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Chicago Machine Tips

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/09/richardjdaley.jpgMayor Richard J. Daley, 1964 (Zuma Press)

Despite all the brouhaha about Sen. Barack Obama’s ties to Chicago’s legendary political machine, and how his campaign displayed the efficiency of machine politics, he played it wimpy in his primary race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Just consider, he took her by surprise by out-organizing her in Iowa, grabbed an early lead and basically ran out the clock. She, on the other hand, mercilessly pummeled him in the final weeks of the primary election.

To watch it unfold, you would think that Clinton had been schooled in the hardball tactics of Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley, not the other way around.

But, to beat the Republicans, Obama’s going to have to follow the ABC’s of Chicago politics. In other words, he’s going to have to return to his political roots.

** 1.) Lie.** Make the stuff up as you go along. Say nasty things about your opponent. So what if they’re not true? Half the press corps will run with it anyway. Even if they don’t write it, they’ll probably believe it — and that’s almost as good. Besides, if you keep repeating it, someone will put it on the Internet and then it might as well be true.

Have your operatives go off-the-record with the press. Reporters love it when they think they’re getting the inside scoop. Tell them it’s just between you and me – even though you’ve already told just about every other reporter in town.

Don’t settle for nickel-and-dime accusations – swing for the fences. Tell them you have a secret video of your opponent doing something really embarrassing. Then stall when they ask to see it. Remember: a good lie is like a barnacle — once it’s on someone’s mind, they can’t scrape it off.

** 2.) Intimidate.**

** A) Campaign: **Tear down or deface your opponents campaign signs. Put a rock through his campaign headquarters. When the press calls, accuse him of having broken his window to pick up sympathy.

Threaten senior citizens who support your opponent with eviction from federally subsidized housing. Threaten vendors with loss of business. Call the Dept. of Health or building inspectors to report obscure health code or building code violations involving your opponent’s backers. Sic the IRS on your opponent’s leading campaign contributors.

** B) Election Day: **Send out big guys with thick necks to stand on the corner and leer at the voters. Figure out which voters are likely to vote for your opponent and then try to keep them from voting. Remember, if they can’t vote, he can’t win.

Have your election judges challenge their right to vote. Make them show some sort of identification. If they pull out an driver’s license, tell them that under section 14.3 (b-2.3) of the Illinois Election Code driver’s licenses are not suitable identification. So what if it’s not true. You think anyone knows the election code?

In fact, most folks believe anything anyone in a position of authority tells them. We had a recent case where an election judge was giving voters the wrong kind of stylus. When voters complained that the stylus made no mark on the ballot, he told them it was a special kind of pen that used “invisible ink.” Was it true? Of course not, but at least a dozen or so voters walked away, thus losing their votes. Remember, you’ll never lose underestimating the gullibility of voters. Just look at who we keep electing.

** 3.) Sue. **Candidates in Chicago are always suing each other when it comes to elections. Usually, the lawsuits are filed before the elections, as incumbents, try to take advantage of technicalities in our incredibly convoluted election code to get their opponents knocked off the ballot.

If you don’t have a good case, file suit anyway. You win even if you lose. Your opposition will have to spend hours in court, wasting thousands of dollars in legal fees as he and his supporters are drained of spirit and momentum. Best of all it serves as a message to other would-be challengers: Don’t even try.

You’d be amazed at what you can get away with if you get the right judge. We had one candidate challenge the veracity of signatures on his opponents nominating petitions. He accused the signers of fraud – said they didn’t live at the addresses on the petition. To defend himself, the challenger had to retrace his steps, going door-to-door, getting sworn, and notarized affidavits from the petition signers. The judge threw the petitions out anyway. How could he do that? What difference does it make? All that matters is that he did.

One recent losing aldermanic candidate even asked the judge to throw out all the ballots in precincts his opponent won. Of course, that would have made the loser the winner. Did it work? No, in this case the judge ruled against him. But so what – you won’t get it if you don’t ask.

Keep in mind: most local judges in Chicago now owe their jobs to Mayor Richard M. Daley. In Chicago, justice may be blind, but she ain’t stupid.

** 4.) Be a Bad Loser. **Even when it’s over, it’s not over. Never make a gracious concession – always accuse the other side of stealing the election, even if you did more cheating than he did. We had one guy two years ago lead a march of several dozen supporters up Michigan Avenue and over to the county building in order to have his followers count the vote. Did it work? No. He got trounced. But it got him on TV and now everyone knows his name. Which can’t hurt in his next election.

Actually, as I re-read this list it sounds like it’s from the GOP play book — certainly as shown in “Recount,” the HBO movie. In that film, this is how the Republicans snatched Florida from Vice President Al Gore back in 2000. No wonder President George Bush loves our Mayor Daley so much.

Of course, Florida wouldn’t have happened if Gore and his key advisors hadn’t been such wimps. So the ultimate lesson is this: Only saps play fair.

Remember the not-so-Golden Rule of Chicago politics: Do to the other guy what he would do to you – only make sure you do it first.


Ben Joravsky is a staff writer for Chicago Reader newspaper, where he writes a weekly column about politics.

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