Mike Royko 50 Years Ago Today: Mike makes the front page--and how much should a drunk driving ticket cost to fix?
Weekly compilation December 20-26, 1971
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Why do we run this separate item, Mike Royko 50 Years Ago Today? Because Steve Bertolucci, the hero of the serialized novel central to this Substack, “Roseland, Chicago: 1972,” lived in a Daily News household. The Bertolucci’s subscribed to the Daily News, and back then everybody read the paper, even kids. And if you read the Daily News, you read Mike Royko. Read the daily Royko briefing Monday-Friday on Twitter, @RoselandChi1972.
December 20, 1971
A jolly idea: the fair ‘fix’
A Chicago businessman comes to Mike with a fair question: He got a ticket for drunk driving, and went to his ward committeeman’s office wondering if they could “help” him. They sent him to a lawyer who charged him $1,000 to fix the ticket, but then demanded an extra $500.
“Was I overcharged?” wonders the businessman. This reader is basically treating Mike’s column like a political Bee Line.
“Historically, there never have been official price guidelines for such payments,” Mike muses. “If there were, Marj Everett Lindheimer might have obtained her choice of racing dates for a more modest price.”
Mike refers to the current biggest local political scandal, in which current federal judge/former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner has been indicted with four others for allegedly making race track owner Marjorie Lindheimer Everett (her correct name) sell them $356,000 of race track stock for just $70,000 in exchange for favorable government decisions on racing dates.
Still, Mike says he’s never heard of anyone paying more than $1,000 to beat a drunk driving ticket. He thinks the going rate is $700, up from $500 a couple of years ago before the current crackdown on drunk drivers. These prices should be posted in the ward office window, he maintains: “The consumer has a right to this kind of honesty.”
Mike had a similar experience last year, “when a city crew came down the block removing dead trees on the city’s land,” by which he probably means the parkways. “The foreman, who wore a fine gray fedora and tinted glasses, rang the doorbell and asked if I wanted the dead tree on my lawn removed. He said they would do it for a price. They aren’t supposed to do that. Property owners are responsible for removal of their own trees. But being a native Chicagoan, I slipped him the money.”
Later Mike heard a neighbor with a bigger dead tree got his removed for 30% less.
Mike’s conclusion: “Little wonder some of us do not have faith in our public servants.”
December 21, 1971
How Berg got onto the ballot
Yesterday, after weeks of blowback from all parts of the political spectrum, Mayor Daley switched the Democratic endorsement for Cook County State’s Attorney from incumbent Ed Hanrahan to Traffic Court Judge Raymond Berg. Mike tells us how that worked. See this week’s compilation of THIS CRAZY DAY IN 1972 for the rest of the abundant coverage.
Remember Hanrahan is under indictment for allegedly obstructing the investigation of his office’s raid that killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969. And he wants to run for re-election anyway.
“At about 11 a.m. Monday, the torch of leadership was snatched from Ed Hanrahan’s hand, before he clobbered somebody with it, and hastily passed on to Raymond Berg,” writes Mike. Then Mayor Daley’s people “got busy to make sure his name would be on the ballot.”
“Many people don’t realize that a person doesn’t automatically become a candidate because the mayor pats him on the head, gazes heavenward and ordains him.”
In fact, to get on the ballot, 6,000 signatures from registered voters must be gathered on petitions and filed with the county clerk “by a certain date and hour. For Berg, the hour was 5 p.m. on the same day he became a candidate.”
So how do you get 6,000 signatures in six hours? You could go door to door, but forgery is quicker.
“Moments after Berg humbly accepted his party’s nomination, precinct captains were hoofing down the corridors” of City Hall, the County Building and the Civic Center, writes Mike, “polling sheets and blank petitions in their hands. On the polling sheets were the names of registered voters in their precincts….Supervisors in various county offices went from desk to desk. Uniformed guards in some offices checked employees as they went out to lunch or for coffee breaks, telling them to be sure to get some names on the petitions.”
One county worker tells Mike that he and his colleagues were signing several names per petition, so it wouldn’t look like the same person wrote all the signatures.
Judge Berg and his aides lugged 800 petition sheets—20,000 signatures—into the City Clerk’s office one hour early. That means “the Machine gathered 4,000 names an hour, about one name a second,” Mike notes.
