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Brand names and Chicago families

Thursday, Dec 21, 2006

We know this situation all too well, but the AP has a story about Chicago nepotism today.

Chicago politics seems to practice the royal form of succession.

“It’s our political culture,” said University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson. […]

Politics as the family business doesn’t just happen in Chicago. On the national scene there are the Kennedys and the Bushes. Tennessee has the Fords, Indiana the Bayhs, and Minnesota the Humphreys.

Simpson said the practice of appointing relatives to political posts can deny the voters their right to choose the best candidate.

Names are like brands, so voters see, for instance, “Lipinski” on the ballot and they go with the brand they’ve trusted for years. I really don’t see much of a way to stop this until the people catch on. Suggestions?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Leroy - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:25 am:


    Start referring to politicians as ‘the ruling class’

  2. - sam - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:27 am:

    Is that Dick Simpson, son of Richard Simpson, of the legacy Simpsons at the University of Illinois?



  3. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:28 am:

    Term Limits.

  4. - jerry - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:31 am:

    I’m not sure what you can do to stop it, short of someone being a disaster of George Bush proportions. Georgie has pretty much ended Jeb’s hopes of being Prez.

    Chicago’s (and Illinois’) history of legacies is so long, I don’t have a clue on how to break it. Before the Daley’s, there were the Harrison’s. Carter Henry Harrison, Carter Henry Harrison II. Each of them were mayor for about 10 years each, this being when a mayoral term was only 2 years.

  5. - Fellow Dawg - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:36 am:

    It’s real simple: get informed and get involved. No more no less. But as we learned in PoliSci 101, that ain’t gonna happen in the near future. The electorate is too lazy and short-sighted to think for themselves. Not to mention the major media outlets are in indentured servitude to those in power for access and to provide the masses pre-digested pap and sound bites. All in the name of advertising revenue. I can only hope current National crises (Iraq, National debt, constitution, and many many more) we are facing will bring some minds into focus. Not likely, but…

  6. - Pat Hickey - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 9:46 am:

    By Gads, the Don has hit it again - Daley =Chicago Mayor/Lipinski=Congressman/Simpson =hilarious bald guy! He makes teaching look like the breeze thjat it is!: DOOH!

  7. - Lola - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:00 am:

    Can you say 3 generations of Jacobs in the Quad Cities?

  8. - Dooley Dudright - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:04 am:

    In their neverending effort to screw the figurative election law lid on so tightly that they end up breaking the friggin’ jar (e.g., the recent federal court decision declaring that Illinois ballot access laws for independent candidates for the General Assembly are so onerous as to be unconstitutional), our distinguished legislators are at it again.

    Consider this synopsis of HB4173: “Amends the Election Code. Requires that if a candidate has changed his or her name during the 3 years before the deadline for filing nominating petitions, papers, or certificates, the candidate’s name on his or her nominating petition, papers, or certificate and the ballot must include a reference to his or her former name or names and the date or dates of the name changes. Excludes certain name changes due to adoption or a change in marital status.” (See amendments, etc. at this link:

    So — I’m sitting here wondering. Is this just an overly clever way of boobytrapping anyone who gets the cute idea of crashing the dynasty name game party and getting elected by legally changing their name? Something politically innocuous like, oh, I dunno, Daley, or Stroger, or Jackson, or Beavers, or Lincoln, or Reagan, or Umholtz, or something?

  9. - decaturboy - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:11 am:

    Tangneys of Macon County

  10. - It's 5 O'clock somewhere - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:39 am:

    When an elected official resigns, the position must be filled with a special election held with in 60 days. Stop the practice of appointing.

  11. - Cornelius - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:44 am:


    correct me if I’m wrong, but its the same Simpson.

  12. - Snark - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:45 am:

    Name your kid Jefferson Kennedy.

  13. - Reddbyrd - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:46 am:

    Perhaps it might be good to interject the whether any of this is really bad.
    Perhaps one could expect “distinguished” university professor to make a more informed comment on that point. But alas we know better.

    We might also expect more from the AP but alas, I am sure they can claim the editors cut all the stuff that made sense out of the story.
    P.S. I am pretty sure TN would prefer to offer the Gore’s as their dynasty family.
    Happy Holidays :)

  14. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:46 am:


    It’s probably in reaction to the lady who changed her name to Carol Mosely Braun in order to run for alderman.

    I don’t see where this is a problem as long as people don’t game the system by doing endruns around the electorate (i.e. skipping a primary or an election all together). The electorate still has the right not to select them or to kick them out down the road. The electorate is not a bunch of empty-brained, lazy, attention-scrambled lemmings who will blindly follow anybody.

