We've lost an honest politician

I was saddened to hear last night of the death on of Michael S. Holewinski on June 19.

When I first met Mike, he was a law student at John Marshall and, like me, an anti-Machine Democratic activist. In those days the Illinois Constitution had a rather clever feature which only those in the know understood or appreciated. Each legislative district had three members. By tradition, neither party would run more than two candidates in any one district, so every citizen of the state always had one member of the Illinois House of his or her own party from his or her own district.

Those third, minority party members were often the most astute, effective, and widely-respected members of the House. But there was another advantage to the system. Every voter was given three votes. In primaries and general elections alike, he or she could cast one vote for each of three candidates, one and a half for two- or all three for a single candidate. This had the effect of making incumbents extremely vulnerable and therefore extraordinarily accountable. All a challenger had to do was to half the number of voters to "bullet-" to cast all three votes for the challenger- as the incumbent shared with the other incumbent of his party for the two to end up tied!

Patrick Quinn, onetime governor of Illinois, began his regrettable career in politics leading a misguided but unfortunately successful drive in 1980 to get rid of multiple member districts. Ironically, Quinn touted this mistake as a money-saving "reform" measure, even though pretty much every "good government" organization in Illinois joined just about every other knowledgeable person in the state in opposing the change. Suffice it to say that it was not an auspicious beginning to Quinn's career, although it was a major victory for the very machine politics Quinn claimed to oppose and for legislative mediocrity to boot.

Mike was one of the several anti-Machine insurgents on Chicago's Northwest Side who decided to exploit the vulnerability to which the system exposed entrenched incumbents in 1974. I worked in that campaign, and I gave my precinct captain quite a scare. Doubtless, Mike's Polish name helped more than my efforts, but I only worked one side of one street- and nevertheless came within a vote and a half of carrying the precinct for Mike!

One of the two Machine legislators and the minority Republican member from our District were solid, effective legislators, and they were returned to office. But Mike beat out the second, less accomplished Machine Democrat, and began his career in the Illinois House from a heavily Machine district.

Two years later a change in Machine tactics- they encouraged "bulleting" for the lesser Machine candidate- backfired. That lesser candidate and Mike emerged as the Democratic nominees, and the other, well-regarded regular ended up being re-elected, of all things, as an independent, beating out our very solid Republican.

Eventually, Mike lost his seat in an election in which there were no notable races higher on the ballot and voter turnout was low. He ran for the City Council from my ward and, although he got the second most votes of any aldermanic candidate in the city, lost to the Machine candidate in our ward, who got the most.

I lost touch with Mike when I went to seminary. He ran unsuccessfully in the primary for one of the county offices, a race I find it hard to imagine that he thought he had any chance of winning. He ended his political career as one of the chief aides to Mayor Harold Washington. Afterward, he was active in the corporate world and practiced property law.

Mike was an honest, idealistic guy of the kind that era often produced. He brought ethics, intelligence, and class to politics in my city and state, I often remember him when I'm tempted to become cynical about our system. He was living proof that good and honorable people can be successful in politics

We need more like him, and Chicago, Illinois, and all of us are poorer for his passing.


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