Vito Marzullo, an immigrant from Sicily to Chicago at 12, has been a machinist, precinct captain, street and sanitation worker, ward superintendent, state representative, alderman and ward committeeman from Chicago's West Side. Now 80, he is the elder statesman of the political organization left behind by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. The dean of the City Council, he is the leader of the Italian bloc in the council and in the Democratic County Central Committee.
On Dec. 5, Marzullo, whose formal education ended in the fourth grade, lectured in a seminar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Afterward, a Harvard political science professor said, "We have just seen a disappearing breed of American politician who combines pragmatism, partriotism and political savvy in a way unlikely to be duplicated very much in the future."
Following is an edited transcript of Marzullo's remarks:
FIRST OF ALL, I don't like to disappoint anybody. The only way I can tell you how politics has been working in a successful city or any community, it's like any other business, industry, church, educational institution or cemetery. You must have an organization. And the curse that the public official has nowadays, when they are successful and they win in the election, they say, "That's a political machine." They don't call us an organization. I say it's an organization, no matter what you do in life.
In public life, you've got to love people to be successful. You've got to treat other people like you want to be treated yourself.
I started 58 years ago. I was a little greenhorn when I came from Italy 67 years ago. I went to school as far as the fourth grade and then I went to work for $3.50-$4 a week. Then I went to night school at Lewis Institute in Chicago three-four nights a week to learn the machinist trade, and after four years I became a machinist.
In 1919, my community was totally Republican. They couldn't get anyone to serve as a Democratic precinct captain. So they picked a little greenhorn like myself because I didn't know anything about politics.
The first election, i got 31 Democratic votes and 347 Republican. That's a figure I could never forget. I even told the ward committeeman that I was going to quit, I couldn't make any headway. He said, "Young man, stay here. That's the best show we ever made in that precinct."
WHAT IS the precinct? They go to church with their neighbors, every 400 or 500 or 600 votes, registered votes, in the precinct. There's a lot of things that people need - legal advice or running errands to get things done in the assessor's office or in the city hall. This is all service that's coming to them, but they don't know how to go about it.
So the precinct captain goes to the alderman and the ward committeeman and we get things done. We go to church with them, we go to wakes and we go to social affairs and civic affairs. They see us - they see the precinct captain all year round. Not like the groundhog that comes up once a year, when you want to be something, and they ask you to vote for this candidate because of the publicity they get. If you give those kind of people a $10 bill they can't even get a dog out of a dog pound.
I worked as superintendent of streets and sanitation - civil service. I was a member of the state legislature, a Democrat. I remember 14 years I served in the legislature, 10 out of 14 I served under Republican governors. I used to walk in and out of Gov. Green and Gov. Stratton's office - both Republicans - like I walk in any Democratic office to get things done for the people I represent in my district.
I have a funny way in politics. If I play cards with my wife I want to win, but after the card game is over, she's still my wife. Election day I want to win, but after the election is over, I always respect the man or woman that's elected to public office by the majority of the people. So there's nothing wrong, it's a free country, it's the greatest country in the world.
TO BE IN politics you got to apply yourself. I do for the people in my ward, young and old, and all ethnic and religious backgrounds, I don't care who they are. Get in politics, get interested in your community, see what you can do for your fellow man. And believe me, there's a lot of things everybody can do in a neighborhood to help people out. And when election day comes, of course they're going to go along with it. Don't have to be a machine, it's a friendship that exists. It's a service that you give. It's a communication all year round. That's what counts.
I have 5 per cent Italians in the 25th Ward in the city of Chicago. I've been elected 20 times to office; 19 times nobody files against me, even for public nuisance. My own vote elected me. Only once, 10 years ago, when I defeated my opponent 15,000 to 1,000. Now I'm not a superman, I'm not a millionaire, I'm an ordinary layman. The people, sometimes they don't even like my grammar very much. But they do like my taste, because I give them service.
I'm going to be honest with you folks. I'm a little bit allergic to anyone who comes in and says, "I've got to be elected because I'm Italian, or I'm a Pole, I'm Jewish, English or French, or Catholic or Protestant or black or white." If I really believed that, I wouldn't even be a street cleaner in my ward. I came from the very bottom.
You know, Mayor Daley had the best rule in the world in Chicago. He said, "In this world no one walks alone." And, once you're elected, you don't run away from your people. The late Mayor Daley, he lived in the sam community which he was born and raised and elected to public office until the last day that he died. I live in the same sommunity ever since I came from Italy, since May 1, 1910. And people come in and out, whether they're Greek or Pole or whatever they are. Spanish, they come in and out. They like the service I give them. They don't care what my religion or my nationality is. That's the answer to it.
ANYBODY DON'T LIKE the way I run, they can run against me. None of us are perfect, you know. We all make mistakes. The only ones who don't make mistakes are people not doing anything. Buf if you're on the go years in and years out, you're bound to make mistakes. The Lord Christ Himself couldn't satisfy everybody.
You show me anything that anybody doesn't like, when you got a grocery store, when you got to operate a church or you operate a cemetery, and you've got to hire somebody who don't believe in your policies when you're responsible for where it takes place. You're the man who has to give an account. You mean to tell me that you'd hire somebody in your grocery store, if you had a grocery, to work for you and won't carry out your policies?
