Don Rose analyzes Jane Byrne's victory
By Sandra Martin
|Technician, campaign manager, turner of phrases, Don Rose is the free-wheeling Chicago media man who helped Jane Byrne win. A veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the '60s and a backer of winners in the 70s, Rose discusses Byrne's stunning victory and what kind of leader she will be|
THE ELECTION of Jane Byrne was "a revolution in the greatest political machine in the history of the world," trumpeted Don Rose, her chief plotter, following Byrne's shocking primary upset over Chicago Mayor Michael A. Bilandic. Byrne went on to win 82 percent of voting Chicago in an election that the pundits say was a plebiscite rather than a contest. In his sixth mayoral campaign, Richard J. Daley in 1975 won with 80 percent of the vote against John Hoellen.
For Chicago-watchers across the nation, Byrne's victory was one of those surprises that first numb, then fill you with wonder. It was certifiable New York Times front page news, a political phenomenon which would be chronicled widely. The whole world was watching.
The candidate of a half-century old machine voted out.
A woman the mayor of Chicago.
And Don Rose, director of Byrne's effort, a 50's Bohemian and 60's radical, becomes a 70's winner.
Was it luck? "No," says Don Rose, who served in dual frontline capacity as media specialist and ad hoc campaign manager for the Byrne campaign. "You make your own luck. Everything worked our way, from the weather to the machine's responses -- they made the most dramatic and serious mistakes I've ever seen, like closing the inner-city subway stops during the worst of the snow -- to Jane's really effective political work. I can't conceive of a series in which things could have worked better for us."
Between the elections, in the heart of a city still recovering from the monumental, queenmaking and kingbreaking winter of '79, Don Rose took a couple of hours from the campaign to talk about the stunning upset.
Rose, 48, is a hard man to talk with, less because he sucks the telephone like a chain smoker than because he kills questions quicker than flies. What comes through his impatience with attitudes and easy answers is a good likeness of Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple. Chicago may not be the village of Marple's wisdom, but Rose has lived in the city long enough to understand what people are likely to do.
"The campaign was very disorganized when I came to do media and strategy," he says. "I helped pull it together, gave it direction and guidance where I could, and helped people understand their functions in a less diffuse way. A guy could call ten different agencies in his inexperience to get an answer which I've got in my head from the last ten campaigns."
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But more than campaigns have gone into the making of Don Rose. He is a skilled technician, a media man. Jazz, film, fiction, features, commercials --presentation is his specialty. He played jazz as a young man in Chicago and New York. He studied filmmaking and design at the University of Illinois and at the Chicago Insitute of Design. He dropped into the drug and dharma scene in Paris in the 50's. Before he left -- intending to return -- he had written a novel about jazz and dope -- "not an autobiography," he says, "but personal experience. Jack Gelbert, a college buddy who's still a friend, hit it bigger with his version, Connection."
Today Rose writes criticism of restaurants, music and literature, and political columns for the Sun- Times, the Chicago Reader, the Citizen chain and Chicago magazine. "I miss the thrust toward purely creative work, fiction stories, and keep wanting to go back, but I've not been so moved," he says. "So I can only assume the urges are not as persistent as I might like them to be. We all do what we want, really."
After his "not particularly enthralling 50's," and "do-gooder" 60's, Rose's 70's have been spent in what an admirer describes as "being on his own, but being in the right places to make people listen." From running an industrial film corporation for buyers and sellers, he turned his persuasive powers to elective politics, managing campaigns for people like Republican State's Atty. Bernard Carey, and the late U.S. Rep. Ralph H. Metcalfe(D., 111.), the popular black politician. In knowledgeable circles, Rose has earned a reputation as a Chicago-style Lone Ranger, on the scene when the cause is right and gone when the work is done.
From the 50's public housing riots to Byrne's campaign, the machine has, like Sherlock Holmes' archenemy Moriarty, been the energy of Rose's opposition. In '77, after Daley's death, both Republican and Communist slatemakers sought Rose for their mayoral candidate. He turned down both ends of the spectrum, choosing more circumspect politicking and later, Jane Byrne. "Election night was worth all the sneers," he says. His biggest thrill was seeing all those Bilandic people coming up to shake his hand.
Chicago has shaped Rose -- more than Paris or New York where he fled as a young artist. But it has not homogenized him into a classic Chicagoan, only left him aware of what he is: "part of a pattern of rising middle-class Jewish families." If, as some have said, "Chicago is reality," Don Rose may be nothing newer than a modern dress Ben Franklin. If so, ideological opposites like idealism and pragmatism are the warp and woof of a new pattern of efficiency for the city that works. "You've got to make a distinction," Rose demands, "between a Chicago politician and a person in politics in Chicago. There's been a reform movement as long as there's been a city." Now Rose is shaping Chicago.
