Marty Cook in Dan Rostenkowski’s Chicago office: a dramatically changed course. For more photos, launch the gallery »


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Rostenkowski died on August 11th at his home in Wisconsin. This story appears in Chicago magazine's August issue, currently on newsstands.


Thoughts on Kennedy, Daley, Obama, and more

Richard Cohen examines how history should view the complex politician

Rostenkowski profile from 1991

The thought filled him with cold dread. Fresh off a rehab stint for alcohol abuse, he wondered whether the tender shoot of recovery he’d nourished was ready to withstand the harsh storms of the real world. And for him to make this phone call felt like stepping into a monsoon.

Just months before, in the late summer of 2003, Marty Cook had bottomed out. Saddled with more than $50,000 in gambling debts, he was floundering financially. Recent gastric bypass surgery had helped him shed more than 70 pounds, but the physical benefits of the weight loss were overshadowed by the acute mental disorientation he felt at the sudden and radical change in his appearance. When it came to friends and family, he’d burned enough bridges to shroud the Chicago River in smoke. “You went out to a Fourth of July party,” one of his buddies told him, “and didn’t come home until Labor Day.”

The low point came when his brother Jack delivered a message from the family: They wanted him out of the Edgebrook house where he’d grown up—the only home he’d ever known—even though he’d been the primary caretaker for his seriously ailing parents. Better a stranger take over, his siblings told him, than to force his mother and father to watch the horrors of their youngest son imploding.

He’d spent a month in rehab at Keys to Recovery, an alcohol abuse treatment center in Des Plaines. Now, at age 34, down to his final few weeks in a halfway house, he was sober but desperate. He needed a place to live, but with his lousy credit and dried-up prospects, who would have him?

“Why don’t you try my dad?” suggested Stacy Rosten-McDarrah.

“Seriously?” Cook said. “Me? Ask him?”

“He’s normal, Marty. He will talk to you.”

Cook had met Stacy’s father before, when Stacy and her husband, Bob McDarrah, had invited Cook to their summer home on Lake Benedict in Wisconsin. The three stayed in the “little house,” a two-bedroom dwelling about 50 yards from the far grander main house, where the father and his wife, LaVerne, lodged.

Some encounters were pleasant—such as the time in 1994 when Stacy’s father invited Cook to pull up a chair in the garage and the two watched a Bulls playoff game over beers. Other times, the father was cold, moody, terse, and intimidating—muttering wonderingly (before Cook’s gastric bypass) who was that “fat guy who keeps showing up and drinking all my beer?”

The father’s fire-and-ice temper was no surprise. It was, in fact, legendary. For this, Cook knew, was no ordinary dad. He was Dan Rostenkowski, once one of the most powerful men in Washington—he of the heavy jowls, the profane, imperious temperament; pal of presidents; the very embodiment of Capitol Hill clout and Chicago political might; the man who had ridden that same gruff persona to the top of the heap before an ignominious fall. In short, the last guy Cook felt comfortable asking for help. Couldn’t Stacy call on his behalf? he pleaded. No, she said. “You’re going to have to do this yourself, Marty.”

Finally, he dialed, praying a secretary would answer.



“Hi, Mr. Rostenkowski, this is Marty Cook. Stacy’s friend.”

“Yes, Mr. Cook,” he said pleasantly enough. “What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if I could rent one of your apartments.”

“Oh? Where are you living now?”

“I . . . uh . . . a . . . um . . . halfway house in Des Plaines . . . for recovering alcoholics.”

A pause. “I see. . . . Well, Mr. Cook,” Rostenkowski said, “what happens if you relapse and get drunk, then fall down my stairs? I have a lot of stairs in this building. Then you’re going to sue me.”

“Oh, no,” Cook replied. “I’m done drinking.”

“That’s what you say now.”

There was one other thing, Cook said. “Um . . . I have a dog. Do you allow pets?”

“NO!” Rostenkowski roared. “They piss all over everything, they stink up the whole building, and then I have to pay to put carpeting in. No way.”

Another pause.

“Give me your number,” Rostenkowski said, with lowered volume. “I’ll have to discuss this with Mrs. Rostenkowski. She’s the landlord.”

Cook recited his number. Then—click.

Well, he thought, so much for that. But who could blame the famous man? This was, after all, Dan Rostenkowski—no saint, to be sure. But honestly, what would a man like that have to gain from taking in a stray like Cook—a nobody trying to pick up the pieces of a horrible fall?