Don't try to bite and the hand that feeds you. That's playing unfair. The whole thing is this here - that a person who is in public life is here to serve the people. If I'm elected, if I'm connected with the labor movement, I represent those people. If I represent the business or industry, I represent that industry. Once you're elected to public office, you represent all the people, people from all walks of life. On election day they make the judgment.
People in the city government honor the election of the mayor. They are not personally responsible to the people of Chicago. He's responsible for their actions as long as he's in his office. If I was the mayor of Chicago and I appoint you superintendent of streets or superintendent of curbs and gutters and you don't carry out my policy, I don't care where you go, you do what I tell you, you do what I want you to do or you won't work. Because I've got to be accountable to the people.
If you're a precinct captain, for instance, before every election, he canvasses every home to find out who became 18 years old to vote, find out who moved in, who became a citizen. After registration, again he canvasses every home. He's just like a salesman.
Sometimes we get a kid a summer job, certainly, but not all the time. Let me say this to you, if you vote Republican, in that case let your conscience be your guide. Why would you come to me as a Democrat, and you want to be a Republican, and we have so many kids that are looking for summer jobs? Why don't we be honest with each other? We don't have a job for everybody who wants to work. If you're going to vote for a candidate that's going to put me out of office, next time you count on me to put your kid to work, I won't be able to. I won't be there. If you're a Republican and you need a job, get it from a Republican.
On Service, I service them all. I give everybody service. When people come and ask me for service, I don't say, "Are you registered, are you Italian or Pole, are you a Democrat or Republican?"
If you want to open a business and you need some help, it all depends on what people in the community want. I will never approve anything that the neighborhood doesn't approve, according to the feelings in the families in the communities. That's why we have precinct captains. They find out they want rezoning, they want to put a business in that community. I have a precinct captain go around and ask the people, are they for it or are they against it?
IN MY WARD, I've got 48 precinct captains. The precinct captains either work for the city or for the county. I got assistant precinct captains, too. They live in the precinct. I have maybe 100, 125, 130 jobs. I may have a few more jobs in the city than some other wards because I have working people. In other wards where they got more elite, they just got bigger jobs. You know what I mean?
A precinct captain makes $7,000, $8,000, maybe $12,000 a year. They live from hand to mouth. They don't throw their weight around. I get services for my people because I'm a full-time alderman. My home is open 24 hours a day. I'm in my aldermanic office five days a week. In my ward, I have office hours two nights a week. And then the people call the precinct captain and the precinct captain comes in: "Here, I want this done, I want this done." It's a little different from one ward to another. A lot of those department heads respect my age a little bit, and you deliver your ward bigger, you get better service. That's human nature. There's no use getting excited about that.
I have disagreements with the mayor but there's no disagreement that we can't get together. You know, I disagreed with Mayor Daley in 1972. I wouldn't support McGovern for President and Walker for governor. The first time in 54 years that I supported a Republican President, yes. And I told Mayor Daley, "Put someone else in the ward if you want me to support them. But on election day, I'm going to be against those two clowns."
In 1960, when we carried the state for Jack Kennedy, they say we stole all the votes. When the Republicans win the votes, they don't steal them.
Let me call your attention to one precinct in Oak Park - that's a Republican town. One precinct had 600 registered votes. On election day they cast 610 - 595 Republicans and five or six Democrats. Now, not a word was said. If that was a Democrat, the precinct captains would all been in jail.
HOW DO WE raise money in my ward? Every ward is a city by itself. Every ward, they got their own system. Some wards, they pay dues, so much a month. In my ward, nobody pays a penny dues, but we run one dinner-dance a year and we have an ad book with ads and we raise a certain amount of money. And every year we give church donations, we give Christmas donations, $25, $50, all year round to the mothers' club and the fathers' club, the social club. I don't make that much in five years, if I had to pay that out of my salary, what it costs me to operate.
Now, naturally, we pay everything out of this fund and we deposit everything religiously. In the organization today, when the checks go out, they go out signed by any co-official of the organization's board. Everything is paid by check. We have to give an account to the election board, to the county clerk, to the federal government and all of them. I could always give a contribution to Mayor Daley and everybody else. And everybody knows you can't run for public office and pay your own expenses. You can't even go to church without it costing money. You can't run for public office without money and where is anybody going to get that money?
The way you take care of your ward is hard work and communication with the people and providing service. I go to every wedding, every wake, every graduation in the neighborhood, every civic affair, every church affair they have. When I was a precinct captain, every time anybody gave birth in the precinct, my wife would go there with a little gift. We make ourselves useful to the people, not only two or three weeks before the election, but all year round.
In politics, I'll be honest, the only good paying jobs in politics are mechanic, machinist, plumber, bricklayer, carpenter. The office jobs, none of them are very good paying jobs. They make seven, eight, ten, twelve thousand a year and then you've got longevity. After so many years you get a little more money. But as far as real good paying jobs, there aren't very many.
Thank you, everybody, and if you're ever in Chicago, look me up at City Hall and I'll take you to lunch, and it won't be at the taxpayers' expense either.