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I get letters

Monday, Jul 14, 2014

* From a reader…

Considering that I depend on you being the most reliable and dependable source for anything political in Illinois, I seldom have reason to criticize your blog ( often I find the comments as interesting and telling as the article itself ), however, I must comment on an omission.

Southern Illinois has lost two giants in the past days - Al “The Pal” Dixon and Ken “Pass the Pork” Gray. I’m 65 years old and knew both men, albeit not as well as the late Paul Simon ( he and my parents grew up together ). I believe I remember seeing mention of Dixon’s death and some tributes, but have seen nothing yet about Ken Gray. Love him or hate him he was a unique, genuine, flamboyant and passionate individual who did much for his constituents and his district. I’m certain that many will have pointed and interesting comments about his years in congress and his contribution to my part of the State.

Thank you.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

34 Comments
  1. - Ray del Camino - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 2:54 pm:

    If it weren’t for Kenny Gray, and then Jerry Costello, there’d hardly be any pavement in Southern Illinois. “Pork” is how poor areas get a piece of the pie. God bless Kenny Gray, and godspeed sen. Dixon.


  2. - Tommydanger - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 2:56 pm:

    As for Alan Dixon, I have seen many a Democrat stump speech in my day and Dixon’s was among the best. When he finished you wanted to go right out and start knocking on doors. Like too many other things these days, they just don’t make em like that anymore. Rest in peace Senator Dixon.


  3. - Chi - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 2:58 pm:

    I’d never heard of Ken Gray, but a quick perusal of his Wikipedia page makes me think I missed out on knowing quite a character. Godspeed.


  4. - Wumpus - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 2:58 pm:

    With those nicknames, they must have been something special.


  5. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:03 pm:

    I don’t like butt-kissers, but I fully agree with this gentleman’s first paragraph. By the way, I’m referring to my butt-kissing here, not the gentleman’s. You are the best, fairest, smartest political observer in the blog world. I don’t drink but if I did right about now I’d be mentioning where I just happen to do my drinking. Free is always best, don’t you think?


  6. - Nieva - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:04 pm:

    Grey was good for the south but he was also good for himself. Grey Plaza Motels up and down I57.


  7. - Old Shepherd - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    For those of us who grew up in Southern Illinois, Ken Grey was a true legend. With his showmanship, flamboyant dress and hair, and unique style, he was a true celebrity. Love him or hate him, one cannot argue with the results of his efforts. One also cannot argue that he walked among giants such as Kennedy and Johnson. He is part of a bygone era, and we in Southern Illinois are grateful for the life he led and what he was able to do for us.


  8. - The Prince - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    I was wondering why Ken Gray’s death did not lead off this morning (or even appear over the weekend.)


  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:14 pm:

    Dixon did have a whale of a stump speech. You could tell he really loved politics, and you never really heard a bad word about him until Al Hofeld came around.

    Didn’t Kenny Gray pop up recently saying that JFK wanted him to run for president in ‘68? Wonder if LBJ and Bobby knew.


  10. - 47th Ward - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:17 pm:

    ===Didn’t Kenny Gray pop up recently saying that JFK wanted him to run for president in ‘68?===

    No, I’m pretty sure that was Phil Spector.


  11. - Under Further Review - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:26 pm:

    Al Dixon was a centrist. If there were more candidates like him, the partisan divide would be much less hostile. I am afraid that Dixon would not be acceptable to many of the Democratic Party leaders today.


  12. - Jak Tichenor - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:34 pm:

    Ken Gray earned the title the “Prince of Pork” by managing to get seven billion dollars worth of federal public works projects located in his Southern Illinois Congressional District in 24-years on Capitol Hill. He said “if building housing, if building roads, if building schools and post offices, and bringing back some of the tax money you sent to Washington is pork, then pass me the plate.”

