Vito Marzullo, 85 year-old kingpin of the Chicago political "organization"
Q: You've been a Democrat all you're life. You've been in office 42 years. Why are you supporting a Republican this time?
A: Because this man (Rep. Harold Washington) is a nitwit. This man is not all there. Any person who wants to hide behind the color of their skin or ethnic group -- I tell my own Italian people. If you don't like, go back to Italy. You're a disgrace to the Italian people. Mayor Daley had the best slogan in the world -- "No one walks alone in this world." This man here, he ran in the primary. He lied like the face of the clock. He couldn't tell a word of truth if he swore on a stack of Bibles. That record is enough to block any public official, that record that he got. And running for congressman! Serving the legislature! If it was a white man that did that, they'd hang him by the throat.
Q: You mean being suspended from the practice of law? His tax problems?
A: Served in jail. What else you got to do? You get a guy for speeding or stuff like -- gee, they want to send you to five years in jail. Suspend your license and everything else. Here's a man, he's an absolutely disgrace to any person in public office, in my book. And I've seen presidents, governors, mayors, states attorney come and go. Why do I have to support him? After he got the nomination, you'd think we elected Mussolini and Hitler put together. This man here he want to do away with the patronage office. Do away with the power of the ward committeeman. What is this? This is the power given to us by the people of our own community that we represent. What is he going to be? Is he going to take over the city, the state, the country?
Q: What if, after the primary, he would have called you, got you together. Despite all of these problems he's had with the law and his record, would you have thought about supporting him anyway?
A: Number one, I couldn't very well support him according to his record. I don't think it's right. Period. But number two -- 1979, when I supported Michael Bilandic for reelection against Jane Byrne, Jane Byrne got the nomination. Eleven-thirty at night I got a call here from Jane Byrne.
Q: Eleven-thirty the night of the primary?
A: Yeah. "Vito Marzullo, I got the nomination. The votes are in. Would you support me?" I said, "Jane Byrne, if you got the nomination, I'm a Democrat. I'll be glad to support you." "Thank you very much, can we meet tommorrow morning down the headquarter? Want to talk things over." "Sure." Next morning I went over. "You're the dean of the city council. I would like to have you on my side." "Yeah, don't worry, anything. The primary is over."
Q: Did Harold Washington ever call you?
A: Nah. Why was he going to call me when he don't believe in it?
Q: Jane Byrne said that she didn't believe in it during the primary too. She said the city was run by an evil cabal of men and that the machine was destroying the city, you remember?
A: I was against her on a few things. I didn't agree with everything. But I mean, this guy -- me, myself and I. (The Washington forces) don't believe in nobody else but themselves. They actually think they're Jesus Christ, period.
But when you live in a community like this -- I came here, it'll be 73 years May 1. I live right in this community, 65 years. I've lived in this building 30 years. I land here from Italy -- 1910. I was 121/2 years old. I went to school nine months. I got as far as the fourth grade. My father had to go back to Italy because of illness. He left me here 14 1/2 years old with my married sister.
Q: And you had to support yourself?
A: Oh yeah, sure. Went to work $3.50, $4.00 a week in 1911, 1912. Then I went to school three, four nights a week to become a machinist. I learn to speak English. I became a machinist after four years. So I was 18, 19 years old, I was U.S. citizen. I got in politics for fun.
Q: Tell me how you got into politics.
A: They couldn't get a Democratic precinct captain here. Ninety percent of my precinct was in the Presbyterian Church. I only had about 10 or 15 Italian votes. Those English and Jewish and German and Northern Ireland -- they belonged to Presbyterian church. They couldn't get them to be a Democrat. Their religion was Republican. Tim Tierny -- Irish precinct captain -- he induced me. Said, "Come on, be a precinct captain like I am." "What the hell, what's a precinct captain?" I told him. I was a machinist, right? The bug bit me and I stayed in.
Late Mayor Daley -- his soul rest in peace -- I served in the legislature with him. He was in the senate and I was in the house. He been to every one of my kids' weddings. I was at every one of his kids' weddings. We had a good relationship. We sit down once a while and talk things over. He said, "Vito, in politics, some get drunk with power, some with liquor, some with dope, some with money." And it's so much true. Me, myself and I. They like to hear themselves talk.
Q: Have you ever supported a Republican before?
A: 1972. Nixon. And Ogilvie for governor.