  15. - Leroy - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 11:35 am:

    “The electorate is not a bunch of empty-brained, lazy, attention-scrambled lemmings who will blindly follow anybody.”

    No..they are a bunch of people on the take who fear losing their cush jobs/contracts/power and are mortified at the thought of change.

    They are also very easily bribed with their own money.

  16. - Bubs - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 11:37 am:

    They’re not? Could have fooled me . . .

  17. - Snidely Whiplash - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 11:43 am:

    Illegalize appointments (special elections for all replacements) and impose strict term limits. Hey, they’ve gotta run out’ve relatives eventually, don’t they?

  18. - Justice - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 12:15 pm:

    The new generation is simply not indebted to voting, nor are they particularly interested. Apathy has set in hard. In our last election Blogo won by less than 25% of those eligible vote. Pathetic showing. Short of “Bombs Bursting in Air” over a highly populated area as a wakeup call, or states declaring bankruptcy, or gaming devices being censored, it not likely that our eligible voting population will do anything. Perhaps the draft will remind folks that freedom isn’t free. As far as the “repeats” in office, we need a reforms of the campaign funding and spending process. Also a restriction on negative ads against opponents. Yeah, and strict term limits!!

  19. - grand old partisan - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 12:36 pm:

    We can’t do much about the advantage a famous name gives you in a popular election, but we can do something about what’s been going on in Cook County and Chicago for the past few years.

    How about a law stating that appointees to vacancies (Steele, Beavers) are not allowed to run for a full term in the election immediately following their appointment? The advantages of incumbency are undeniable, and it only seems fair to not bestow them upon people who have not previously stood for election for that post. They would be eligible to run in subsequent elections, however.

    The ol’ primary-general switcheroo (Lipinski, Stoger) is a tougher. Granted, it’s theoretically not quite as outrageous, because the scion does have to stand for election before ascending to office, but in places where the Democratic Primary is essentially the election, it’s effectively no different. But here’s a off-the-top-of-my-head brainstorm: mandate that the person who placed second in the primary to be the nominee.

  20. - Beowulf - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 12:39 pm:

    Actually, I don’t see anything wrong with a politician’s family members “choosing to run” for political office. Just as long as it is done in a fair and equitable way and, it allows the public to vote on whether they get a political or governmental job or position. The method that was used to freeze out other possible political challengers in order to get Todd Stroger elected was blatant, outrageous, and should have been illegal. That represented politics at it’s worst.

    I don’t think politicians should be able to “appoint” family members to public office or governmental positions. There should be a law drawn up by one of our state legislative representatives to prohibit this from happening again in the future. The Bobby Steele appointment of her son was outrageous. Her defense of her outrageous actions was that “it was not illegal”. Obviously, she did not want to try and make the case that it was also ethical and moral or Ms. Steele would have fallen flat on her face.

    Here is to the hope that some politician will have the integrity and the necessary testicular courage that will be required to get the job done will enact a state law that will prevent future government officials from being able to appoint family members to serve in a political or governmental position. Only through the election process, should family members be able to hold any political office.

  21. - ZC - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 12:52 pm:

    There are a lot of problems with this trend. I also have concerns, especially the declining importance of primaries noted above. That said … it’s not ALL bad. To play Devil’s Advocate:

    * Children who learn at their parents’ knee how to play the political game may come in with a pampered sense of entitlement. But they also might come in as experienced pols who by and large do a good job and know how to get things done. See Mayor Daley.

    * If voters will vote for you out of loyalty to your family, that’s at least a fairly no-strings-attached pledge of confidence. It may mean less promises to particular special interests that a pol needs to make in order to get elected.

    * Democrats might especially benefit from dynasties because in the absence of these brands, it’s not always going to be the best candidate who wins. It will often be the one who can spend the most money on advertisements to promote name recognition. That’s going to tend to favor Republicans, who in a non-incumbent situation generally have the deeper pockets. A Democrat with a respected name doesn’t have to spend _quite_ as much time grubbing for cash with the Deep Pockets.

    * Obviously without a revered name, you can still climb far in Illinois politics. Two words: Blagojevich and Obama. (and yeah, I know, Dick Mell, but whatever else to say about Rod, I don’t think “He was handed the governorship by his dad” applies. If Rod worked half as hard running the state as he works running for office …)

  22. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 2:53 pm:

    We talk about this a lot. This has always been the case. Voters are not stupid, so lets stop calling ourselves stupid, OK?

    We have to trust our elected officials, yet we don’t usually know them. It isn’t preposterous to trust a family that has a proven record of leadership. It is completely normal.

