A 19th Ward Chicago Machine suburban tale

A 19th Ward Chicago Machine suburban tale
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A 19th Ward Chicago Machine suburban tale

SW News Group April 13, 2017. Back in the 1980s, the Chicago Machine was licking its wounds from a beating it took from renegade city official Jane M. Byrne who beat the Machine’s candidate Michael A. Bilandic to become mayor. The jobs for many of the broken Machine ward organizations were getting scarce and political vengeance in the city was getting rough. Karma, some called it. So they set their sights on expanding to the suburbs the way Britain once look at the New World in the 17th Century. Beat down the “natives” and takeover. It seemed like a perfect plan back then.

By Ray Hanania

The 1980s were not a great time for the Machine havens of Chicago’s Southwest Side, once lorded over by the Boss of Bosses, Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The Boss was Dead – long live the Boss! – and Jane Byrne had become mayor in a raucous election in 1979, throwing a monkey wrench into the Machine’s plans for political domination.

Four years later, the Bosses’ son Richard M. Daley managed to siphon off just enough White votes to derail Byrne’s re-election and elect Chicago’s first African American, Harold Washington.

That year 1983 was a decisive one for many Southwest Side wards including the 19th. The future was as clear as day. Their ward may produce some of the largest election votes in the city, but it wouldn’t mean much without clout.

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The Illinois Legislature where the younger Daley and his pals from the Southwest side wards of the 19th, 18th, 23rd, 15th and 11th wards played was fast slipping. Driving three hours or flying like vacation snow birds from Meigs Field to and from Springfield was a boring burden – no wonder when he finally became mayor, Richie Daley had Meigs Field ploughed under.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chicago Machine was at a crossroads in 1983. The Machine had been painted into the city’s corners of the Northwest and Southwest Sides.

With few options, the Machine did what any empire squeezed into a tight trough would do. Like the British Empire in the 17th Century, they sent their best warriors over the horizon where the ocean dropped off into oblivion, and sailed their precinct workers into uncivilized territory called the “Sub-burbs.”

“Suburb” is a derivative of the conqueror’s playbook, “Sub-Urban,” meaning “less than civilized.”

It’s said the British Empire didn’t really begin until it sent out its first colonists (precinct captains) to Virginia in Christopher Columbus’ New World. The first colony was in Virginia, led by Sir Walter Raleigh.

So too for the New Chicago Machine, sending colonies to Oak Lawn, Stickney Township, Homer Township and Orland Park, a swampland of soggy former pig farms kept wet with pooling rainwater and annoying floods by a solid base of clay.

You can almost map the suburban regions where Chicago Machine Conquistadors landed. The 23rd Ward stepped into Oak Lawn. The 13th Ward in Stickney Township. The 18th Ward, a branch of the Daley clan, sailed to Homer Township. The 19th Ward was based in Orland Park. The Northwest Side wards did the same, too.

And I remember back in 1983 when a 19th Ward precinct captain told me that he was off “across the oceans” to knock on doors in suburbia for a young Irish candidate named Dan McLaughlin.

The suburbs were ripe for the picking. Most suburban residents avoided voting. They had fled to curb-less Suburbs and unpaved streets and cheaper homes during the White Flight of the late 1960s.

A modernday Sir Walter Raleigh, McLaughlin became a trustee in 1983. I remember covering the election and writing his first story, he’d remind me. Eight years later, McLaughlin became Orland Park’s Mayor and the 19th Ward hegira of jobs and suburban living for the powerful Hynes clan would begin.

Last week, 24-years later, that Chicago Machine dynasty came to a crashing end. McLaughlin decided his union pension wasn’t good enough. His Orland Park Board of Trustees voted to make him a fulltime mayor, boosting his salary from $40,000 a year (which was pretty good for part-time) to $150,000 a year. But the crown jewel was the instant pension provision he would get at the end of that new four-year term as mayor, of more than $110,000 a year. Serve four years and get a $110,000 a year pension for life, almost like a Congressman (5 years).

You can run from race, failing schools, a bad job market, and a neighborhood overwhelmed by street gang violence. But in Illinois, you can’t run from the stigma caused by Pension Politics.

Using the pension issue as his Standard, McLaughlin’s challenger Republican Keith Pekau won by a landslide with 6,933 votes to McLaughlin’s 5,804 votes. It was truly a Jane Byrne moment.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author who covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Email him at rghanania@gmail.com.)

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