells in the 5th District. At a few homes, very few, people actually answer.

Rosty showed up in the Chicago area last week, but he did not campaign. He did not, in point of fact, even enter his district. He gave a speech at Northwestern University in suburban Evanston on the failure of Bill Clinton's health care plan.

Hanke Gratteau, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, did manage interview him, however, on his campaign plans.

"Maybe we'll do a phone bank," Rosty said. "I dunno. And try to get to a couple of wards, shake some hands."

Yeah. Maybe. I dunno.

But when you think about it, why should he campaign at all? All he needs to do is get people to step outside and take a look at all the new roads and new buildings and new helicopters.

"I'm kind of running on my record," Rosty said, "and I'm proud of what I've done."

The voters of the 5th District may or may not be proud of what Danny Rostenkowski has done.

But they sure don't want it to stop.

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