With a bitter blast at "intellectuals, trouble-makers and know-hows" whose districting proposal would carve up his power base in Chicago's Little Italy, the dean of the City Council has announced that he will retire in 1987 after two-thirds of a century in politics.
Alderman Vito Marzullo emigrated from Italy in 1909 when he was 12, became a Democratic precinct captain in 1919 and has represented the 25th Ward for 32 years, most of them during the heyday of the late mayor Richard J. (Boss) Daley, whom he revered.
But the ward redistricting plan, supported by a majority on the racially divided council, will throw Marzullo into the neighboring First Ward, also heavily Italian, where a younger alderman holds sway. At a rare news conference this week, Marzullo said that was the end.
"You can't fight the Army and the Navy," he said.
"I'm 88 years old, and they redistricted the wards," complained Marzullo, who has ruled out moving to the new 25th Ward where black and Hispanic influence would be increased. "It makes it difficult with all these nationalities running around. There isn't much you could do . . . I don't like it, but I can't help it. This is the federal law."
Marzullo has won 23 elections, 21 of them unopposed. He served seven terms in the Illinois General Assembly, beginning in 1941, and nine terms on the council, to which he was was first elected in 1953. "Nobody filed against me," he once boasted, "even for public nuisance!"
Marzullo, shortish and dapper, favors dark suits and white shirts buttoned carefully to the collar even though he seldom wears a tie. He is rarely in his plush suite at City Hall -- where his octogenarian step in the corridors is met with quick salutations from office-seekers, friends, proteges and influence-peddlers -- and he seldom speechifies during council meetings.
His real arena is his ward's party headquarters, where he served as committeeman from 1956 to 1984 and where he still meets his constituents every Tuesday night.
"They complain about taxes," he told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Harry Golden Jr. earlier this week, "and I say, 'How much does your husband make today, and how much did he make 10 years ago?' Nothing comes down except the rain."
Marzullo's biography traces a familiar American odyssey:
The young, illiterate immigrant, forced to leave school in the fourth grade to take a $4-a-week factory job, became mesmerized by the thought of mastering the machines. Attending night school, he learned to read and write English, learned the machinist's trade and moved up in the world, becoming a faithful rank-and-file worker for the Democratic party in the lower-class tenements where the new arrivals lived and toiled.
After helping the Democrats take control of the ward, Marzullo held various patronage jobs, including a $150-a-month slot as a county treasurer's clerk, then deputy city court bailiff, then ward sanitation superintendent. He told anyone who asked that he owed it all to America.
Throughout his long career, Marzullo remained an unabashed, flag-waving Democrat. But along with many other ethnic whites, he bolted in 1983 to back GOP mayoral candidate Bernard Epton when Harold Washington, a black, won the Democratic primary -- and the election.
This week, Marzullo was by turns philosophical, pragmatic and pugnacious about his departure, which is being brought about by much the same forces he opposed in the election. The redistricting plan is under consideration by a federal judge.
"It's what this world is," he said at the news conference. "They cut the wards up themselves to give it to other nationalities. We're not going to cry over it."
Although he has been in uncertain health lately, the prospect of retirement has not dulled one of the pithiest tongues at City Hall. "Now, they're gonna run the country by federal court, by fakers, judges, or commissioners," he said. "Who is the federal court to run people out after they are elected? This is a crime committed by those intellectuals, troublemakers and know-hows. When you give them a $10 bill, they can't even get a dog out of the dog pound for you!"
The redistricting could shift control of the City Council into the hands of Washington, who now controls only 21 of the 50 seats on the all-Democratic Council. The majority bloc of 29 aldermen is led by Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Committee and Washington's bitterest political foe.
Under the plan, minority voters, chiefly Hispanics and blacks, would gain substantial strength in five wards now represented by Marzullo and four other white aldermen.
If U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle approves the plan and orders special elections, as plaintiffs in the three-year-old suit advocate, the results could break the majority -- and bring on an even earlier retirement for Marzullo.
The elderly alderman, who over the years turned down many offers of higher office on grounds that "I just want to stay where I am . . . where I can help my friends and shaft my enemies," is not completely enthusiastic about retirement.
Asked if he has plans beyond his departure, Marzullo said, "I don't have to do anything. I'm 88 years old. I have no plans.