Daniel LipinskiDaniel Lipinski, the back-bench congressman from the Southwest Side and southwest suburbs, made a splash in March for being the lone Democrat from Illinois to vote against the health-care overhaul bill.
The sudden notoriety revived media accounts of Lipinski’s ascension to Congress, a classic Chicago move. His father, William Lipinski, had held the Third Congressional District seat since 1983, but after winning the 2004 primary election William withdrew and then urged Democratic Party leaders to slate Daniel—living in Tennessee at the time—virtually assuring his son’s victory against token Republican opposition.
But the younger Lipinski has even deeper credentials in the insider game that is Chicago politics. Sometime in 1999, shortly after Daniel had completed his Ph.D. in political science at Duke, his father called Rod Blagojevich (then a congressman), according to a former Blagojevich staffer. The elder Lipinski wanted Blagojevich to put his son on Blago’s Washington staff. “I remember Rod coming back into the room afterward saying, ‘This is just a test to see if I’ll play ball,’” recalls the ex-aide.
Though Lipinski, the senior Democrat of the state’s congressional delegation, had legislative and political clout in spades, Blagojevich was not sure he wanted to do the favor. “Rod was pissed at [William] Lipinski at the time,” explains the aide. After two years on the Hill, Blagojevich blamed Lipinski for his being placed on relatively minor committees. “Rod always felt like Bill Lipinski kept him down. He described Lipinski like a crab in a bucket—when one crab starts climbing up the side, the other crabs would pull it back down into the bucket.”
In the end, Blagojevich did hire Daniel, mainly, explains the aide, because “it was right around the time that Rod was looking at what other office he would run for and he didn’t want to have Bill Lipinski as an enemy.” (The elder Lipinski was a key early backer of Blago’s 2002 gubernatorial bid.)
So what exactly did Daniel Lipinski do on staff? “I was at the bottom rung in the office, doing the typical things the bottom rungs do—answering constituent mail— and I worked on a couple special research projects,” recalls Daniel Lipinski, who says he was on staff for around six months before taking a teaching job at Notre Dame.
And did his father get him the job? “My father talked to Rod,” says Lipinski. “He talked with other members as well. My recollection was that Rod said he had a spot for me and I took it.”
Photograph: (Lipinski) Chicago Tribune photo by Chris Walker