Perhaps reforming Chicago. While still a teenager in West Rogers Park, he worked the streets for the Progressive Citizens of Chicago, a 1940's antimachine group. Ever since, he's been growing movements from seed in the name of ideals. His was part of the savvy that made the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations' schools boycott of the early sixties work. And part of the energy that organized and sent Chicago marchers to Washington, D.C., in '63. "When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was planning his move north from Birmingham," Rose remembers, "he was so impressed with what we --coalitions of civil rights, labor, religious, interracial and do-gooder types -- were doing here that he made Chicago the seat of his northern campaign. I became press secretary of the Chicago Freedom Movement, his operation here." Rose has played harmonies with the age's heroes. When the Chicago police went wild during the Democratic Naitonal Convention in August of '68, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam chanted words of Rose, the "Mobe's" press secretary: "The whole world is watching."
Despite Rose's creativity and his ability to turn a phrase, however, Byrne's post-election pronouncements have been as larded with platitudes as any other politician's. "We want people as partners in the business of government," she said the April night she was sworn in. But Rose insists there's more to Byrne than the typical tailored facade.
"People do not create other people," he says. "This is no Nixon package job. The people close to her helped her formulate how best to present what she had to say, but Jane has never uttered a word false to herself. What you see is 99 percent Byrne. People urged her to run, but she was essentially self-selected. It was 90 percent her own effort, her own belief.
"Jane learned politics and government from Daley, but all that's not sacrosanct. She has the insider's insight into right and wrong. Like she said,
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'everything's going to be reviewed.' She's going to open government to a wide variety of views, and to public debate rather than backroom decision-making."
In Rose's description, Byrne emerges as a manager and reformer rather than a monolithic leader. "Dishonesty will no longer be tolerated because of both the quality and watchfulness of her leaders. She is a firm taskmaster, and she will be a vigorous leader, not one who delegates and walks away. Governing this city is an absolutely monstrous undertaking. But she is genuinely dedicated and she has enough talent. She's going to try."
Whether Byrne's ascendency is a revolution or an evolution will be determined by how she assembles the parts of her machine. Her turning over patronage to the Cook County Democratic organization was the olive branch that engendered wide party support --support that has already soured the enthusiasm of some early independent and black allies.
Some analysts see the machine breaking down with loss of jobs, its historic oil. Byrne has promised collective bargaining contracts for city workers and elimination of "sweetheart" consulting contracts. "That means a loss of jobs and patronage, and that's the most significant thing," Rose says.
Others, however, see different meanings in Byrne's surprising victory. "Jane Byrne's election was a revolution," agrees Springfield attorney Mary Lee Leahy, a Dan Walker appointee to two state agency directorships and Daley's victorious opponent in the 1972 Democratic National Convention seating battle. But Leahy's perspective is different from Rose's. All the signs showed that Bilandic was crumbling, Leahy believes. "But to a woman! Coming from an Irish Catholic, Democratic Chicago background," says Leahy, "I can tell you there were no women in the Democratic party political structure when Byrne was appointed by Daley. He had to do it. One of the reasons his delegation was not seated was that no steps had been taken to open political structures to women. Those guys used to hold their meetings in the men's toilet to avoid letting women in. They are sure as hell going to have to make some accommodations now."
For Rose that fact that Byrne is a woman is "irrelevant." Says he: "I cannot really tell you what inherently makes her different from a man of the same capabilities. Will I know you're a woman when I read what you've written? I didn't say this, but a gag floating around city hall has it that 'Chicago likes balls, and she had more than Bilandic.'
"I'm a believer in historical forces," says Rose, "but history can be a game of 'what if?' Would you have the same outcome if there had been a different set of circumstances? All those who ran before could have done it. But Jane's not some hypothetical 'only' or any person. She offered special qualities. And she just kept going and going when people laughed at her or ignored her. Another part of her success is that the machine did not perceive her as a sufficient threat to try to seriously undercut her.
"Her victory is a whole complex constellation of everything working together. For example, we gave ourselves two days to shoot three TV commercials. I wanted light snow, but I was prepared to throw Ivory Flakes at her if I had to. Instead we got light snow both days. And the writing came easy for me this time, not like burning up twenty-five pieces of paper. It all jelled well. Two days shooting and one day editing.
"Of course all that might have been different. You make your own luck."
The phone rings.
"Yes," he answers, "there is going to be a Polish community representative. [Louis H.] Masotti [Northwestern University professor and director of Byrne's transition committee, which was dissolved on April 26] was very specific about that. Don't you read the papers?
"It's just straightforward good government, that's what I always say," Rose concludes, as the time for reflection runs out, and the campaign runs on. When the phone rings again, it is a distressed campaign worker, confessing a blunder. The background comes together. The filmmaker and the politico speak in one person. This is the advice Don Rose, queenmaker for Chicago, has to give:
"Do you remember the line in Casablanca? Claude Rains says to Bogart, 'Why did you come to Casablanca?' 'I came here for my health, I came here for the waters.' 'There are no waters in Casablanca,' Rains says. Answers Bogart: 'I was misinformed.'"
Sandra Martin, a poet and writer, is a faculty member at Sangamon State University, Springfield.
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