January 9, 2013


The swirl of publicity surrounding Alderman Dick Mell's (33rd) on-again, off-again retirement demonstrates anew the maxim that many politicians, particularly in Chicago and Cook County, are not born. Instead, they are begotten.

Say what? Webster's dictionary defines "beget" as the process of "bringing into being," and it defines primogeniture as the feudal monarchical law under which the eldest son has the exclusive right to inherit the father's estate.

Modern-day Chicago and Cook County are not sexist. For dozens of powerful office holders, politics is the "family business," and the "father's estate," so methodically built and maintained, is going to be passed along to their offspring, whether son or daughter, or, if necessary, to in-laws and spouses. The goal: Keep it in the family.

Chicago's mighty have sired and begot upon Illinois and the world a plethora of actual and would-be political kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses, lords, ladies, knights, earls, counts, countesses, and viscounts. The DNA and bloodlines flow from such "royalties" as the Bridgeportburgs, the Burkelanders, County McMadigan, the Duke of Mell, Clan Cullerton, the Land of Lipinski, Polski Krolewicz and Krolewna (Polish Prince and Princess), the House of Hynes, Laurinoland, the Holy Jacksonian Empire and dozens more.

History is replete with examples of royal inbreeding, producing dysfunctional offspring. The "Chicago System" has not been immune. It has produced such disastrous aberrations as Rod Blagojevich and Todd Stroger.

The City Council isn't quite hereditary, nor is the Cook County Board, nor most local state legislative and congressional seats. So-called "commoners" predominate. Among the 50 current aldermen, only nine are the offspring or spouse of powerful progenitors, as are two of the 17 county commissioners, a handful of state legislators and one congressman. However, there are enough wards and districts -- the equivalent of European principalities, provinces and duchies -- to sustain the familial almighty.

The insiders' methodology is timeless and seamless: deceit, deception, subterfuge and mendacity. It means, ideally, getting appointed, anointed or nominated without opposition and running for retention as the well funded incumbent, or lying about running for re-election, abruptly resigning, and then getting the Democratic committeemen to name one's offspring as successor, or having the mayor appoint a familial aldermanic replacement, as Mell reportedly is attempting to do. Essentially, it means the premeditated use of political and fund-raising clout to advance one's child or spouse. The goal is to insert the family member into office, where it's easier to stay in office.

When Republicans criticize the Democrats as the "party of entitlements," they're not far off the mark. Here's a review of local royalty, some of which are in their second generation, going on their third.

11th Ward (Bridgeport): Call them the Bridgeportburgs, the local equivalent of the Hapsburgs, the European rent-a-king dynasty which supplied kings and queens for over 700 years, including Austria-Hungary from 1278 to 1918, Spain from 1516 to 1700, and the Holy Roman Empire from 1438 to 1806. I'm speaking, of course, of the Daleys, who trace their South Side antecedents back to the 1930s, when Richard J. Daley began to build his dynasty. He was elected to the Illinois House in 1936, to the Illinois Senate in 1938, as Cook County clerk in 1946, and to the Chicago mayoralty in 1955, serving until he died in 1976.

His progeny formed a powerful triumvirate -- Richard, who was elected Bridgeport's state senator in 1972, state's attorney in 1980 and mayor in 1989; Bill, an investment banker and lawyer who was the U.S. secretary of commerce and Barack Obama's White House chief of staff and who is waffling about running for Illinois governor in 2014; and John, the ward's Democratic committeeman, a county commissioner and the county board Finance Committee chairman who essentially runs county government.

The third Daley generation has emerged. Patrick Daley Thompson, the grandson and nephew of the mayors, was elected a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner in 2012. Another Bridgeporter, he's on a short track to run for mayor, but he first must become the 11th Ward's alderman. The ex-mayor's son Patrick, a military veteran, also is being groomed, likely for Congress.

14th Ward: Call them the Burkelanders, the Chicago equivalent of the Scottish Highlanders. Alderman Ed Burke, age 69, the dean of the City Council and its Finance Committee chairman, has served since 1968, when he was appointed by Daley. At the time the 25-year-old Burke was a Chicago cop and a recent law school graduate. Burke's father, Joseph, became an alderman in 1953, when Clarence Wagner, who was readying himself to run against Daley for mayor in 1955, died in an auto crash. Burke won the 1969 special election, and he has not been contested since, even though his ward is now 80 percent-plus Hispanic.

