Tuesday, June 22, 2010



As I indicated on the next, or last, depending on your perspective, post, below is a segment from my upcoming sequel to The Chairman, entitled The Chairman’s Challenge, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics.

Pete Sullivan is a bright young kid from the suburbs who went to law school with aspirations of a career not in the Machine politics of his uncle, which he so disdains, but, rather, in politics on a national level, in statesmanship, if you will. When things don’t turn out to be the bed of roses he anticipated, he accepts the help offered by his uncle, Fred Carey, a precinct captain in Pat Donahue’s 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and finds himself first clerking for a judge and then in a position for which Chairman Eamon DeValera Collins thought the young man supremely qualified.

Enjoy the beginning of the fifth chapter of The Chairman, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics. You will be among the first to know when the book it is available. The Chairman, A Novel of Big City Politics is, of course, currently available at Anderson’s in Naperville, Bookie’s in West Beverly, other independent book stores throughout Chicagoland, Amazon.com, theirishbookclub.com, and, by order, anywhere books are sold:


Pete Sullivan had graduated from law school only four years earlier. Like many of his fellow law students, he had his plans, or at least wishes that he had convinced himself were plans, and the law was at best ancillary to those plans. He would clerk for a federal judge for a few years and then go to work for a big law firm, hopefully having avoided most of the scut work demanded of new associates. He’d make the right contacts, schmooze the right bigwigs, and, after a few years at the firm, he would run for office.
Pete’s uncle, Fred Carey was an old time precinct captain in Pat Donahue’s 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, a vital cog in the workings of a key ward for the County Democratic Organization. Having made his living doing favors for people, and being especially fond of his bright young nephew, Carey stood ready to do what he could to help Pete realize his dreams, and never hesitated to tell Pete that he could always count on Uncle Fred. However, political machines, both in Pete’s mind and in those of most people in the upper class suburb in which he grew up and in the elite college and Ivy League law school he attended, were an anachronistic blight on democracy. The Machine of which his uncle was a part was the target of particularly vitriolic derision, perhaps because it was so effective and showed so much staying power. Though Pete didn’t like to think of his uncle as a Machine hack, he could only kid himself so much; he knew what Uncle Fred was and secretly disdained him for it. However, when Pete’s third year of law school was drawing to a close and no clerkship had been offered him, he was not at all ashamed about finally taking up his uncle on his offer of help. A week after graduating, Pete was working for Judge Arthur O’Donovan, a night school grad who had attained his seat on the federal bench by doing precinct work in the powerful 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.
The clerkship went well enough, but after two years it was time for step two. Letters of recommendation from Judge O’Donovan and Mayor Eamon DeValera Collins, whom Pete had met only twice, made his interview with the city’s largest law firm a formality. He was quickly hired as an associate. Pete had convinced himself, on little evidence, that, because of his clerkship, he wouldn’t have to go through the long hours and endless tedium that was expected of new associates. He was wrong. His job consisted of twelve to fourteen hour days, six or seven of them a week, doing stultifying research on arcane points of contract law. This wasn’t what Pete had in mind when he decided to go to law school.
Uncle Fred had heard about Pete’s unhappiness. There wasn’t much that Fred Carey didn’t hear about, or that Pete kept to himself. Having been around city politics his whole life, Fred Carey never missed an opportunity to do someone a favor, especially one that would have to be returned, knowingly or otherwise. He asked his nephew to lunch. Sensing the chance to escape his now dreary lot in life for an hour or so, or perhaps more permanently, Pete accepted with enthusiasm. They met at a deli just far enough away from Pete’s downtown office to allow unfettered conversation. After exchanging pleasantries, Fred got right to the point. “Pete, I understand you’re not happy at the firm, and the Mayor…”
Never having gotten over his youthful habit of responding when silence would have served him better, Pete said quickly “I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed the Mayor after he stuck his neck out for me.”
Fred leaned back and chuckled in his avuncular way. “No, Pete, that’s not it. What I was going to say is that the Mayor has been following your career. He’s impressed.”
Pete was startled. “He is?”
“Yeah, Pete. Ever since he met you, he’s liked you. He asks about you.”
“He does?”
“Yeah, he’s got an eye for young talent. If you’re unhappy and want to make a change, maybe you should sit down with the Mayor and talk about maybe doing something for the city.”
Pete was immediately elated, but then his idealism tugged at him as if it were a conscience. “That would be nice, Uncle Fred, but…”
“Pete, first, I’m ‘Fred’ now. Second, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to get involved with the political organization in this town. You think politics should be about something nobler. I’m not of the same opinion…”
“It’s not like that…”
“Don’t try to be nice, Pete; let me finish. I’ve been involved in politics my whole life and I think there’s nothing more noble than helping my neighbors, which is what I do. But I know things are changing, and so does the Mayor. Despite what you might think, the Mayor isn’t an old time Machine politician.”
“Oh, c’mon, Fred, I’m not naïve. He’s the head of the County Democratic Organization. He’s been in charge in the 15th Ward since I was a baby. Hell, he insists that people call him ‘Chairman.’ He’s a Machine guy. That’s why he’s Mayor.”
“Yeah, he’s got history…and he’s got smarts. He knows the old way of doing things is over. He’s from the Machine, but he’s no longer of the Machine. He’s trying to change things. He needs help, though. He needs smart, young, professional people to fill the big jobs to make the city work.”
The words “big jobs” were all Pete needed to hear to get over his hesitancy. “And so?”
“When can you sit down and talk with the Mayor?”

