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Who'da thunk it?

Like many of my generation, I became politically active in the Eugene McCarthy campaign in 1968. After the convention debacle- I was caught in the middle of Michigan Avenue during the police riot- I became part of what was known a "the Independent Movement" in Chicago politics. Basically, we were liberal anti-Daley, anti-Machine activists who- politics making especially strange bedfellows in Chicago- often made common cause with the only other anti-Machine political force in Chicago, the tiny Cook County Republican Party.

We ran candidates for alderman and the state legislature, usually in gentrified liberal wards on the Lakefront. Bill Singer's successful aldermanic campaign in the 43rd Ward was the first winning campaign I was ever involved in. Later, law student Michael Holewinski took advantage of Illinois' multi-member House districts and cumulative voting to win several consecutive elections even from my own blue-collar Northwest Side 17th Legislative District. Since the Machine ran two candidates in the district, and every voter had three votes, all Mike had to do is to get half the people who voted for the Machine candidates to vote for him, and he was in.

I look back on those days with a great deal of affection. The victories were sweet, the defeats were bitter, but above all I had a real sense of making a difference. But alas, there was never a question of the Independent Movement actually taking power. When Bill Singer ran for mayor against the elder Daley, he was crushed. It wasn't until after "Da Mare's" death that the Blizzard of '79 and the arrogance of those left to make such decisions infuriated the African-American community by closing down the Elevated stations in the black wards and running express trains out to Jefferson Park and the white ones that Jane Byrne- herself a renegade member of the Machine- succeeded in beating it and becoming the first non-Machine mayor of my lifetime.

A great deal has changed since the '70's. Chicago is a different city. The "City that Worked" doesn't anymore. It's deeply in debt. Its once golden bonds are only two steps above junk bond status. After decades of growth for the African-American community, black Chicagoans- as sociologist Ernest Burgess predicted back in 1923 would eventually happen- are moving to the suburbs as the central city gentrifies. All at once, the "Lakefront Liberals-" once dismissed as ineffectual "goo-goo's" (short for "good government") by Machine types- have come into their own among Chicago's shrinking electorate. All of a sudden, the "goo-goo's" have power.In fact, they're the backbone of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's support.

The gay community on the Northwest Side is, and always has been, a key element in the "goo-goo" coalition. The second Mayor Daley strove mightily to bring it and other elements in what was once the only effective opposition to the Machine into the tent, and he largely succeeded. This explains Mayor Emanuel's constitutionally questionable decision to ban Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy from the city for contributing to anti-marriage redefinition organizations a few years ago.

But now, it seems, the "outs" are the "ins." If the "goo-goos" aren't running things, they're certainly among the groups who are.

My politics have changed a bit since then, and if I still lived in Chicago I probably wouldn't still be a part of the movement to which I devoted so much time and effort back n the '70's. I am no fan of Rahm Emanuel, believing as I do in the First Amendment. And I am certainly no fan of the even more radical Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, whose victory in the April 7th runoff I both expect and fear. Emanuel, at least, has struggled manfully to save the city from financial disaster, and I don't think Garcia has a clue.

But part of me can't help but feel a little proud of the movement of which I was an active member for so long a time. The "goo-goo's" are finally in the ascendant.

As Harry Carey would have said, "Who'da thunk it?"


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