    As to the comment that Democrats benefit from this, this is true, since we have just come off over 60 years of Democratic rule - so you can’t pass down an office if you are not already in it. Nepotism always favors the party in power, right?

    And Blagojevich wouldn’t be anything but just another lawyer without his father in law. Mell made Blagojevich. Blagojevich “hung around” the Vrydolyak kids until Fast Eddie crashed, then reappeared courting Mell’s daughter. Obviously he would agree that family connections and nepotism works - he is living proof.

  23. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 3:37 pm:

    I find it interesting that those who push term limits are almost always people who don’t like the choices the electorate has made.

    I like the idea of a special election for all vacancies, that would eliminate the endruns. Not sure what to do about the primary thing the Lipinskis did. Maybe open the general election for that seat up to be a open election with anyone who can gather a few sigs up on the general ballot. That’d make it more of a crapshoot than a sure gain and thereby make it less attractive.

  24. - The Royals speak... - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 3:47 pm:

    Noblesse oblige - they think they are doing we little people a favor by their political fecundity.

  25. - Bill - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 4:41 pm:

    I think Dick Simpson is Homer’s father.

  26. - Team Sleep - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 4:47 pm:

    No, term limits are the answer. Irregardless of which party is in power, decades of one family lording over an area is offensive and unfair to the electorate. The Jacobs in the Quad Cities, the Phelps in the Ohio River region, the Daleys in Chicago…this has to stop. The next “wave” are the Demuzios, the Simons and the Lipinskis.

    Also, I agree with everyone who states that the “nomination process” needs to change. In fact, what nominations actually take place? Everything is pre-determined - perhaps years in advance - and voters never really get to add their two cents.

    Then again, with the way voters and groups behave in Illinois, I have no hope for the next several years. We are doomed on an electoral and legislative level.

  27. - Max Maxwell - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 6:18 pm:

    If someone stands for election and wins, good for them. People have had plenty of opportunities to vote Richie Daley out of office, for example. Pops has been dead for 30 years now. Lisa Madigan proved to be an able AG and was re-elected by a huge margin. And who knows- perhaps even Lipinski the Younger will prove to be a C-average congressman.

    The real problem is the placing of someone in a job after their relative resigns. That just plain stinks. The recent situation in Cook County with “President” Steele is offensive to all, excluding those who benefit directly. The Todd Stroger situation is kind of a mix, since he was elected, but the fact that he dodged the primary also smells quite bad.

    Term limits are a terrible idea- just ask Californians. Good elected officials are hard to come by- so why get rid of them arbitrarily?

  28. - Reddbyrd - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 7:55 pm:

    Team Sleep
    Like the rest of the posters, you true fail to point what Bad has happened. The next decade or so should be some of Illinois’ best.
    Joining the ranks will be Sheila Simon and perhaps one of Speaker Madigan’s other adult children.
    Merry Christmas!

  29. - Squideshi - Thursday, Dec 21, 06 @ 10:28 pm:

    There’s an easy way to address this problem. Implement Proportional Representation (i.e. 75% of the vote in a 4 seat district earns a party 3 seats.) Have people vote for parties (i.e. platforms and policies) rather than personalities. This would also prevent people from simply voting for the best-looking candidate.

  30. - Tom - Friday, Dec 22, 06 @ 12:53 am:

    And I think Dick Mell is Public Official A’s father-in-law. Come on Bill, if you’re going to be clever try harder.

  31. - Loyal Whig - Friday, Dec 22, 06 @ 1:13 am:

    I propose the King George the third amendment. All elected offices become hereditary. Save a lot of money on elections. Bring back the seventeenth century.

  32. - Milorad - Friday, Dec 22, 06 @ 8:28 am:

    Kinda like that Stroger Jr. fella. He’s commandeered himself an elevator. Why don’t these offspring get themselves real jobs. They seem to think they are royalty.

  33. - jack spratt - Wednesday, Dec 27, 06 @ 12:01 am:

    Team Sleep:
    I agree with you the nomination process has to change. The people need to get their own candidates up there, not just the hand picked candidates of the political class. Our government has become a spoils system.
    They did something like this in PA this year. Put a help wanted for legislator out on the internet and elected more than a few people who start this next year. PA Cleansweep is the outfit I believe.*

  34. - jack sprattt - Wednesday, Dec 27, 06 @ 12:08 pm:

    Team Sleep:
    I concur about the nomination process. The political class is out of hand. They treat our government like a spoils system. Someone in PA had the right idea. They put out a help wanted sign for legislator on the internet and got a dozen or so people elected independently to the PA legislature this year. I think they take office next month. I believe the name of the group was PA Cleansweep. This may be the way to go. After all, everything is being challenged, why not politics as usual? Happy New Year.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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