In my last blog, I commented on one of our most important freedoms—the right to vote for or against a political candidate from U.S. president to local pest control officer. Before a vote, obviously there are campaigns to get people to the polls to cast their ballots.
Currently, we are told nearly every day about the upcoming midterm elections and political campaigns that are underway, which sent me back in time. I was reminded of the strange path I took to become part of one of my first political campaigns. It was a campaign to reelect Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley (he served for six terms, a total of 21 years).
My route to that campaign began with a book I was writing for elementary age children. Titled Meet the Mayor of Your City, the book covered mayors who governed various sized cities. Since we lived an hour or so away from Chicago, I set about trying to obtain an interview with that big city’s mayor. I sent letter after letter to Daley’s Public Relations Director and Press Secretary Earl Bush, telling him about my book and asking his help in arranging an interview with his boss. Bush finally invited me to his office and I eagerly hopped a South Shore train to Chicago, while my school teacher husband handled the home front.
My meeting with Bush was unlike anything I expected. He was a scruffy looking guy, wearing a smashed brimmed hat with a soiled band and smoking a cigarette while another one burned in an ash tray on his cluttered desk. He looked the part of a typical newspaper reporter of the time, which he had once been. But his appearance was not the only surprise. He quickly offered me a job! He wanted me to work in his office, writing copy for Daley’s campaign brochures and press releases. How could I do that when I knew little about Chicago politics or Daley? No problem. Bush would provide the information—and a paycheck and a free room in a hotel across the street from city hall.
After running all that by my husband it was, we decided, an offer that I couldn’t refuse. During the campaign, I went to work in Chicago five days a week, returning home on the weekends. The time in Chicago was both exciting and lonely. I remember feeling downhearted at the hotel with no friends or family around. At least in Bush’s office there were other staff to ease the loneliness. Also I was kept busy with phone calls to make. I quickly learned that any request coming from Mayor Daley’s office was promptly answered. No one refused to comply or even hesitated. In addition, my naiveté was educated by the fact that just being part of the Bush staff could lead to other benefits. Bush guaranteed he would find a teaching position for my husband in Chicago’s public school. That was a thanks but no thanks.
When Press Secretary Bush needed to write a speech for the mayor, he assigned parts of it to each staff member—pointing to me “you do the end,” another person “you do the middle,” and a third “you do the beginning.” He would put it all together. And then Bush would go to a press conference and listen to the speech. He would come back steaming. The mayor had bungled the prepared words, which he often did. For example, on one occasion, Daley was supposed to talk about the city reaching “greater and greater plateaus of achievement.” But declared that the city would “reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement.”
During the campaign, Bush finally arranged for me to meet the mayor. I don’t remember the questions I asked or the answers I received, but I do recall the impression of friendliness and feeling at ease. Mayor Daley was a likeable Irishman, a devout Catholic who lived with his wife and seven children in Bridgeport, a blue-collar, Irish-Catholic neighborhood, just west of Chicago’s stockyards and packing houses.
At the time of the interview, I met one of Daley’s secretaries who offered her friendship and several times invited me to lunch. She was sincere and genuinely respected the mayor who did not tolerate any monkey business in his administration. He was well-known for his personal honesty, his fourteen-hour work days, and the many city improvements his administration had accomplished. His secretary explained how government worked under Daley’s political leadership and powerful political machine. In the end, Daley easily won a new term and was on his way to becoming one of the most effective big-city mayors of his time.
The bottom line for me was publication of Meet the Mayor of Your City. After that, Meet Your Governor was published. Since then, I have developed a keen interest in politics. I’ve taken part in local politics in Elkhart, Indiana, and I’ve written campaign materials—once for a Republican running for a state office. Over the years, my interest in politics has become so much a part of my life that I’m almost addicted to political news—good or bad but usually hoping for good news about Democrats. As I write, it is time for cable news shows that include political information. So I will stop writing and watch TV. I guess that means I’m a political junkie.