Now it can be told: How Mike Royko once influenced Chicago balloting

20 Jan

The late, great Mike Royko, Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago newspaper columnist, would have had a ball covering the Feb. 22 city election. Every one of his former readers can agree on that. From Slats Grobnik, his literary alter-ego, to more direct approaches deflating political balloons, the City Hall runoffs would be target-rich turf for Mike’s one-of-a-kind style and knowledge. Here is the latest segment in a periodic “Royko Retro” series leading to Feb. 22 voting for a new mayor and aldermen.

Paul Sullivan

Who: Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune baseball writer

Paul spent two years with Mike in the 1980s at The Tribune before moving to the sports department, where he became a beat writer in 1997 covering the Cubs (Royko’s favorite team). He describes his job with the famed newspaper columnist as “two grueling years as his reporter/researcher/Italian sausage fetcher/ bank check depositor and eventually learned how to become a reporter.”


Q: Do you have any favorite stories to tell from your time with Royko? Any memories that stick out more than others?

PS: Too many stories to mention, but I guess my favorite was when he decided that he wanted night baseball at Wrigley Field and was certain that most Cubs fans agreed with him. He decided to run a poll and asked fans to send him postcards saying “yes” or “no” to lights.

I was in charge of counting the votes. After a week or so, the pro-lights votes were ahead by about a 3-1 margin and Royko pointed it out in a letters column. At that point, the no-lights group apparently began a campaign to turn the vote around with massive amounts of “No” votes. After a week or so, the vote was now 2-1 against lights.

Royko smelled a rat, and he told me to take all the postcards of the “no” votes and eliminate the ones with the Wrigley Field zip code. When I did that, the pro-lights voters were comfortably ahead. Royko said that was proof that these “noisy yuppies” in the neighborhood had purposely tried to alter his poll.

I asked him what we could do since the vote total was one-sided against lights and he couldn’t lie about the results. “I’ll just ignore,” he said. “It’s my poll. I can do anything I want.” So Royko never mentioned the poll again, and a year after I left the job, the city council finally voted in lights.


Q: Do you think Mike would’ve been energized by the upcoming, citywide election? Is ‘energized’ even the right word?

PS: He was always energized when he was writing because it was like breathing to him. Of course he enjoyed elections and all the stupid things that are said and done during campaigns. This one promises to be a classic.

I can picture him sending out tweets on his smartphone, cackling at what he’d just written. He loved gadgets, and a Blackberry would’ve been right up his alley. Not so sure he would’ve done Facebook, since he really didn’t like interacting with his fans, but Twitter is more of a one-way street and he wouldn’t have to deal with anyone. I imagine he’d tweet more about the Cubs than politics, since that was his primary interest.


Q: Are there mayoral candidates who would have fascinated Royko? Any he would have disliked?

PS: Certainly Rahm and Braun are fascinating characters, and Rev. Meeks, if he was still in it. Chico seems kind of dull. I don’t know if there is anyone he would dislike, since the only politician I can say he truly disliked during my term was former Sherriff Richard Elrod.

I do believe he would’ve supported the lieutenant governor candidate, Scott Lee Cohen, when the pawn shop owner was forced to quit the race after news about his past became public. I don’t think Royko would necessarily be a fan of Cohen, but he loved to be a contrarian, and probably knew some pawn shop owners that were much smarter than politicians.


Q: Would Royko have been interested in the aldermanic races?

PS: Not sure. The city council became so bland while serving as Daley’s rubber stamp the last decade or so that I doubt he’d be as interested as he was back when the Pucinski’s and Mell’s and Vrdolyak’s were making fools of themselves on a daily basis. Fortunately, Royko was around to chronicle those characters in their prime. Now there are few characters left.


Q: How do you think Mike would have reacted to Mayor Daley’s resignation?

PS: I worked for Mike during the Harold Washington administration, so I never really knew his personal impressions of Richie, other than what he wrote in his columns. Just guessing, but since he always said the mayor’s primary job was to make sure the garbage was collected, the side streets were plowed after snowstorms and the CTA was running, I think he would’ve written that Daley was good for the city, especially in light of New York’s problems after their recent blizzard.

But I also imagine he would’ve ripped Daley for the parking meter contract, which is basically indefensible, and for Ron Huberman and Jody Weis and the other poor hires. But no one really knows what he’d think, because no one could pigeon-hole Royko. He truly was unpredictable.

By Megan Ashley



3 Responses to “Now it can be told: How Mike Royko once influenced Chicago balloting”

  1. Stormy January 21, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    Lots of fun and Paul knows alot more, most of which is unprintable.

  2. David Royko January 22, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    “But no one really knows what he’d think, because no one could pigeon-hole Royko. He truly was unpredictable.”

    Paul, I couldn’t agree more. You might be 100% right about what Dad might’ve said about this or that or 100% wrong. That was one of the things that amazed me countless times — being presented with a very different opinion than my own, but so well argued, and readable, that you’d have to really give it some thought.

    Nice interview. Thanks.

    Dave Royko

  3. Barry Cronin January 22, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Great interview with Paul Sullivan, a fine baseball writer. Royko’s genius and imagination are sorely missed. He’d have a field day with Rahm – a former ballet dancer notorious for using profanity who has no middle finger on his right hand (!)- and Braun, who has parlayed her status as the first African American U.S. Senator into, well…. a failed organic food business! Wish we could sit in on the seance among Richard J. Daley, Tom Keane, Paddy Bauler, and other Machine-ites. He might even find a way for Harold to sit in.

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