18 October 2008

Royko rolls over and smiles

Royko rolls over and smiles
by Schmutzie
10/18/2008, 8:36 AM

When Rupert Murdoch bought the Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, Mike Royko, my hero, switched teams. He hated Murdoch, and said that "No self respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper." Over 25 years ago, Mike had pegged Murdoch for exactly what he turned out to be; a guy not interested in quality journalism, but rather political power.

After a decade and a half at the Sun-Times, the paper generally considered to be the liberal Democratic rag in town, Mike walked out the door.....and in the door of the Chicago Tribune.

The Trib has always been the choice of the Republicans in Chicago, yes we have some of those. When Royko joined the paper, and began running his columns 4 days a week, it seemed odd at first. It was like watching Ernie Banks play first base for the White Sox.

When Belushi took the role of Ernie Souchak in Continental Divide, it was clear to anyone living here that he was playing Royko. I thought the movie was okay, as feel-good fish-out-of-water love stories go, but I found it a bit of a stretch to pair him with Blair Brown. No offense to Royko, but he looked a lot like Capt. Merrill Steubing, and Blair Brown looked like..well, Blair Brown.

Royko didn't think Belushi was the right choice of actors to play him, even though they were friends. Royko thought perhaps Redford or Selleck would have been better choices. I still say they should have picked Gavin McCloud.

Anyway, whenever election time rolled around, I always tuned in to NBC Channel 5 in Chicago, because they'd always get Royko to do commentary as the votes would start rolling in.

One of my favorite election night moments was in April 1983, when Royko and Dick Kay (local news dweeb) began arguing about exit polls and election night forecasts. Kay (real name Dick Snodgrass) was getting ready to announce that NBC was going to project Harold Washington as the new mayor, with ...whatever....60% of the votes counted (or so.)

Royko, who had been urging people to lie whenever asked by pollsters how they were going to vote, and also to lie to exit pollsters, suggested that Kay and NBC were being premature.

His question to Dick Kay, and one that I find myself continuously asking on election nights, ..."Why are you projecting the winner? We're counting votes. We'll have an answer in 2 hours. What's the rush?"

And Kay said something like....homina homina homina....

1983 had seen a very racially charged campaign waged by Republican Bernie Epton, whose campaign slogan was "Vote for Epton: Before it's too late." I'm not kidding.

You think Obama's facing racism? He's got nothing on what Washington faced 25 years ago. In the Dem primary, Washington had won with 37% of the vote, to incumbent mayor Jane Byrne's 33%, and 30% for a newcomer named Richard M. Daley. Washington took something like 99.999932% of the black vote, while Byrne and Daley split the white vote. Very racial election, maybe the most racial election I've ever seen, including the Dem primary.

Republican Epton was seen as a guy who stood no chance against the vaunted "Chicago Democratic Machine." Royko knew better, and on election night, he proved it again.

Washington won with 51.7% of the vote to Epton's 47%. Epton won 81% of Chicago's white vote, and 3% of Chicago's black vote, which meant that the Democratic community organizers, who'd registered 100,000 new voters, had made the difference and swung the election to Harold Washington. I'm often tempted to bring this up when fray know-nothings talk about Obama being the hand-chosen pick of the "Chicago Democratic Machine", but I think I'd rather let people wallow in that ignorance, than point out with pride that Chicago is as racist as any other big city.

The Chicago Democratic Machine died in December 1976. It's still a Dem city of course, but there is no resemblance to The Machine that the old man built, which was covered extensively in Royko's Boss.

And the Tribune is still Chicago's Republican paper.

And, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president. It's the first time in history that the Trib has endorsed a Democrat.

I was telling friends early in the Dem primaries that one regret I have is that Mike Royko didn't live long enough to see what we all saw. I would have loved to have been able to read Mike's take on the heavyweight match-up between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.

I'm regretting Mike's absence again. He should have lived long enough to see the 2008 election, and he should have lived long enough to see the Tribune, the paper to which he'd fled rather than toil for Murdoch, endorse their very first Democrat for president.

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