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Remembering the LaRouchies

Thursday, Feb 14, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Lyndon LaRouche is dead

His movement attracted national attention, especially in 1986, when two LaRouche followers, Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart, unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, respectively, in Illinois.

Adlai E. Stevenson III, the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois that year, was appalled. He denounced the LaRouche group as “neo-Nazis” and refused to run with Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart, organizing a third-party bid instead. He, as well as the LaRouche supporters, lost to James R. Thompson, the Republican incumbent.

Some voters said they had voted for Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart because they had been endorsed by Mr. LaRouche’s National Democratic Policy Committee, which they thought was affiliated with the mainstream Democratic Party..

That’s not how I remember it. Most people had no idea what the National Democratic Policy Committee was because it spent no money. The two LaRouche candidates had “safe” last names compared to the “etnik” names of the party’s slated candidates, who didn’t campaign all that much. The media barely covered the LaRouche candidates at all and there was some legit resentment about Democratic secretary of state candidate Aurelia Pucinski because of her father Ald. Roman Pucinski’s involvement with the city council’s fight against Mayor Harold Washington.

* Sun-Times

Hart upset Aurelia Pucinski in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, and Fairchild beat state Sen. George Sangmeister to become the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

Hart was the more vocal of the two, but Fairchild posed the bigger political problem, since he was instantly paired with the party’s gubernatorial nominee, Adlai Stevenson III. Back then, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran separately in the primary, but as a ticket in the general election.

The 1986 election was supposed to be a grudge match of sorts for Stevenson. Four years earlier, he lost to Republican Gov. Jim Thompson by a mere 5,074 votes — one of the closest statewide elections in Illinois history.

But in 1986, he suddenly found himself hobbled to Fairchild and Hart and facing certain defeat — and months of disavowing their beliefs. Instead, Stevenson bolted the ticket and created the new Solidarity Party for a one-time political run. That meant there would be no Democratic candidate for governor on the ballot, leaving the party doomed.

Thompson won the race for governor, pulling in 52.7 percent of the vote to Stevenson’s 40 percent. The Democratic slate with no candidate for governor garnered 6.6 percent.

LaRouche’s candidates spent much of that election traveling through Europe touting their guy’s conspiracy theories.

Those days were weird, man.


  1. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 9:54 am:

    I remember them at a candidate forum in the region. They were out there.

  2. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 9:57 am:

    Best part is, for the rest of us he is actually dead, but they can go on spouting theories that he isn’t if they want. Win win.

  3. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 9:58 am:

    What a great loss for….for…….

  4. - Jibba - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:01 am:

    Maybe also appropriate to specifically call out the integrity of Stevenson, who would rather lose an election honorably than win with the support of “neo-nazis”. Those were the days.

  5. - OneMan - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    A few years later I encountered Fairchild pushing the LaRouche stuff (and if I recall correctly, feeding a student’s seeing-eye dog some of his lunch which is a no no). When he said his name, I said “hey you are that guy who ran for Lt Governor” he didn’t seem to want to talk about it.

    A few years later we encountered LaRouche followers in Germany, surprised me quite a bit.

  6. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    –Some voters said they had voted for Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart because they had been endorsed by Mr. LaRouche’s National Democratic Policy Committee, which they thought was affiliated with the mainstream Democratic Party..–

    Out-of-town stupid. Nobody said that. Hart and Fairchild piled up votes Downstate and in the black community because their names weren’t so “Chicago ethnic” i.e. Vrdolyak 29.

    I covered that primary night in the city. The big races were supposed to be:

    –Seven special aldermanic contests, with the Vrodolyak 29/Washington 21 split in the balance.

    –GOP Senate primary between Judy Koehler/George Ranney.

    –Dem Illinois Treasurer primary among incumbent Jim Donnewald, Jerry Cosentino and Pat Quinn.

    Those weren’t the next-day ledes.

    I was bopping around campaign hqs all night (no cell phones). When news of the LaRouchie victories sank in, I was at Hartigan’s hq (Marty Oberman challenged him for AG).

    Hartigan laughed himself even redder in the face than usual at Adlai’s and Madigan’s FUBAR. I thought he was going to have the big gripper, he was laughing so hard and long.

    Previously, Adlai and Madigan had (again) chased him out of the governor primary. Serious, lifetime beef between Hartigan and Madigan.

  7. - Terry Salad - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    I remember that well. It was not confusion about the National Democratic Party endorsement. It was about ethnic sounding names on ballots.

  8. - Kurt Sangmeister - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:18 am:

    This brings up painful memories for me as I am George Sangmeister’s son.

