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A new commentary every Wednesday - OCTOBER 7, 2015
FAMOUS POLITICAL BOSSES of the MODERN ERA
My introductory remarks are taken from my commentary of one week ago: "Politics has always had outliers who exert great political power by their manipulation of something called patronage. There are appointive positions to be filled, spending bills to be introduced, lobbyists to be nurtured, projects to be carried out and of greatest importance, elective offices to be manipulated and milked—for personal gain. I've not the slightest idea of how this came to be known as "Graft."
Politics is just a hobby for a lot of people. Others are especially gifted in recognizing what must be done to achieve what is best for society. For others, the opportunity for graft, for stealing, is so compelling, so easy to initiate, so lucrative, it is irresistible."
Thomas Joseph Pendergast, know by his intimates as "T.J.," was one is one of the most successful Political Bosses of modern times. He gained prominence while he and his brother Jim ran a bar in a shady section of Kansas City. Though only briefly holding office as an alderman in the Jackson County, Kansas Democratic party machine, he was able to use his vast network of family and friends to help elect office-seekers through voter fraud. That in turn gave him access to government contracts and afforded him opportunity to hand out patronage—for a price. As a result, he became wealthy.
One of those he helped early in a fledgling politician's career was a young World War I veteran. Harry S. Truman of Independence, MO., a former captain of artillery, had come home and promptly gone broke as a mens' clothier. It was suggested to Pendergast that Truman would be a pliable County Judge, an administrative and not judicial post in Missouri—so Pendergast promptly made that happen. Truman was so pliable (for a time) and successful in the position, Pendergast backed him for a run for the U.S. Senate. Soon, the new Senator repudiated Pendergast's support, much to the chagrin of his former mentor.
Gambling and other human frailties ultimately led to Pendergast's undoing. He was convicted of Federal Income tax evasion and spent 15 months in prison. He died shortly thereafter, in 1945. Truman, reluctantly picked by Franklin Roosevelt to be his running mate, went on to become President, when FDR died while in office.
All Political Bosses do not end up in jail. Whereas, most political bosses do their manipulation from the sidelines, one, Richard J. Daley of Chicago, the greatest Political Boss so far in American politics, ruled every facet of Cook County government with an iron hand, from his office on the fifth floor of City Hall. Someone once reported that he said, "I want to keep all graft in City Hall, where I can keep my eye on it." After years of lowly precinct work in the Chicago Democratic machine, Daley was elected to the Illinois Legislature in 1936 at the age of 34. He quickly became famous in a state where six of the last eight governors ended up in a prison for corruption; where a former comptroller prepared bogus checks to pay non-existent companies on his office typewriter and cashed them all in a tiny bank—in Chicago, no less; where one Secretary of State, who had complete control over who was to be awarded a State job, sold positions for ten percent of the employees' salaries. After he died suddenly, a housekeeper found $890,000 in shirt boxes secreted in his cheap Springfield apartment. Paul Powell left his heirs an estate worth millions.
Daley's ambition was never about money. Closely held power was his aphrodisiac. He was Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee for 23 years and mayor of Chicago for 21. He was elected to that office in 1955 and remained firmly ensconced there until his death in 1976 at age 74.
Daily was a builder—of infrastructure and business, much of which he achieved by the raw use of politics. He was accused often of vote rigging and ballot stuffing, especially during John Kennedy's successful run for office 1n 1960. Daley is also accused, perhaps falsely, of urging citizens to "vote early, and often."
1968 was a bad year for "The Boss." When rioting broke out following the assassination of Martin Luther King. he instructed the police to shoot "to main or kill" looters. In August of that year, when Anti-Vietnam War Protesters converged on Chicago during the National Democratic Party Convention, he is accused of causing a confrontation with demonstrators that was widely named a "police riot." Despite recrimination from the media, including that done live on National TV directly from the floor of the convention, Daley never stepped back from the fray, not even for a moment.
He left four sons, three of whom followed him into politics. One of them followed his father to the top job on the fifth floor. The only other son not to enter the political arena is a successful attorney.
-Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller. "He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself" - Joseph L. Menchen.
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