There are no Lord Burke progeny, but his wife, Anne Burke, is an Illinois Supreme Court justice, making them Illinois' premier power couple, and his brother Dan Burke has been a state representative since 1990. The alderman is the chairman of the Democrats' judicial slating committee, and he got his wife, a state Court of Claims judge, appointed to the Appellate Court in 1995 and to the Supreme Court in 2006. Anne Burke was unopposed in the 2008 Democratic primary to keep her seat. When Ed Burke retires, the 14th Ward will be Burke-less. A Hispanic candidate will win the seat.

13th Ward:  It's County McMadigan - the home of Midway Airport, Ford City and Illinois' premier power pair -- Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and his daughter Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general and a likely 2014 gubernatorial candidate. According to party insiders, the attorney general, who has $3.3 million in her political account, is raising money for a challenge to Governor Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary. The consensus is that Lisa Madigan will run. If she wins, Illinois will be County McMadigan.

Mike Madigan, age 70, has been a state representative since 1970, a Democratic committeeman since 1972, and the speaker for 28 of the past 30 years. The ward's alderman is Madigan ally Michael R. Zalewski, who was first elected in 1995 and who is building his own dynasty. His son Michael J. Zalewski has been a state representative since 2009, and he will succeed his father, even though the ward's Hispanic population is exploding.

23rd Ward: It's Lipland, run by Lord Bill Lipinski, the 75-year-old former alderman (1975 to 1982) and congressman (1983 to 2004). Once concentrated on the Southwest Side, with a huge Polish population, the 3rd U.S. House District now extends far out into the southwest suburbs, taking in LaGrange, Western Springs and Oak Lawn. The district is now 65 percent suburban, but Chicago (the 23rd, 13th and 11th wards) dominates.

In August of 2004, Lord Lipinski conveniently resigned his congressional nomination, and his fellow Democratic committeemen chose Dan Lipinski, a college professor who had lived outside Illinois for 15 years, as his father's replacement. Lipinski lacked charisma and roots, and like his father he is a social conservative, so there's no way he could have won an open primary.

19th Ward: The so-called "Three Wise Men" -- princes Tom Hynes, Jeremiah Joyce and Tim Degnan -- have ruled this Far Southwest Side fiefdom since the 1970s. Hynes was a state senator, the Illinois Senate president, the county assessor and the ward committeeman, Joyce was the alderman, and Degnan was Hynes' successor as state senator. They used their clout to help their sons. In 1998 Tom Hynes cleared the way for his son Dan, age 29, to be nominated for state comptroller; in 2010 Dan Hynes lost the primary for governor to Quinn by 8,372 votes. Joyce's son was elected the area's state representative, and Degnan's son got a judgeship.

41st Ward: Roman Pucinski's political rise was facilitated by his mother, who was a popular Polish-language radio broadcaster. Pucinski was elected to Congress in 1958, lost a 1972 U.S. Senate race, and was elected alderman in 1973, serving until 1991. His offspring is his daughter Aurie Pucinski, who is an Appellate Court justice and who was the clerk of the Circuit Court from 1988 to 2000.

38th Ward: The most durable Chicago Irish clan is the Cullertons, tracing their roots to 1875, when Eddie Cullerton was elected alderman. Following were a succession of Cullertons: P.J. as alderman in 1935 and assessor in 1958, brother Willie in 1959, nephew Tom in 1973, in-law Tom Allen in 1993, and now Tim Cullerton, Tom's son, in 2011. Tom's daughter Patti Jo has been the ward's committeeman since 1993.

39th Ward: Tony Laurino, a West Sider from the 25th Ward, moved and became the ward's alderman in 1965. He was indicted for ghost payrolling in 1993, having put his wife, stepdaughter, son and daughter into no-show Traffic Committee jobs. He died before his trial, but his daughter Marge was appointed alderman. Marge Laurino won a tough 1995 election, and she now is entrenched; her husband, Randy Barnette, is the ward's Democratic committeeman, and her nephew, John D'Amico, is the area's state representative.

33rd Ward: Mell was elected alderman in 1975 and committeeman in 1976. After his daughter Patti married Rod Blagojevich, Mell made him an assistant state's attorney and a state representative in 1992, and he wheeled and dealed to get him elected to Congress in 1996 and governor in 2002. Blagojevich was impeached in 2009.

Mell, age 73, reportedly is pondering retirement and passing off his job to daughter Deb Mell, whom he made a state representative in 2008. According to ward sources, longtime Mell chief of staff Chuck LaMantia will get Deb Mell's job.