    Rich’s recollection of events was largely accurate but I would strongly take issue with the notion that my Dad or Aurelia Pucinski didn’t campaign hard. I recall both being out at events every night knowing that this was going to be a bruising, tough campaign. At that time, the thinking was that the LaRouche candidates did not file enough valid signatures to be on the ballot. The decision was made ultimately not to challenge those petitions and just to leave those candidates on the ballot. Of course hindsight being 20/20 that was a huge mistake.

    During the time of council wars, much of Chicago was focused on the Mayoral races and City Council wars. Palm cards were distributed in many wards but did not contain my father’s name, the thinking being that he would easily trounce a fringe candidate. I do not recall whether Ms. Pucinski’s name was included on all the palm cards but I do know there was concern about backlash because of her father’s role in council wars at that time.

    Ultimately Adali and his advisors came to the conclusion to move to the Solidarity Party. My father and Ms. Pucinski were not able to run on that ticket and were replaced. My recollection is that Alan Dixon was the only Democrat who prevailed that year as he was able to remain on the ticket because he appeared above Stevenson on the ballot.

    Weird times indeed.

  9. - Henry Francis - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:20 am:

    Ahh the good ol days, where a leader spouting conspiracy theories and courting neo-nazis was considered fringe.

  10. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:24 am:

    The Times said the LaRouche organization announced that he died on Tuesday. It did not specify a cause.

    I sure hope Queen Elizabeth has a good alibi.

  11. - Paddyrollingstone - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    George Sangmeister was a friend of the family and all around great guy. I saw him at a party a couple weeks before the election and I remember being very excited for him as it looked like Stevenson was going to get revenge and win. Goethe rebounded nicely though, defeating Jack Davis to win the Joliet area congressional seat in 88.

  12. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:31 am:

    ===My recollection is that Alan Dixon was the only Democrat who prevailed that year===

    Yes, he beat Einar Dyrhkopp who was the Solidarity Party’s sacrificial lamb, oops, I mean candidate.

    Your dad was a good man Kurt.

  13. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    –I sure hope Queen Elizabeth has a good alibi.–

    And Henry Kissinger.

    The day after the primary, I went to a LaRouchie press conference at a house somewhere on the Northwest Side.

    They had hanging effigies of QEII and Kissinger in the room.

    Those cats were literally “wild-eyed,” especially Sheila Jones and Peter Hart. Crazy looks in their eyes, all the time. I don’t know if it was pharmaceuticals or brain-washing, but something was way off.

    For years, Peter Hart used to walk in front of the Wrigley Building wearing enormous sandwich boards filled with writing on their various conspiracies. He didn’t say anything, just walked back and forth on the sidewalk.

  14. - Peter Torque - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:41 am:

    True story: My grandfather voted for Janice Hart in the primary. When he heard her origin story afterward he said, “Oh hell, I thought she was related to Gary Hart.” God bless the American electorate.

  15. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    ===My recollection is that Alan Dixon was the only Democrat who prevailed that year===

    Yes, he beat Einar Dyrhkopp who was the Solidarity Party’s sacrificial lamb, oops, I mean candidate.–

    And Judy Koehler, the GOP nominee.

    But no, most other Dem candidates won statewide, too. Neil Hartigan was re-elected AG, Cosentino was elected Treasurer, and Burris was re-elected comptroller (I can’t remember who the GOP candidates were).

  16. - ChrisB - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:52 am:

    I had to deal with his disciples when I worked in DC. Those guys never took showers.

    “But Bretton Woods, man…”

  17. - Practical Politics - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:52 am:

    During one of his many presidential campaigns LaRouche managed to purchase time on network television to broadcast one of his epic rants (as a candidate, the network had to sell him time) about the Queen selling dope and other wild conspiracies. It was like an extended rant by the playwright who wrote the musical “Springtime for Hitler.”

    I remember the Illinois LaRouchies passing out handbills and lecturing people near the Daley Center Plaza. With straight faces that insisted that Adlai Stevenson would not be permit to take part in their effort to colonize the planet Mars because he refused to be tested for AIDS. It was surreal.

    Aurelia Pucinski’s political career recovered, but Stevenson and Sangmeister faded from the scene. It was bad luck and it helped Thompson cruise to a fourth term.

  18. - Practical Politics - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:55 am:


    The LaRouchies shared a house on North Rockwell Street between Granville and Peterson Avenues. I remember seeing a news media report taped there and Sheila Jones was playing Beethoven on the piano while Mark Fairchild sang along.

  19. - "Old Timer Dem" - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 11:09 am:

    Gosh, that brings up bad memories. What a debacle. You can only blame the State Democratic Party for blowing that one. Stevenson would have had a legitimate chance to beat Thompson if he were able to run as a Democrat.