* * *

Hunkered on the corner of Noble Street and Evergreen Avenue, across from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the three-story square brick building that Rostenkowski called home was not so much a warren of rooms and offices as an artifact, a relic, a museum. It housed a family history stretching back to Rostenkowski’s grandfather Peter—who once ran a building and loan association out of the front parlor—reaching down to Dan’s father, Big Joe Rusty, the clout-heavy alderman who turned the block-long three-flat into a combination saloon and real-estate insurance business (as well as the 32nd Ward Democratic headquarters).

Rostenkowski had grown up here, using an office on the first floor as his base of operation when he was in Chicago on breaks from Capitol Hill, where he served as a congressman from the Eighth District (now called the Fifth) from 1959 to 1995. And he had retreated here after his fall from grace, which included guilty pleas in 1996 to federal corruption charges and the accompanying 15-month stretch in federal prison.

Over the years, Rostenkowski had converted the long, low-slung insurance office space into a carpeted and mirrored party room. In the adjacent wet bar, he’d hung a brass “Rosty’s Rotunda” plaque, a sign that once graced his reserved booth at Morton’s, his favorite Washington haunt.

A polished oak desk—his nameplate front and center (as if people needed reminding of who he was)—dominated the office. Framed and inscribed photos of Rostenkowski rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush filled the walls—an impressive and intimidating tribute to the company he kept during his four decades in the corridors of power. An old kitchen and an enormous storage room filled with boxes of his personal papers rounded out the first floor of the suite. In the back of the building were a handful of apartments, which Rostenkowski rented to people he knew for a few hundred dollars a month.

Once upon a time, the place bristled with activity. Those were the days when he wasn’t just a player in national politics, he was a giant—a feared, fierce force of nature on whose word and judgment rested the fate of massive projects and major legislation. Irascible, tough, immensely talented, deeply charismatic, Rostenkowski not only had his hands on the levers of power as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee but strode the halls of Capitol Hill as powerful and influential domestically, it could be persuasively argued, as the president himself.

By the time Marty Cook applied for the apartment, however, Rostenkowski largely worked alone, running his new enterprise—a consulting firm he christened Danross Associates—with occasional help from his longtime administrative assistant, Virginia Fletcher. The raucous dinners of his halcyon Washington days, settings where multimillion-dollar deals were discussed and consummated, were a faded memory. But he was no less intimidating.

After two weeks and no word, Cook phoned Stacy’s husband, Bob. “They have concerns,” Bob told him. “But Stacy is really lobbying for you.”

“Who has the concerns? Dan or LaVerne?” Cook asked.

“I don’t know.”

When the return call finally came, Cook missed it. The rules of the halfway house forbade residents from taking phone calls at dinnertime. But the message said he could move in on the first of December. He was to bring the first and last months’ rent. No dog. Cook would have to turn his beloved golden retriever, Bailey, over to his brother and sister-in-law.

His new landlord, still physically imposing at 75, waited for Cook on his stoop at 1347 North Noble Street. “Okay, Mr. Cook,” he grunted. “Do you have a check for me?” Cook handed him the $1,400 check his parents had entrusted to him, a last-chance stake. “The rent is due on the first of the month.” Dan Rostenkowski slammed the door and was gone.

* * *

Photograph: Bob Stefko


Dan Rostenkowski, Stacy Rosen-McDarrah, and Marty Cook in
Rostenkowski, Stacy Rosten-McDarrah, and Cook in 1996. For more photos, launch the gallery »



Thoughts on Kennedy, Daley, Obama, and more

Richard Cohen examines how history should view the complex politician

Rostenkowski profile from 1991

To reach the basement laundry room of his new digs, Cook had to pass through Rostenkowski’s office, where the former chairman would invariably be hunched over a letter or barking into a phone, handset cradled between shoulder and ear. “How ya doing?” was the most Cook felt comfortable venturing in those days, a verbal gambit that most often merited either an irritated look or an unwelcoming “Fine.”

Okay by Cook. He may have made it through rehab, but he was hardly feeling like a hail-fellow. He had his job (after a leave of absence, he’d been welcomed back to his staff assistant’s position with the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, the so-called CAPS program), but in just about every other way, he remained deeply unsure of himself. He’d promised Rostenkowski that he was through drinking, but he’d said that a hundred times before—to himself and others. Was he really? In the evenings, he paced his tiny room, praying the answer was yes.

