June 2, 2021

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that she would grant one-on-one interviews about her mid-term performance only to journalists who are "Persons Of Color" I immediately thought, well, that ruins all my plans on a column about her performance.

I've been writing this column for 48 years since 1973. After all, 1,550 words per 2,496 weekly columns over 48 years are about 3.8 million words. But who's counting? Back then nobody claimed I was too young, too white or too male - only that I was too Republican.

It's not my fault that I'm an "Old White Man." I blame my parents, genes and/or gravity. Chicago's first Black female mayor has decided that she is "struck by the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, political press corps and the City Hall press corps, specifically." While it is true that more diversity is needed in newsrooms, this was the wrong way to go about it. Can you imagine if former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the opposite? He would be chased out of town.

I've always had this weird notion that journalism is not unlike other professions, like sports, where talent and ability are paramount. Not many people on the left demand "equity" in the NBA, NFL or PGA. The best are simply the best. Meritocracy matters. In journalism, asking tough questions is the only thing that matters.

Anyway, back to being a Republican and writing about politics in a Democratic enclave. This made the Northwest Side Democratic establishment livid, almost apoplectic. They had a point. I was born into a middle-class Northwest Side Republican family. Went to Onahan School and Taft High school. My father was an airline electrician. But my grandfather Samuel Stewart was a Republican player: He was a crony of Mayor Bill Thompson, who served 1915-23 and 1927-31, and was the city's last Republican mayor.

My grandfather, when he retired in 1950, was deputy superintendent in the water department, and was in charge of the Lake Michigan pumping station cribs which are 10 miles off-shore. Democrat Anton Cermak beat Thompson in 1931, but Thompson was shrewd enough to impose civil-service protection on all his Republican appointees. So my grandfather couldn't be fired, survived the Depression, and kept his well-paying job for 20 years. But he never ran for office.
So when I have the urge to excoriate city workers as Democratic hacks and slackers, I remember my grandpa. He did OK.

As a kid back in the 1950s, between watching TV Westerns and baseball games, he would regal me with stories about the evils of FDR's socialism and the evils of Daley's "Machine." Right. But kids aged 5-12 are very impressionable. They either retain or rebel against their family's culture and mindset. I didn't. The perceptions that fill the unformed mind of 7- to -11-year-olds stays with them forever.

From 1973 onward Democrats incessantly whined and complained to my publisher, Glenn Nadig, insisting that he couldn't have a Republican writing about all the area's democrats and perhaps expose their follies and stupidities. Canceling Stewart was their goal and mantra for 25 years before canceling anything was even a thing. Only Democrats are able to write puff pieces about other Democrats, they insisted.

But my publisher resisted their pressure. He told them that I didn't work for Nadig Newspapers, I just wrote for Nadig Newspapers. He told them that only he could "cancel me," and not them.

My Democratic detractors did have a point, however. After finishing at DePaul in 1972, with a degree in economics, not journalism, I lucked into the job of press secretary for Republican Alderman John Hoellen (47th), who was then running for Congress in the northwest side 11th congressional district. The seat was open because incumbent Roman Pucinski (D), first elected in 1958, was running for senator against Chuck Percy (R). Frank Annunzio (D), the west side congressman and protege of Vito Marzullo, moved into his daughter's Sauganash home to run, and he beat Hoellen 54-46.

Hoellen's campaign theme was "Support the President." Had he won, I would have been off to Washington, and you wouldn't be reading this.

And Hoellen, had he won, would have been a one-termer. He would probably have gotten on the judiciary committee, which voted out articles to impeach Nixon. He would have voted to impeach, but then lost anyway to Pucinski in the anti-Watergate, anti-Nixon year of 1974. Hoellen had previously lost to Pucinski in 1966 and 1968 And I would have become an itinerant Washington lobbyist and/or political flak.

Annunzio's 1972 win changed the district's political dynamics. So did 41st Ward Alderman Ed Scholl's (R) win of Bob Egan's (D) state senate seat. Instead of a difficult primary against Annunzio in 1974, Pucinski had a clear shot for 41st Ward alderman in1973. I know. My first sole venture as a political operative was as Emil Kolasa's 1973 campaign manager. He got 18 percent against Pucinski, who went on to be alderman 1973-91. Not an auspicious start.
I next moved on to be Hoellen's aldermanic "secretary." Hoellen, first elected in 1947 in the Ravenswood-Lincoln Square ward, lost in 1975. During the 1972 campaign I made contacts with the local newspapers, which were then Nadig, Lerner, Leader, Peacock and Des Plaines Publishing.

I was a journalistic "walk-on." I became what was then called a "stringer" with Nadig, submitting weekly articles. Now, 48 years later, I'm a "contributor. " As they say in the business, a good contributor is nice to find. They don't come from under rocks.

Meanwhile, I was multi-tasking as a press aide to state representatives Peter Peters (R) and Roger McAuliffe (R), and 1974 campaign manager for a candidate for county commissioner (who won)) and for Congress (who lost). In 1976 I ran the campaign of an anti-Machine Democrat for state senator (who lost). In 1978, while working for the attorney general, I ran for state senator for Egan's seat, but lost the Republican primary. I then became deputy press secretary to Don Mulack (R), who lost to Sheriff Dick Elrod (D).

And then in 1979 I reached the zenith of my political operative/flak career:. I was press secretary for Wally Johnson, the Republican candidate for mayor of Chicago. Jane Byrne (D) had upset Mayor Michael Bilandic, and the Byrne-Johnson race was the only game in town. It was a 5-week ego trip.

I would call a press conference and 30 print and TV reporters and cameramen would show up. Unfortunately (for me). Johnson got 16 percent. I then got a job as aide to appointed Metropolitan Sanitary District (now MWRD) commissioner Ed Gjertsen (R), but he lost in 1980.
My only non-unpleasant takeaways from my 20s "Decade of Doom" were that I got a master's and a law degree and that I still wrote for Nadig Newspapers. My lesson was that, if I persisted as an operative and stringer, I would be living in a trailer park. Journalism is not a cash cow.

So I had two options: (1) Become a lawyer, control my fiscal fate, and make journalism my vocation, not career. Or (2) "go Downtown," which meant hooking on with the dailies -Tribune or Sun-Times. That could not and would not ever happen. The dailies want cookie-cutter conformity. They want journalists who will conform to their agenda, think like their colleagues, not deviate from their pre-determined narrative, and put the appropriate spin on their articles and analyses.

Not me. I have always written like the lawyer I am: These are the facts (usually election statistics); this is my analysis; and this is my opinion based on those facts. Isn't that what journalism is supposed to be: A search for the truth? It has now become a mission to impose conformity of thinking, and if one disagrees they are stupid or worse.

Deviating from the narrative has a price, both then and now. After bashing Democrats for 25 years in this column I ran for judge in the Nothwest Side 10th subcircuit in 1994 and 1998. I got soundly thrashed. That's called PAYBACK.

But now, in the autumn of my years, at age 71, persistence has a reward - like about 2,500 lost Sundays writing this column. I'm still here. And, God willing, I will be here unwoke until the end. Thank you for your loyal readership all these years.