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The Chicago Political Quote Hall of Fame

We’ve got the spiciest politicians anywhere — and the receipts to prove it.

Blagojevich   Photo: M. Spencer Green / Associated Press

This post contains explicit language. (Obviously.)

It has been said that Chicago is to politics as Paris is to romance. A city with such colorful politics is bound to have produced colorful characters who utter colorful quotations. From a cast that includes Big Bill, Pushcart Tony, Paddy, Da Mare, and Slow Eddie, we present the most memorable phrases in Chicago’s political history.

“Tony, where’s your pushcart at?”

William Hale Thompson was the last Republican mayor of Chicago and the last WASP, too. His opponent in the 1931 mayoral election was Anton Cermak, a native of Bohemia. Big Bill didn’t cotton to the idea of an immigrant running a great American city, so he and his supporters sang a gibe mocking Cermak’s name and origins:

I won’t take a back seat to that Bohunk, Chairmock, 

Chermack, or whatever his name is.

Tony, Tony, where’s your pushcart at?

Can you picture a World’s Fair mayor with a name like that?

An all-around xenophobe, Thompson had run for his third mayoral term on an “America First” platform four years earlier, in 1927. That campaign was rooted in fearmongering about British influence in local education and politics, and Thompson even threatened to “crack King George one in the snoot” if the monarch visited Chicago.

“It is true that I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but I came as fast as I could.”

Cermak’s rejoinder to Thompson’s slur on his heritage resonated with Chicago’s immigrant voters, calling his multicultural coalition a “house for all peoples.” It carried him to a 17-point victory over Thompson, with 58 percent of the vote.

“We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

The year was 1948. A young University of Chicago law student was eager to volunteer for Paul Douglas and Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Party’s liberal candidates for senator and governor. He walked into the 8th Ward office, which he passed every day on his way to class, and offered his services.

The ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth, and asked this fresh kid, “Who sent you?”

“Nobody sent me,” the law student replied.

“Well, we don’t want nobody nobody sent,” the committeeman said dismissively.

“And that,” Abner Mikva later recalled, “was the start of my career in politics.”

Mikva votes at Lincoln School in Evanston in 1976. Photo: William Yates/Chicago Tribune

It wasn’t the end, though: Mikva became a congressman, a federal judge, White House counsel, and a mentor to Barack Obama. The phrase he made famous became the title of an oral history of Chicago politics.

“Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet.”

In 1939, Mathias “Paddy” Bauler won a tight race for re-election as alderman of the 43rd Ward. Bauler, who ran his ward organization out of a tavern called De Luxe Gardens, had a particular disdain for good-government types, or “goo-goos,” as represented by his Republican opponent, James B. Waller. He ultimately eked out a win over Waller by 243 votes. Waller accused Bauler of fraud, bribery, and voter intimidation, but City Council rejected his call for a recount.

Bauler, center in the top hat, hosted parties at his office and saloon on North Avenue. Photo: Tribune Photo Archive

Bauler became a strong supporter of Richard J. Daley, because his precinct captains “like a guy who takes care of them.” That support led to the alderman’s gleeful, oft-quoted proclamation that “Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet,” which he declared while celebrating Daley’s win over incumbent Martin Kennelly in the 1955 mayoral primary.

However, whether that’s what Bauler actually said is lost to the ages: The quote first appears in the February 24, 1955 edition of the Chicago Tribune as “Chicago isn’t ready for reform yet,” and reporter Edward Schreiber apparently later admitted to Leon Despres that he’d tweaked the soundbite from the less-quotable “Chicago ain’t ready for a reform mayor.

What’s certain is that Bauler continued to disparage reformers for the rest of his career. He called Ald. William Singer, Daley’s last opponent, “so dumb he thinks the forest preserve is a new kind of jelly.”

“The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

Mayor Richard J. Daley was not always on speaking terms with the English language, as evidenced by his many legendary blunders and malapropisms. During the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Daley was forced to defend the actions of the Chicago police, who were cracking the heads of anti-war demonstrators in Grant Park. Inside, on the convention floor, delegates condemned the cops’ behavior, with Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff denouncing the brutality as “Gestapo tactics.”

At a press conference, a reporter asked Daley whether he had photographic or videographic evidence of “acts of provocation by the demonstrators” against the police.

“I don’t know this,” Daley responded, “but we know it happened. We know they weren’t shown. Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

“How’s Harold?”