    I once ran into him by chance on the Mall in Washington one Saturday afternoon. He was wearing white shoes, white pants, a white shirt, and a white Skoal Bandit sun visor. He never missed a beat and said “Hello, Tiger” which is how he greeted any male reporter who covered his beat. Covering his political events was like covering a tent tent rival…all that was lacking was the altar call. Rest in Peace, Congressman. You were one of a kind.


  13. - downstate demo - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:36 pm:

    Dixon was a real political person who could communicate with anyone. A real gentleman.
    Ken Gray was gospel singing, true southern pol like Huey Long.One wonders where Kenny came up with story about replacing JFK in 1968. Southern Illinois loved Kenny. One has to believe that Alan Dixon was the best at what he did best being Al the Pal.


  14. - SilverStreak - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:44 pm:

    Ken Gray didn’t know me from Adam in 1963. I was a college kid walking the halls of Congress (which we could do those days)looking for a summer job in Washington. I wasn’t a constituent or a donor, just a kid from rural Illinois. He saw me in the hall, and said Hey, who are you and where are you from? He invited me into his office, picked up a phone, put it down and said go see Mr. X at the Dept. of Y right now. And, I had a good and substantive job, with a real paycheck, for one of the most memorable summers Washington has ever seen. Ken Gray was a kind and generous man.


  15. - Steve Brown - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:46 pm:

    Both men were legendary. I recall a Ken Gray’s TV commercial from the ’70s when I was at SIU. He had a map of his district with lites that went on for each project during his tenure. Map looked like Christmas when he was done.
    I covered Senator Dixon and sought his advice after I went to work for the city and state. Always solid thinking. Always top notch staff.
    Had he pushed back against Richard J. he would have beat JRT. That probably meant no Edgar either. Had he mended fences a little after Clarence Thomas he would have been reelected.
    He did what he thought was right. Even if you disagreed you could not question Alan’s reasoning.
    The number of folks he helped could be a million + . I am happy to have known Alan. I am sure his family will always cherish his work for so many.


  16. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:55 pm:

    –Had he pushed back against Richard J. he would have beat JRT. That probably meant no Edgar either. Had he mended fences a little after Clarence Thomas he would have been reelected.–

    Steve, those are interesting “what ifs.”

    I used to have a “Dixon for Governor” button somewhere. He was ready to go in ‘76 — and Daley was gone before the year was out.

    He could have walked on the Thomas vote, too. It wasn’t needed. The Bush political crew should have released him from his pledge.


  17. - Anon - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:56 pm:

    Today’s holier-than-thou reporters, who use such a flexible definition of corruption, disapprove of pols who do favors and who bring home the pork. This inability to distinguish criminal corruption from politics as usual is a reason the public is so cynical about politicians in general.


  18. - Fan of Cap Fax - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 3:56 pm:

    There was nothing like seeing Ken Gray in his golf cart riding around the DuQuoin State Fair. He knew everyone and everyone wanted to shake his hand. What a guy! I was fortunate enough to visit his place in Florida, right after I moved to Atlanta, GA. Before I left he picked up the phone and called Mayor Andrew Young and told him to make sure Atlanta treated me right. And it did. Heaven must be hopping since Ken got there! There’ll never be another Ken Gray!


  19. - ??? - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 4:10 pm:

    SilverStreak, that’s a great story!


  20. - Arizona Bob - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 4:13 pm:

    Both men will be sorely missed. With those two politicking for us up in heaven, look for cooler summers and warmer winters.

    If, by some chance, they wound up in those infernal furnaces down below, look for a deal between the Devil and the Southern Illinois coal producers to keep those furnaces stoked!LOL


  21. - Joe Schmoe - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 4:42 pm:

    As a reporter in the 70’s and early 80’s Kenny Gray and Al Dixon were always guaranteed to be great interviews. I respected both of them for what they stood for. Like others have said, they weren’t homogenized like today’s politicians but they sure came through for their constituents.


  22. - steve schnorf - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 4:58 pm:

    Anon 3:56–Well said!