One day, while reading the newspaper, Cook stumbled on a review of The Fog of War, a movie about Robert McNamara, the former secretary of defense who became famous, if not infamous, for his role in the Vietnam War. Cook had always been a political science and history buff, and passing through Rostenkowski’s office that afternoon, he ventured a comment about the movie, knowing that Rostenkowski had been in Washington as the unpopular war unfolded.

“That son of a bitch!” Rostenkowski exploded. “McNamara lied to the American people! He lied to me!” After a profanity-laced rant peppered with references to the first Mayor Daley, President Lyndon Johnson, McNamara, and others, Rostenkowski cooled down, but not before casting a sly glance at Cook:

“McNamara—he’s one of your kind”—Irish.

Cook wasn’t sure if he was being insulted or teased. In another life he would have traded a barb of his own. He let the comment slide, but he took note. He was sure there was an opening there, a fissure in the ice.

* * *

He was right. A few weeks later, Rostenkowski and his wife, LaVerne, were watching TV when Cook brought up his laundry. Rostenkowski commented on how neatly Cook folded his clothes. “What do you do for a living?” Rostenkowski asked. Cook told him. “Well, you should consider a career in the Laundromat business.”

Then one Saturday morning, a storm blew through. The heavy winds shattered a plate glass window and sent an air conditioner tumbling from the third floor. As he was about to go for a run, Cook stepped outside to find Rostenkowski standing in the street, the old chairman having apparently dashed out to survey the damage. The sight saddened and touched him. Cook had never seen Rostenkowski look so helpless. Cook pitched in with the air conditioner, then joined in sweeping up the glass. He got Rostenkowski a cup of coffee, and the two of them sat on the stoop, talking for the first time as more than tenant and landlord.

In time, Cook found himself a student to Rostenkowski’s wide-ranging, profane insider’s take on the events of the day, standing spellbound as the old pol held court like a combination college professor and color commentator. “You should listen to that guy,” Rostenkowski would say as Cook nodded. “He knows what he’s talking about.” Or “That guy’s full of shit. He’s never done a thing in his life. I wouldn’t believe a word he says.”

Despite the thaw, Cook could tell that Rostenkowski still wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. The famous landlord always seemed slightly irritated and skeptical, as if waiting for Cook to screw up.

When Cook was forced to ask whether he could split the rent in two installments—a consequence of his still-troubled finances—Rostenkowski bellowed, “WHAT? This is VERY unusual.” After some more grumbling, he acceded. “But I don’t want to mess with the paperwork.” Cook retreated to his room, slightly shaken, but glad he’d asked. Rostenkowski probably was waiting for him to screw up. Who knew? One thing Cook did know. There was no way he was going to give this guy the satisfaction of seeing him relapse.

* * *

About a month after Cook had taken up residence at Noble Street, his father died. Though LaVerne and the couple’s four daughters attended the wake, Rostenkowski stayed home. Cook understood. LaVerne and the girls knew Cook far better than Rostenkowski. The passing of his father dealt Cook another blow. He hated that the old man would not be around to see him get his life back on track. More than that, he needed his father’s steady presence now more than ever. He had friends, but it wasn’t the same.

The youngest of six children, Cook grew up “the typical funny fat kid” in Edgebrook, fighting for attention in a household filled with wisecrackers. His brothers, he recalls, were known to be especially mischievous. His mother had a “great sense of humor, a razor wit, and knew how to tell a story.” She could also “tell a phony from a mile away.”

His father, “more quiet and sarcastic,” worked as an electrician for the City of Chicago by day and at the old Comiskey Park at night. “My dad and I would often discuss affairs of the day, sports, politics,” Cook remembers. “He would listen as I would bitch and tell stories about work.”

Cook says he didn’t take his first drink until he was 18, and only then after friends goaded him. “I sometimes laugh about it today,” he says, “but the very same people who begged me to start drinking were, years later, the same people begging me to stop.

“I put my parents through hell,” he adds. “The good news is that my dad saw me start to lose weight and, for a couple of months, be sober. I just wish he had had longer with the better person I was becoming.”

* * *

As weeks in the Rostenkowski apartment stretched into months, then a year, Cook and his landlord struck up . . . well, if not exactly a friendship, then an agreeable détente.