Q: Why was that?
A: I'll tell you why. It was the first time I went for delegate for the national convention. There was 59 of us. Oh, but McGovern in Washington! I tell you -- you find more connivers. If the Lord ever know what's going on he'd burn 'em all alive. They throw us out!
Q: You got thrown out of the convention?
A: Thrown out of the convention! From Mayor Daley down! What happened to me alone, I tell you too I won't give any attention. I figure what the hell. I'm Italian, I'm young. I don't care. But 59 of us from Mayor Daley down! The biggest vote-getter that Chicago ever had!
Q: Do you know Epton? Do you know much about him?
A: I know quite a bit about him. Number one I know his brother. Very Republican. When the machine got so strong, Daley always got a Republican candidate here and there to endorse. I made a talk before the slatemaking committee. Let's get someone, I said, who is friendly with us. Not stab us in the back. They all approved that. So, all right. I helped them nominate Epton's brother, Sol Epton. And we became very good friends.
I stick with my party. I broke away a couple times. But otherwise, I was never an obstructionist. 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's over, I always respect the elected official no matter if they're Democrat or Republican or Independent.
Q: Why doesn't that apply in this primary? Washington won the primary fair and square and yet you still aren't supporting him.
A: Because the attitude that he's taken, the atmosphere, in my book is an insult to every goddamned legitimate voter in the whole city of Chicago. What the hell did he ever contribute to the city of Chicago to become a mayor? The man is a disgrace. He serve in jail. He don't pay income tax. Why should I support a man like that?
Q: A lot of people say the only reason that white Democrats aren't supporting him is because he's black. That it's racism.
A: Naw, naw. Twenty-five percent of my ward is black. The biggest Democratic job I got in this ward is a black. Every black precinct captain's got a job. It's not going to have any difference with ethnic or racial group.
Q: You wouldn't object to Chicago having a black mayor, it's just Harold Washington?
A: Well, if he was the Democratic nominee he was not the Democratic-endorsed candidate, number one. Number two, he got elected under false pretense. He lies like the face of the clock. He's running all over the country to get help. I wouldn't even elect him as dog-catcher.
Q: What did it help him having Mondale come in, John Glenn come in?
A: Money. Raising money left and right. That's their second name and the first name and everything else. They just don't know how to behave. They don't know how to act halfway decent. When they talk alone they throw nothing but s - --hit in your face.
Q: Who are you talking about?
A: The Buffalo Bill that they wanna elect mayor. What the hell is his name now?
A: I'm 85 years old. You mean to tell me I've got to take orders and I've got to pay attention to someone like that running all over my behind? Why for Christ's sake. I'd go back to Italy if I had to do that.
Q: Well, what he says is that white Democrats owe it to the black race to support him because blacks have voted for white candidates all these years.
A: We've been supporting black candidates for years and years and years. (He's) the racketeer, the free-luncher. The man don't want to pay taxes. You pay your taxes. How am I going to tell you to pay taxes when I don't pay taxes myself?
Q: Do you think you could change many people's minds about Washington?
A: I think I could change a few.
Q: How would they be changed?
A: Here I went to a wake Thursday night. The mother of the head of the Republican party. I walked in and you'd thought Jesus Christ had walked in there. Everyone in the place, a big chapel, took me to everybody. The people walked up to me and, "Hey, Alderman Marzullo, Alderman Marzullo." I just speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And God wants it that way, all right, and if he don't want it that way, let him put me down. I got a lot of friends all over the city of Chicago. Way on the north side or the south side, black, white, the evergreen. I got the most cosmopolitan ward in the city of Chicago.
Q: Your ward has changed a lot, the population here has shifted. How have you been able to stay in power.
A: Communication and service to the people all year round. I love people of all walk of life. I don't say well are you Italian, you're a Pole, you're an African, you're black or white. I treat other people like I want to be treated.
However, I do have one bad habit. I am allergic to people when they drop in with a chip on their shoulder. They say alderman, we got certain demands to make. I give one look at them, you don't make any goddamn demands to this alderman, you understand? I'll be alderman when every one of you is dead and buried. Get out. That's it.
Q: How powerful are you?
A: I'm not saying that I'm powerful. I'm saying that I'm just an ordinary public servant. Jobs? Naturally I'm not going to give a job to a Republican and independent that knifed me on election day. But jobs -- I can help in private industry or any business. And politics is nothing other but business.