Pete met with Mayor Eamon DeValera Collins the next week in the Mayor’s palatial office on the 5th floor of City Hall. Pete was expecting a “getting to know you” chat. Instead, he was met by the Mayor and two other department heads, a man and a woman, both young and well educated, like Pete. There wasn’t an alderman or a political guy, other than the Mayor, in the room. It was all, to Pete’s mind, very professional, and not at all what he had expected. Within twenty minutes, the Mayor looked at his two department heads and asked “Well, what do you think? Do you think Pete’s the kind of guy we want for the job?”
“The job?” Pete thought. There had been no mention of any specific job. But he didn’t say anything.
Mike Adamski, the head of the Revenue Department and a Certified Public Accountant with a degree from the state university’s nationally recognized accounting department, didn’t hesitate. “Yes, Chairman…” He stopped himself. “…Mayor. I think Pete has what we’re looking for.”
Katherine Holloway, who headed the Human Relations Commission, and was a Wellesley graduate, chimed in. “Pete is the kind of guy, Mayor, that we need to head the Water Department. Our city is known for having the best drinking water in the country; we can’t leave this department in the hands of hacks and amateurs.”
Pete couldn’t contain himself. The idea of working with plumbing didn’t appeal to him, but he realized how big the prize was that was being offered him. “The Water Department! I would be so honored to head the Water Department, Mr. Mayor…”
“Well, then, Pete, subject to a routine background check and, of course, City Council approval, the job is yours. And I wouldn’t worry too much about either.”
Pete was beginning to see the advantages of Mayor Collins’ approach to government. Within two weeks, Pete was the head of one of the city’s largest and most important departments.

Pete had scheduled an 8:00 meeting on his first day on the job with the deputy assistant director of the Water Department, Terry Olivi, namesake and son of the late Terry Olivi, a state senator and ward committeeman in the ‘40s and ‘50s and a close ally of the legendary Bill O’Malley. At 7:30, Olivi called Pete to tell him he couldn’t meet at 8:00 but could meet at 2:00. Not wanting to start off on the wrong foot with one of his key deputies, Pete decided not to make an issue of it and considered taking advantage of the delay by arranging a meeting with Kate O’Brien, Assistant Commissioner of the department and, according to the organization chart, Olivi’s boss. But Uncle Fred had told him that Terry was more of a hands-on guy, the guy to talk to to see how things were going out in the neighborhoods and on the intake cribs in the lake. According to Fred, Olivi was the operations guy; Kate was the political point person. So it made more sense to Pete to speak with Olivi before speaking with O’Brien. He therefore spent most of the first day reading and shaking hands with his new employees while waiting for Olivi. Olivi didn’t show up at 2:00. Pete had his secretary call, but Olivi was out of the office. He arrived at 3:00.
“Sorry, boss,” was Olivi’s greeting. Pete detected a hint of ridicule in the word “boss.”
“You were supposed to be here at 2:00, Terry.”
“I had some urgent business in the field.” Olivi’s cell phone rang. “Hold on a second.” Pete couldn’t believe it. Here was his employee meeting his boss for the first time and he answers his cell phone! Olivi’s conversation consisted of little more than a collection of “Yeah”s, followed by a string of profanity.
“Sorry. That was important.”
“This is more important. I’m your boss. We have a lot to do to get this department running right.”
“Yeah, I know.” The phone rang again. Olivi held up his index finger and answered the phone.
“Put the phone down, Olivi!”
Olivi put his hand over the phone, glared at Pete and asked with outright contempt “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m your boss!”
“You’re MY boss? I’ve been run…I’ve been in this department longer than you’ve been alive. Who’s your Chinaman?”
Pete was taken aback. “My Chinaman?”
“Yeah, your Chinaman. Your rabbi.”
“I don’t have a rabbi; I’m Catholic!”
“Your clout, you idiot. Who got you the job?”
Pete answered the question before he stopped to consider that his underling had just called him an idiot. “My uncle, Fred Carey…”
“Yeah, I know Fred. He works for me.”
“He works for you? He’s not in the Water Department.”
“Like I said, he works for me…sort of.”
“He only set up the interview; the Mayor hired me.”
“Oh, yeah, he…” Olivi stopped himself. “The Mayor’s a friend of mine. Don’t be naïve, kid. Just do whatever it takes to look good. I’ll run the Department, like I have for twenty years.”
“Out of my office! And maybe you should start getting your resume together.”
“I don’t need a resume, kid. I know people.”

Things didn’t improve from there. Pete tried to have Olivi fired with no success. When Pete tried to come up with plans to modernize and streamline the Water Department, he was stonewalled at every turn. Everyone he spoke with, if they said anything, told him to “talk to Terry about it.” When Pete tried to go to the Mayor, his calls weren’t returned. It was as if he wasn’t there. Why was the city not accessing the expertise for which they paid so much?

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