Meanwhile, Cook dug a little more into the life of the man who, oddly, was assuming a larger and larger role in his thoughts. He had known of Rostenkowski, of course—through Stacy, through history books, and through the news. Like many people, he had heard first about the good and in later years about the bad.

The more he learned, the more he came to admire. Poking around Rostenkowski’s papers, Cook was astonished at how much the former chairman had accomplished: securing funding to turn Navy Pier into the showpiece tourist attraction it is today; helping to bring the city $32 million to expand the CTA Blue Line from the Loop to O’Hare; pushing through $450 million to repave and expand the Kennedy Expressway; securing a $150 million bond authority for the construction of U.S. Cellular Field when the White Sox were threatening to move to Florida.

Cook also had heard the allegations that Rostenkowski had kept “ghost” employees, that he had used congressional funds to buy gifts for friends, that he had traded in stamps for cash at the House post office. He knew of Rosty’s guilty pleas to two counts of mail fraud and about his stretch in federal prison. And he knew of Rosty’s defense: that he was the victim of ruthlessly ambitious prosecutors out to take a big scalp; that the rules he’d supposedly violated had changed in midgame.

Whatever the nuances of his landlord’s fall—and he certainly sided with Rostenkowski—it struck Cook as curious that for all the man had done, not a single building, highway, or civic institution bore his name. One day, he made the mistake of asking about it: “How come you don’t just ask some of your friends to get a building named after you?”

“What? Who would be crazy enough to introduce that resolution?” Rostenkowski said. “Once you are out, you’re out. There is nothing more useless than a politician without an office.”

“Yeah, but you are Dan Rostenkowski! You did so much for this city and these politicians.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Cook said he might look into coming up with a plan.

Rostenkowski grew increasingly annoyed and then exploded. “Drop it!” he shouted. “Drop it! It’s not going to happen!”

* * *

Photograph: Courtesy of Marty Cook



Thoughts on Kennedy, Daley, Obama, and more

Richard Cohen examines how history should view the complex politician

Rostenkowski profile from 1991

By 2006, Cook found himself not just an occasional foil passing through Rostenkowski’s office on his way to the laundry room but a regular dinner companion. The almost daily conversations were the highlight of his week. And though he couldn’t be certain, Cook thought they brightened Rostenkowski’s, too.

The quirky, blooming friendship amused LaVerne. She had grown fond of Cook, and though Rostenkowski certainly had a wide circle of friends with whom he still enjoyed regular lunches and dinners, she delighted in seeing that he had taken a shine to this unlikely new person in his life.

In time, the recovering drunk and the fallen chairman became regulars at Rostenkowski’s Ridgemoor Country Club and at Chicago standbys such as Carson’s. Rosty almost always picked up the tab, but thanking him could be tricky. “Don’t give me that shit,” he grouched one night. Later, in a far softer voice, he said, “Good night, Marty.”

Occasionally, Cook tried to return the favor. Once, he took his new friend to Superdawg. To Cook’s delight, Rostenkowski gobbled two hot dogs with everything. He then shocked Cook with the first truly kind words he’d heard from the man. “Marty,” he said, “you’re making my twilight years very enjoyable.”

Another time, Cook wanted to take Rostenkowski to a nice place in Edison Park. In light of the trouble he’d had as a gambling addict, Cook no longer used credit, so he had to stop and cash a check on the way. When he got back in the car, Rostenkowski shot him a sidelong glance, then shook his head. “I can’t believe my life has come to this,” he said. “I was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, for Christ’s sake, and I’m with a guy that has to cash a check to pay for dinner.”

To Cook, the benefits of the relationship were obvious. For starters, when he was out to lunch or dinner with Rostenkowski, when the two were chewing over the day’s news, the idea of drinking never crossed his mind. Whether Rostenkowski meant to or not, he was helping Cook stay sober.

And Rosty was also injecting him with confidence. Cook had heard it said that an alcoholic stops maturing at the age he starts drinking. If that were true, then he was an 18-year-old trapped in the body of a 30-something. The initial call he’d placed to Rostenkowski had been one of the few times he had faced up to a simple life challenge.

Now, in ways great and small, he was learning from Rostenkowski what it meant to be an adult. There were practical things: how to develop a filing system, how to handle people on the phone. (Get the name. Write it down. Spell it correctly. Call the person by name as you begin to speak.) There were broader lessons, such as the importance of standing up for yourself. “Don’t be a mollycoddle!” Rostenkowski told him. “Take control of the situation. You gotta be a prick sometimes!”