Q: How many jobs do you control?
A: There isn't much to control nowadays anymore because many of them became civil service. But all in all I'd say I may got 60, 70 jobs under a temporary authority.
Q: If somebody wants a city job from this ward, how do they get it? Do they come to you?
A: Hell, you have Western Electric Co. Don't they have an employment office? What do they do? Just throw the jobs away? Hire anybody who comes along? It's impossible. What kind of country can you operate without an organization? Can you operate a church, a cemetery or an education institution? A drug store or a grocery store if you haven't got somebody in charge? What's the crime about this? Well when the Democrats are in, that's a machine. When the Republicans are in, that's a Republican organization.
Q: How many people do you consider part of the organization in your ward?
A: The organization in my ward are not composed of just temporary job holders. We've got nice busines people, we've got property owners, we've got civic groups that are very cooperative. Because we give them service a la carte. Not just like the groundhog that comes out once a year and then you run back in the hole again. I had an opponent last February run against me who had just got into my ward two months before the election. He wanted to be somebody because he was a Mexican. We got a big Mexican population when you count the cats and the dogs and the mouse and everything else.
Q: The Sun Times endorsed your opponent?
A: Oh, yeah. The Sun Times, the Tribune. The big shot, I always forget his name. The mayor candidate?
Q: Harold Washington?
A: Washington. He took them all over the ward for two weeks before election. Interviewing with this Mexican. Election day he stopped every polling place. What do he ever did for the people in this community? The city of Chicago?
Q: You won that election by what margin?
A: Two to one.
Q: Two to one.
A: But I didn't spend five cents. I had signs. They hire workers. They had the black and white and Mexican or Pole, the devil, the angel, everybody working together. Because they had the newspaper support. The great newspaper of Chicago. We have a nice organization. The business people, religious people. We help them. What do you think that people gonna do when they come out once a year? Give a vote. Don't you think they want to help those that help them? I got 32 churches in the ward. Not all Catholic. Catholic, Protestant, Lithuanian. Every Christmas they get a little contribution from the organization.
Q: Every single church?
A: Every single church.
Q: How does the organization get the money to run itself?
A: We run one annual affair every year -- a dinner dance. Mine this year was last Friday.
Q: Bernie Epton came to that?
A: Yes. We go to business people. They sell tickets to their friends. They pay no dues. No compulsory contribution, nothing. All on a voluntary basis. We take this money, deposit it religiously. Every time it goes it goes out as a check from the organization.
Q: How much do you take in?
A: We say we make about $30,000 or $35,000 a year.
Q: And you support the organization on $30,000 a year?
A: Oh sure.
Q: I would think it would take more than that.
A: Well, no. The church donations here and there.
Q: What service can you offer somebody?
A: For instance, you come over to my headquarters on Thursday night. I got two, three guys just sitting over there, lawyers, corporation counsel, administrative assistant. They come over there on Thursday night and sit with us. You got a legal matter? We turn it over to the lawyers. Free of charge. You got a state matter? We've got a state representative in my organization. You got a county matter? We got a county commissioner in our organization. Don't matter what comes up. We give 'em service. We save them time. Not everybody was born with a regular silver spoon in their mouths, you know.
Q: There's always a lot of stories about vote fraud in Chicago -- charges of people buying votes, voting the cemeteries.
Q: Lot of times the people who make these stories are the biggest crooks in the country. I don't trust them farther than I can see them. We're in a legislature. You're in the city council. Every member in the eyes of some ignorant son of a bitch, every member's a crook. Why do they put all the eggs in one basket? If they got something against this thing, why don't they report it to the proper authority? All they do is talking. Vote fraud! Vote fraud! Why do you have to have vote fraud in a precinct like this?
Q: Are you saying that there isn't vote fraud in your ward?
A: There's probably vote fraud and I'm not saying. But I don't know which vote fraud they talking about.
Q: How old are you?
A: I'll be 86 September 10.
Q: How much longer are you going to stay in politics?
A: Well I was just elected for four years as alderman.
Q: So you'll be 90 when your term ends?
Q: What would Mayor Daley think of you, if he knew that you helped elect a Republican mayor?
A: Well, that would never happen if Daley was here. Because we wouldn't have to do anything to help the Republican mayor. We'd have Daley or Daley's choice.