  23. - Under Further Review - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 5:05 pm:

    Al Hofeld demolished Dixon in the weeks leading up to the primary and Carol Moseley Braun wound up with the nomination by a plurality. Hofeld finished third.

    Carol Moseley Braun was one and done as a US Senator. I cannot think of anything significant connected with her one term.

    Illinois lost big time when Dixon left office.


  24. - justbabs - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 5:05 pm:

    When I met Kenny Gray in the 80’s, he introduced himself to me as the “Prince of Pork.” No one else looked like him or dressed like him in DC. You could always pick him out of a crowd, but he usually picked you out first. He was an original.


  25. - Under Further Review - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 5:14 pm:

    Southern Illinois must have had a powerful one, two punch when both Mel Price and Ken Gray were in office. Price had a reputation for bringing home big dollars to his district also.


  26. - Jim Muir - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 5:19 pm:

    I grew up hearing stories about Kenny Gray and all he did for Southern Illinois. A couple of true stories are worth repeating. A young man was thinking about running for office and sought Gray’s advice. Gray told him he thought he would be great for the office he was seeking. Gray ended the conversation by telling the young man: ‘I hope you win … and I can be for you or against you … whichever one will help you the most.’ Another time he offered this sage advice to a young man running for office: ‘When you’re campaigning the only person you can believe for sure is the guy who looks you square in the eye and says ‘hell no I won’t vote for you.’ He was a true legend in Southern Illinois. RIP Congressman Gray.


  27. - Fayette County - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 5:35 pm:

    Ken Gray was the first Congressman I was able to vote for in the early 80s. I remember my dad telling me to be sure and vote for the Prince of Pork so Southern Illinois would get something back from DC. I met him once and he made an impression that definitely stayed with me. Dixon was always one of my favorite politicians. A middle of the road guy who was quite a speaker on the stump. It was a loss to not just Illinois but the country when he lost the Senate race. More men and women like him in Congress today would benefit all of us rather we are Democrats or Republicans.


  28. - x ace - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 6:06 pm:

    Upon being introduced , I said : ” It’s a pleasure to meet the Legendary Kenny Gray”

    He laughed and said : “Yeah, I started the Legend Stuff Myself”


  29. - dr. reason a. goodwin - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 9:02 pm:

    Kenny once gave me a private tour of the Capitol Building. He told me several stories that I’m sure weren’t on the official tour. He was one of a kind and relentless booster of his district.

    I wish we had a few Dixons in the Senate now. He perfected the art of governing by cooperation and compromise.

    I enjoyed covering and knowing them both.


  30. - Johninchicago - Monday, Jul 14, 14 @ 10:16 pm:

    Senator Dixon was a true statesman and a gentleman. Sadly we don’t seem to have men like him in govermenmt anymore.


  31. - WootBaseball - Tuesday, Jul 15, 14 @ 12:53 am:

    Dr. Goodwin, you were great on Password with Allen Ludden.


  32. - vole - Tuesday, Jul 15, 14 @ 5:52 am:

    The Kaskaskia barge canal, one of Gray’s accomplishments, remains one of IL’ greatest ecological catastrophes.


  33. - kimocat - Tuesday, Jul 15, 14 @ 9:35 am:

    I had dealings with Ken Gray on a number of occasions. In addition to his “pork loving activities”, he also “expressed” a fondness for the ladies that would be interpreted today as exceeding appropriate behavior. And there was no shortage of cleavage in his D.C. office.


  34. - Northern Light - Wednesday, Jul 16, 14 @ 1:25 am:

    Kenny Gray was one of a kind. He was great for southern Illinois and a character like Huey Long. I had braces on my teeth and he was flirting with me upon meeting me while I was at SIU Carbondale. I will never forget him telling me that “he saw lightening bolts coming off my braces” (I was so hot). I just laughed…who couldn’t? He was a TRIP. Rest in peace good gent.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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