Cook learned the importance of following through, a lesson related in parable form with a Rosty twist: “There were two staffers—one in D.C. and one in Chicago,” Rostenkowski told him one day. “The guy in Chicago would make a request. If the guy in D.C. wasn’t responsive, Chicago would tell him, ‘Get off your ass and find me the answer, because you don’t see these people. I do!’”

When Cook decided to take political science classes at DePaul, Rostenkowski not only wrote a letter of recommendation to help get Cook in the school but agreed to be his professional mentor. And Rosty nodded approvingly when Cook took up vigorous exercise and by 2007 dropped his weight to around 180 pounds.

For Cook, the life lessons were invaluable. He earned his bachelor’s degree from DePaul in 2007, and having started as “essentially a box mover” in the CAPS program, he slowly worked his way up to a position in community relations, speaking to groups about the benefits of working with the Chicago Police Department. (In a nice coincidence, the CAPS program was born out of the 1993 crime bill that Rostenkowski helped pass.)

It wasn’t clear to Cook, however, what Rostenkowski got out of the relationship. Cook would occasionally run errands—pick up Rostenkowski, take him around town, drive LaVerne to Costco. He tried to teach Rostenkowski how to e-mail, an exercise in futility that left Rostenkowski cursing and Cook shaking with laughter. One time, Rostenkowski invited Cook to the inner sanctum—the family’s sprawling upstairs living quarters—then asked him to bleed the radiators. Cook didn’t have the faintest idea what he was doing, but Rostenkowski seemed to approve. “See how much I’m teaching you?” he kidded.

As he regained his confidence, Cook also gave as good as he got. “Don’t get cute,” Rostenkowski would say when Cook would volley a snappy riposte. But as to why his landlord was willing to help him so much, Cook couldn’t yet figure.

* * *

By 2007, the two had become an unofficial odd couple, complete with running gags worthy of a sitcom. One point of conflict, for example, was Cook’s smoking. Rostenkowski hated cigarettes and constantly badgered Cook to quit his two-pack-a-day habit. When needling failed, the old dealmaker made a proposal: If Cook would quit, Rostenkowski would refrain from increasing the rent. Not satisfied with a handshake, Rostenkowski told Cook to draw up a contract. Titled “An Agreement of Gentlemen: The 2007 Noble Clean Air Pact,” the contract stipulated that “the use of tobacco products, including pipes and cigars, by Marty Cook, on or after August 1, 2007, will result in an immediate and permanent rental increase to $750 a month. Mr. Rostenkowski reserves the right to reduce rental fees based on Mr. Cook’s adherence to the agreement.”

Cook broke the agreement within a week. The bust came while Rostenkowski was visiting the family’s Wisconsin retreat. “I’m sitting up here in Wisconsin,” Rostenkowski told Cook in a phone call, “and I’m thinking about the fact that you’ve started to smoke again and that I can’t believe how stupid you are.”

In time, Rostenkowski relented on another front and let Cook keep Bailey, the golden retriever, in the apartment. The almost inconceivable bending of the rules was promptly rewarded when Bailey, frightened by a thunderstorm, soiled the great man’s office. In the end, however, Bailey won over Rostenkowski and came to be regarded as the unofficial mascot of Noble Street.

* * *

One day in the fall of 2007, Cook woke up with a terrible feeling in his gut. Since his gastric bypass in 2003, he’d had to have other surgeries to repair complications. Now something bad was happening. He needed help. The logical choice would be to call Rostenkowski, but . . . could he really ask the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to take him to the hospital? What if he wasn’t really that sick? They had become friends—of sorts—but they weren’t that close, were they?

Instead, Cook drove himself to the emergency room. Once there, an intake nurse seized him by the arm and rushed him inside. When Cook awoke from surgery, the doctor told him he’d had a perforated ulcer. He’d been lucky. Another couple of hours and he would have been dead.

While Cook was recovering, Rostenkowski gave him an earful. “Jesus Christ!” he bellowed. “Why didn’t you call me! Are you out of your mind?” Cook could only apologize and laugh. After a week in the hospital—with Rostenkowski calling every day to check on him—Cook recovered. Rostenkowski volunteered to take him home, but he got lost trying to find the hospital. “You screwed me up!” he roared through Cook’s cell phone in a voice loud enough to be heard by a nurse across the room.

“Oh my God, is that your dad?” she asked. “I think he needs anger management.” Cook just laughed. The outburst was Rosty being Rosty.

