Chicago Sun-Times

Even a Change Agent Needs a Change

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June 20, 2009

Maybe Forrest Claypool is right. Maybe it's time to leave his commissioner post on the Cook County Board. And abandon his quest to depose Todd Stroger as its president.

Eight is enough.

Seriously.

As much as I bang the reform drum (to no avail, it must be noted), there's a lesson in Claypool's blockbuster announcement.

That lesson: term limits.

Legislated or self-imposed.

I saw Claypool early Thursday morning. He had e-mailed the night before, and we met at a breakfast joint on Clark Street. I assumed it was to say he was running, followed by a big pitch about his candidacy.

Like everyone else, I was stunned when he said, "I'm not doing it."

Major life decisions, when written across the face of the person making them, look like what they usually are: agony.

I imagine Lisa Madigan might be in the same shape. Twisting, sleepless, trying to do the calculus on her own life story. Should she stay in the job she loves, Illinois attorney general; run for governor against a decent, fellow Democrat incumbent, or go for the U.S Senate after being wooed at the White House?

The only thing good thing about hard decisions, I've found, is that they're a great diet.

That belief was confirmed as I watched Claypool pick around the edges of a largely neglected waffle while drinking a gallon of coffee.

All you reformers out there, before you shoot me your own e-mails, hear me out. I know that Claypool's leaving County Board is a blow, especially because former Commissioner Mike Quigley is gone now, too, to Congress. They were two of very few voices raised against the entitlement and excess of a government populated by an army of pols who take care of themselves better than they do the communities they're supposed to serve.

But let's remember the road Claypool traveled to get to the County Board. In 1982, a year out of the University of Illinois' law school (no, he was not clouted in), he briefly worked for now-House Speaker Mike Madigan, doing legislative reviews. Then he quickly moved on to work for now-Gov. Pat Quinn at the Board of Tax Appeals, the site of a massive tax-bribery scandal. Quinn swept in on a reform ticket.

Claypool moved on, working for the late Paul Simon in his 1984 Senate bid and then partnered in a political consulting firm with Obama senior adviser David Axelrod before becoming Mayor Daley's chief of staff in 1989. He was head of the patronage-clogged Chicago Park District from 1993-1998. At the Park District, Claypool infuriated Daley and Madigan, among others, by firing payrollers, cutting contracts and challenging the system.

But in 1998, like it or not, Daley needed him back after another City Hall scandal to signal things had changed

They hadn't.

When Claypool first ran for the County Board in 2002, he took on one of the all-time triple-dippers at the public trough, incumbent Commissioner Ted Lechowicz. A Northwest Side boss, Lechowicz loved to vote himself pay raises while raising your taxes.

Daley and Madigan and the regular Dems backed Lechowicz. Only Ald. Eugene Schulter stood with Claypool.

Claypool's victory was proof that sometimes-weary Chicago voters do get fed up.

Reform is not some unilateral notion, and Claypool has worked at it in more venues than most. He'll continue to now in the private sector on behalf of national health care reform.

Even the most ardent change agent needs to change up his or her own life from time to time. Before getting stale or bitter or, worse, too seduced by the power.

Claypool decided eight years in public office was enough.

Bravo. And thanks.

And may your example be followed by an army of others.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on June 20, 2009 6:05 AM.

Sammy Sosa: Is Anyone Honestly Surprised? was the previous entry in this blog.

In Illinois Politics, You As For 'Em, We Got 'Em is the next entry in this blog.

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