“Judge Berg is going to run as a law and order man. It’s a good thing for him those were petitions, and not personal checks, or he would have been pinched before he got his campaign going.”
December 22, 1971
Score one for the little guy
Mike’s been reporting a lot lately on building inspectors issuing citations for political revenge, or collecting bribes.
Today Mike describes the scam building inspectors run when a real estate owner has to get the city building department’s approval in order to sell to a buyer with an FHA mortgage.
The building inspectors win no matter what. If a house is falling down, the inspector demands a pay-off to not find existing problems. If the house is in fine shape, the inspector demands a pay-off to not find nonexistent problems.
“Not long ago, a house got FHA approval on the basis of the city’s inspection, the sale went through, and the porch fell off,” writes Mike. “With the FHA backing more than 5,000 mortgages a year in Chicago, this could represent a torrent of financial opportunities for the city’s inspectors, and they have never been known to be hesitant about improving their net worth.”
But now the pay-off pipeline is turned off. John Waner, HUD’s Chicago director, says he’s taking the approval business away from city inspectors and requiring licensed and bonded private contractors to make the inspections instead.
“The seller will have to pay the contractor’s fee, but that’s better than paying off a city inspector, and it’ll probably cost him less,” says Waner.
December 23, 1971
Taking the bull by the bleep
“Bull shit” is Mayor Daley’s official position on Mike’s Tuesday scoop that city and county employees forged the petition signatures to get Raymond Berg on the ballot for state’s attorney, according to Daley press secretary Earl Bush.
Mike says it’s the first time in his career that he’s heard of a political office using “bullshit” as an official position.
“I don’t see how it can be the position of anyone but a bull,” he writes.
Then Mike goes full throttle mocking Earl Bush. Mike claims Bush is known for his “wit and clever use of words…And when someone calls his office with a question, it isn’t unusual for him to parry with such rejoinders as: ‘What?’ or ‘Hnggg?’ or even a subtle belch.”
“Hopefully, Bush will not go on answering questions with words we cannot print,” Mike concludes. “It may have merely been an outburst brought on by fatigue. And I can understand that. A person would be worn out after signing thousands of names.”
December 24, 1971
Mary and Joe, Chicago Style
Christmas Eve marks the annual appearance of Mike’s Christmas column. The heading always notes that it’s reprinted “by popular demand,” and that’s understandable—it’s a true classic.
“Mary and Joe were flat broke when they got off the bus in Chicago. They didn’t know anybody. And she was expecting a baby,” the column begins, simple and to the point, classic Mike.
Like the biblical couple, Mary and Joe can’t find a place to take them in. A cheap hotel turns them away since they can’t pay in advance. They go in a police station, where the desk sergeant sends them to the Cook County Department of Public Aid. CCDPA sends them to 19 S. Damen for emergency aid.
“Someone gave them a card with a number on it and they sat down on a bench, stared at the peeling green paint and waited for their number to be called,” writes Mike. Finally they see a case worker who gives them CTA fare to County Hospital due to Mary’s advanced state.
At CCH, they wait longer, until Mary’s labor pains grow and “they took her away. Someone told Joe to come back tomorrow.”
Outside, Joe gets mugged, then arrested when police take him for a drunk lying in the street.
The Three Wise Men can’t get into CCH to visit Mary and the baby because “A guard took them for hippies and called the police.”
When Mary tells the nurses who the baby’s father is, she ends up at a state mental hospital.
After many more adventures, Joe and Mary reunite and get the baby back from the state Department of Children and Family Services.
They hurry back to the bus station and ask for tickets.
“Anywhere,” Joe tells the ticket guy, “as long as it leaves right now.”
As we here all know, weekends could be sad for a Daily News family because Mike Royko wasn’t in the Daily News’ single weekend edition. So we look for Mike elsewhere on weekends.
This week we drink again from the well of Mike’s first column collection, “Up Against It.”
Mike takes it very personally when 67-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas gets a lot of public flak for marrying his fourth wife, 23-year-old Cathleen Heffernan, in July 1966.
Douglas doesn’t show up in the index of Richard Ciccone’s terrific biography, “Mike Royko: A Life In Print,” so there’s no personal connection. I’ll speculate that Mike may have had a soft spot for Douglas as one of the most liberal justices ever on the Supreme Court, or perhaps Mike just didn’t like the tone of the conservatives who tended to attack Douglas for his lifestyle.