  20. - Ginhouse Tommy - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    I thought that the reason the Dems. lost was that they never left the Chicago collar counties to campaign. No one south the Chicago knew who they were.

  21. - G'Kar - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    Darn, 47th Ward beat me to it, I’m sure the Queen is breathing easier today.

    I grew up in the same small town as Judy Koehler. She and her husband were family friends and in bridge clubs together with my parents. I will never forget how her campaign changed her–and not for the better.

  22. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    –You can only blame the State Democratic Party for blowing that one.–

    Meh, Madigan was running Adlai’s show. Cal Sutker was running the ILDEMS, but they didn’t have any clout; Dems were very divided in those Council War years.

    DeMuzio got elected state chair after that and had to deal with the fakakta Solidarity Party scheme. But, again, Dems won four statewide races.

  23. - charles in charge - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    The Larouchies used to circle the Thompson Center in a screed-emblazoned and loudspeaker-equipped station wagon as recently as the late ‘90’s.

  24. - Soccermom - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    47th, have I told you lately that I love you? Seriously.

    I remember voting in that primary and realizing that I had no idea who was running for Secretary of State or LTG. I remember thinking, — well, it’s Fairchild vs. Sangmeister, and Sangmeister translates to Blood Master. So I’ll go with the Fair Child. And I voted for Hart because I was still angry about the elder Pucinski’s behavior during Council Wars.

    I learned an incredibly valuable lesson when the election results came out, and I am now scrupulous about every single office on the ballot. (You should see the judges list I haul into my polling place.)

  25. - Cheryl44 - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    There were a couple of guys with LaRouche signs hanging out by the Walgreens at Michigan and Chicago post 9/11, which they blamed on GWB and his Middle Eastern buddies.

  26. - Natty Lite - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 12:46 pm:

    Sangmeister did rebound, ended up in Congress for a few terms.

  27. - OneMan - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 1:48 pm:

    My folks moved to Mokena when I was in college and thought your father was a great neighbor and my dad was a big fan of him when he was in Congress.

  28. - Kurt Sangmeister - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 4:07 pm:

    Thanks to those who expressed the good sentiments. Dad did indeed rebound and served 3 terms in Congress. He passed away in 2007. The Lt. Governor loss was always a tough one to swallow but it is an unusual piece of Illinois political history that will always be remembered.

  29. - don the legend - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 4:38 pm:

    …post 9/11, which they blamed on GWB and his Middle Eastern buddies.

    The LaRouchies weren’t alone with that line of lunacy.

  30. - Soccermom - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 4:52 pm:

    Kurt, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that losing LTG may not actually be worse than winning LTG…

  31. - Charlie Wheeler - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 5:42 pm:

    As a Statehouse reporter for the Sun-Times, I was among those doing a post-mortem on the La Rouche phenomenon. From talking to lots of folks Downstate– party people and “civilians”– it was pretty clear that voters preferred the candidates with “American” names, over the candidates with “foreign-sounding” names. That said, I also concluded that Democrats’ ground game was non-existent in a lot of areas, with precinct workers assuming the ticket was a shoo-in. In contrast, the Democratic committeeman in my Springfield precinct was very conscientious and made sure all his voters knew who were the slated candidates. As a result, Sangmeister and Pucinski ran only a point or two behind Dixon in my precinct. And in honesty, I think we (the news media) shared some of the blame, because we also figured, correctly, that the La Rouchies were whack jobs, and so just ignored them for what we thought were closer races. Had we done due diligence and covered the specifics of the La Rouche ticket, I suspect the results would have been different.

    Charlie Wheeler

  32. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 6:05 pm:

    –The LaRouchies weren’t alone with that line of lunacy.–

    LaRouche would have made a lot more money with the innertubes, you tube and twitter. Heck, he might have gotten a regular paid cable yakker gig.

    There’s an audience for every crackpot out there.

  33. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 7:53 pm:

    ===And in honesty, I think we (the news media) shared some of the blame, because we also figured, correctly, that the La Rouchies were whack jobs, and so just ignored them for what we thought were closer races. Had we done due diligence and covered the specifics of the La Rouche ticket, I suspect the results would have been different.===

    Well said. Thank you for saying it Charlie Wheeler.

    And to Wordslinger’s point, LaRouche was a demagogue of the highest order. He would have loved Facebook.

    1986. Good times.

  34. - Levois - Thursday, Feb 14, 19 @ 10:12 pm:

    Ahhhhhh was too young to even notice what was going on in those days. The bliss of youthful ignorance…

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