But bad news was to follow. In November, Bailey was diagnosed with cancer. Rosty, in a sad and serious voice, said gently, “Don’t let that dog suffer, Marty.” Cook agreed. Two days before Thanksgiving, he had Bailey put down.

Around this time, Cook learned of more devastating news: Stacy had long suffered with kidney problems and was in need of a transplant. Cook’s brother Dennis was a match and eager to help. But before the operation could be scheduled, doctors discovered that Stacy had late-stage cancer.

Cook provided as much help and support as he could. One raw day in December 2007, he drove Rostenkowski and LaVerne to Rush University Medical Center to see Stacy. When Rostenkowski returned home, he collapsed into a chair. “She’s like a skeleton,” he told Cook. “She’s shaking from the medication.”

Stacy died on Christmas Eve. Her husband, Bob, asked Cook to be a pallbearer. The thought never occurred to Cook to tell Rostenkowski—the grieving father had enough on his mind. When he found out, he was livid—angrier, in fact, than Cook had ever seen him. “You are lower than whale shit,” he seethed. “There’s rocks and below that there’s sand and below that there’s whale shit. Goddammit, we spend all these days together like Frick and Frack, and you don’t tell me you’re going to be carrying my daughter?” Cook could only hang his head. Rostenkowski glared at him and spoke the last words he would say on the subject—the last truly cross words Cook would ever hear from him: “Don’t keep secrets from me.”

* * *

When Cook’s mother became gravely ill in 2008, he moved out of the Noble Street apartment and back home. She died in July, and Rostenkowski was the first person at the wake.

Despite his sadness at losing his mother, Cook marveled at the dramatic changes for the better in his life. He had lost 150 pounds. He’d gone from a high-school dropout to a college graduate. From barely being able to carry his bulk to the corner, he was now a runner who finished the Chicago Marathon. His finances had improved to the point that he was able to secure a mortgage and buy a condo. At work, he brimmed with confidence, but more than that, he approached his job with an entirely new attitude: Instead of what he could get from work, he tried to think of what he could give. He’d made new friends and mended fences with old. And he had spent four of the most extraordinary years of his life getting to know a person he considered a great man.

In the months that followed, Cook still saw his friend. Occasionally he would help Rostenkowski pack for weekends at the lake. “You know, when I was young and didn’t need the help, I had a dozen staffers lining up to do this,” Rostenkowski told him one day. “Now it’s just you.”

By then, Rosty had come to entrust his private papers to Cook, asking him to put them in order to be donated eventually to Loyola. To this day, Cook drops in at Noble Street to check up on the place, gather the mail, answer calls.

Where Cook had once feared Rostenkowski, he now looked on him warmly—not so much as a friend, but as a father figure. Cook still deeply regretted that his own father had not lived to see him flourish. But he was grateful to have a surrogate who could share in his redemption.

And he wondered: Rostenkowski had never said it, and perhaps it was presumptuous to think it, but the former congressman had never had a son. Maybe that’s what Rostenkowski got out of their relationship. At the very least, there was a commonality, a silent understanding, between the two. Each had fallen in his own way. And each had found a way to stand back up.

About a year ago, Cook learned that Rostenkowski was sick. His onetime landlord had started to have dizzy spells but didn’t talk much about why. Last summer, Rostenkowski took another of his trips to Wisconsin. This time he stayed. The diagnosis was lung cancer, and the prognosis is bleak.

On a visit to the lake home last fall, Cook felt for a moment as if it were old times. The two traded jabs. When Cook’s brother Jack, who was also there, gave his sibling a hard time, Rostenkowski rose to his friend’s defense, launching a fusillade that made Cook laugh.

As he was preparing to leave, Cook asked Rostenkowski how he was doing. He looked at Cook and rasped, “There are good days and there are bad days, Marty.” It was the most sincere, the most vulnerable, Cook had ever seen his friend. Without thinking, Cook touched Rostenkowski on the shoulder, an act of intimacy that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Like a son to a father, he simply said, “Hang in there, Mr. R.” In the past, his friend almost certainly would have deflected the display of concern, dismissed it with a wisecrack, a sardonic barb. In this moment, the old chairman looked up and nodded.



The dialogue and scenes in this story are based on the recollections and journals of Marty Cook but were checked for tone, context, and accuracy against the memories of several key characters, including Dan Rostenkowski.