Blah, Blah, Blagojevich: In Illinois,
- John Schrag
- Lake Oswego Review - Opinion
It's not that often (OK, never) that I get to brag that my journalistic skills exceed those of our nation's elite national media corps.
But I am able to pull off something that approximately 96.4 percent of my fellow reporters can't.
I can pronounce the name of Illinois' governor without stuttering.
My mastery of this task didn't come from a fascination with Serbian surnames but instead the fact that I grew up in the Land of Lincoln and had an internship in the Chicago Tribune's state capitol office.
I fled to Oregon before Rod Blagojevich was elected (and last week, arrested), but once you've had a front-row seat at the Illinois political stage it's hard not to watch the never-ending comedic tragedies that unfold.
So while newscasters across the country were tiptoeing up to that third syllable like it was the third rail of the CTA line, I knew the secret: pretend that 'j' is a 'y,' hit the resulting 'GOY' with confidence and you're home free.
Of course, unusual surnames have a long tradition in Illinois elections, particularly in Chicago, where the right combination of consonants can give you an automatic 17-point advantage in some ethnic neighborhoods.
Just ask Mayor Harold Washington's arch-enemy, Alderman Ed Vrdolyak (Ver-DOE-lee-ack). 'Fast Eddie,' a Croatian king-maker who left elective office about 20 years ago, was a re-election lock despite rumors of shady dealings that finally caught up to him last month, when he was heard on tape in a real-estate kick-back scheme (sound familiar?).
Another great political name was Roman Pucinski, an ex-reporter who languished in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1973, when he was promoted to Chicago Alderman (what we'd call a city councilor). He represented the city's Polish neighborhoods for years - oddly enough, without even a hint of scandal.
It was that name (Poo-CHIN-ski), however, the led to one of the oddest chapters in Illinois political history (which is saying something), and one linked, albeit tenuously, to the current embarrassment.
Here's what transpired:
In 1986, the Democrats were eager to unseat Republican Gov. James 'Big Jim' Thompson, who had narrowly defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson III four years earlier.
The Dems again put up Stevenson (son of the presidential candidate; grandson of the former VP) along with a slate of other well-known pols, including Aurelia Pucinski, the alderman's daughter, for Secretary of State, and a state senator, George Sangmeister, for Lt. Governor.
The problem was they forgot to campaign in the primary and a couple of followers of political wacko Lyndon LaRouche ended up winning the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor and Secretary of State.
The results stunned not only the Democratic machine but also the media, which had ignored the primary race.
Much of the post-election analysis focused on the 'WASP factor.' That is, that the two LaRouche victors, Janice Hart and Mark Fairchild, had very 'American' sounding names while the losers had some of those pesky hard consonants in the wrong places.
Faced with the prospect of running with a couple of people who advocated quarantining AIDS victims and hanging Henry Kissinger for treason (I'm not making this up), Stevenson, Sangmeister and Pucinski abandoned the Democratic label and formed a new ticket, the Solidarity Party, for the November election.
But, in order to be a bona-fide party, the Solidaritians had to field a complete slate of statewide candidates.
This was troubling to other legitimate Democrats on the ticket. So, Stevenson and Co. went out and recruited some little-known Democrats with (you guessed it) funny-sounding names to fill out the slots they didn't want to win.
My favorite was Einar V. Dyhrkopp, a southern Illinois bank executive, who agreed to run for U.S. Senate.
It was a brilliant counter-move, except for one thing. It didn't work.
Big Jim won an unprecedented fourth term and set up his Lt. Governor, George Ryan, for successful runs for higher office.
After Gov. Ryan got caught selling government contracts (again, sound familiar?), he decided not to run for re-election in 2002.
That gave the Democrats their best chance since their 1986 LaRouche fiasco to oust the GOP from its semi-permanent residence in the governor's mansion.
This time they didn't blow it and the new governor, in his 2003 inaugural address, vowed to 'reject the politics of corruption ... (and) govern as a reformer.'
And who was this crusader? A guy named Rod Blagojevich.
Maybe that last name should have tipped off the voters.
John Schrag is editor and publisher of the Forest Grove News-Times, a sister paper of the Lake Oswego Review.