The election of Chicago’s first black mayor was historic, but Washington’s hopes that it would single-handedly shift America’s perception of the city might have been a tad idealistic.

“There was a time not long ago if you said you were [from] Chicago, someone would make the crack, ‘Al Capone, rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat,’” Washington once told a crowd of cheering supporters. "But now, anywhere in the world you go, you go to any of those places and you say you’re from Chicago, you know what they’ll say to you?” The crowd helped him answer: “How’s Harold?

In fact, it took the Chicago Bulls’ NBA championship run, which began three-and-a-half years after Washington’s death, to make the world associate the city with something other than bootlegging and gangsterism.

“I’ve got this thing and it’s f*cking golden. I’m not just giving it up for f*ckin’ nothing.”

When Rod Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002, he expected to run for president six years later. Instead, he was stepped over by a state senator from Hyde Park, a place he resented almost as much as the North Shore. Blago’s consolation prize: He got to appoint Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate.

The FBI caught the governor on tape trying to parlay that golden opportunity into a job in Washington or a big campaign contribution. Those lines became the centerpiece of his corruption trial, which resulted in a 14-year prison sentence. Ironically, Blagojevich ended up giving the Senate seat to Roland Burris, who had nothing to offer him.

“F*ck you, Lewis!”

If there had been a swear jar on the mayor’s desk during Rahm Emanuel’s tenure, he would have filled it with enough money to close the $838 million deficit he left Lori Lightfoot. Throughout his career, Emanuel has dropped more f-bombs than Al Pacino in Scarface. Sometimes, it was a term of endearment, as when he ended phone calls with “Fuck you, I love you.” Sometimes not, as when he called his enemies “knucklefucks.”

Emanuel definitely wasn’t trying to endear himself to Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis when he allegedly shouted “Fuck you, Lewis,” during a 2011 argument over a longer school day. The teachers went on strike the next year, and it was another year after that before Lewis and Emanuel spoke again.

“Did we land the tuna?”

For Ald. Ed Burke, politics is business and business is politics. A New York company trying to redevelop the Old Main Post Office asked Burke to intervene with various public agencies, including Amtrak and the Water Department. Burke agreed, but he wanted something in return: a contingency fee paid to his law firm.

Burke tried to arrange all this through his colleague, Ald. Danny Solis. Unbeknownst to Slow Eddie, Solis was wearing a wire for the feds. When Burke checked on the status of his bribe by asking Solis, “So, did we land the, uh, the tuna?”, prosecutors were listening.

Burke departs after turning himself in January 3, 2019 at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Burke has been charged with racketeering. Although he remains an alderman and a committeeman, he is no longer chair of the Council’s Finance Committee or the Democratic Party’s Judicial Slating Committee.

“It’s like cockroaches — there’s a light that’s shined on them, they scramble.”

Lori Lightfoot was a second-tier mayoral candidate until Burke was arrested for attempting to land the tuna. Then, she started criticizing four of the race’s frontrunners — Bill Daley, Toni Preckwinkle, Susana Mendoza, and Gery Chico — for their ties to the hinky alderman, comparing them to pests and dubbing them the “Burke Four.”

“Initially, they’re silent. Then, they try to say, ‘Not me. Not me.’ Then, when they get caught, they finally stand up and do something. It’s a day late and a dollar short.”

Putting an end to the Chicago Way was the winning issue for Lightfoot. As mayor, she has shown little patience with Burke, who was in the habit of making long, pompous speeches on the Council floor.

“I will call you when I’m ready to hear from you,” Lightfoot told Burke at her first Council meeting. Since then, Burke has barely been seen or heard from in City Hall.

“This is this FOP clown.”

Lightfoot is a novice politician, so she hasn’t learned the first lesson of microphones: Always assume they’re on. At one of Lightfoot’s first City Council meetings last July, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 vice president Patrick Murray was approaching the podium during public comment when the mayor muttered, “Oh, back again. This is this FOP clown.” Murray was there to dispute the police board’s decision to fire three officers and a sergeant over the alleged coverup of the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Lightfoot’s remark was broadcast on the livestream of the meeting. The FOP called it “a misguided and dangerous thing to say to a 30-year veteran police officer and FOP representative, particularly at a time when the city is facing such chronic violent crime.”

Lightfoot apologized — sort of. “It was not appropriate for me to say that out loud,” she said at her post-meeting news conference.

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