“When Associate Justice William O. Douglas returns from his honeymoon, it would be perfectly proper for him to do the following,” writes Mike.
“Walk with great dignity to his seat on the Supreme Court bench.
“Draw his black robes about him.
“Slowly raise his right hand.
“Touch to tip of his thumb to the tip of his nose.
“Wiggle his fingers.”
Mike is offended by all the busybodies who are offended by Douglas’ marriage, or Mamie Van Doren’s recent marriage to a young professional baseball player.
“The fact that a man they don’t know married a girl they don’t know for reasons that are none of anyone else’s business has a terrible effect on the tempers of many people,” Mike notes.
Mike spends a few paragraphs lambasting the congressmen who have been lambasting Douglas, such as Rep. George. W. Andrews (D-Ala), “who called for a congressional investigation of Douglas’ character. Andrews said that he has heard that Douglas had been cruel to his other wives.”
“What does the Alabama congressman consider cruelty to a wife? Are tear gas, billy clubs, police dogs and shotguns acceptable on the highway of matrimony or only on the highway back home?”
A quick survey shows me that the media reporting Douglas’ marriage was certainly irritating. UPI reported that the bride was a “blonde 23-year-old college senior…a look-alike for Mia Farrow, ‘Peyton Place’ star betrothed of singer Frank Sinatra.”
Rep. Andrews had introduced a resolution to investigate Douglas’ moral character because he didn’t think he could get Douglas impeached. For sure, the congressmen should have contented themselves with complaining to each other over some drinks.
On the other hand, it does seem fair to wonder a bit about the Supreme Court justice who, according to Wikipedia anyway, openly cheated on his wife and the mother of his children in the early ‘50s when the other justices were considerate enough to be discreet.
Douglas then married his mistress, but cheated on her three years later with 23-year-old college student Joan Martin, who became wife #3. Douglas divorced Martin, then 26, the same year he married wife #4, 23-year-old Cathleen Heffernan—which brings us to this column’s present-day in 1966.
Douglas was clearly a fascinating character who made many contributions to the Court. He was notably a strong advocate of free speech and an environmentalist. He replaced Louis Brandeis, and he was Brandeis’ choice to take the seat.
But Wikipedia also quotes retired Judge Richard A. Posner on Douglas in a 2003 New Republic article (paywalled, so I can’t check this)—and in most unflattering terms. Posner clerked for Justice William A. Brennan 1963-65, just before this controversial fourth marriage took place. According to Wikipedia, Posner called Douglas “a bored, distracted, uncollegial, irresponsible" Supreme Court justice, as well as "rude, ice-cold, hot-tempered, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed" and such a jerk that “his law clerks—whom he described as 'the lowest form of human life'—took to calling him ‘shithead’ behind his back."
Wikipedia also quotes Posner saying that Douglas could have “become the greatest justice in history,” but called his legacy “slipshod and slapdash”. Again, I couldn’t access the New Republic article to verify those quotes.
By the way, Cathleen Douglas Stone went on to graduate from Georgetown University law school and a successful private law career in Boston before becoming that city’s first chief of environmental services in 1994. She’s now president of the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation, and I bet she’d laugh her head off about being dismissed as a Mia Farrow look-alike back in 1966.
By the way, this feature is no substitute for reading Mike’s full columns. He’s best appreciated in the clear, concise, unbroken original version. Mike already trimmed the verbal fat, so he doesn’t need to be summarized Reader’s Digest-style, either. Our purpose here is to give you some good quotes from the original columns, but especially to give the historic and pop culture context that Mike’s original readers brought to his work. You can’t get the inside jokes if you don’t know the references. Plus, many columns didn’t make it into the collections, so unless you dive into microfilm, there are some columns covered here you will never read elsewhere. If you don’t own any of Mike’s books, maybe start with “One More Time,” a selection covering Mike’s entire career and including a foreword by Studs Terkel and commentaries by Lois Wille.
Do you dig spending some time in 1972? If you came to MIKE ROYKO 50 YEARS AGO TODAY from social media, you may not know it’s part of the book being serialized here, one chapter per month: “Roseland, Chicago: 1972.” It’s the story of Steve Bertolucci, 10-year-old Roselander in 1972, and what becomes of him. Check it out here.
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