Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Former 13th Ward candidate Art Mrumlinski dies

Arthur J. Mrumlinski, probably one of the nicest people to ever run for public office, certainly in a Chicago aldermanic ward race, died Monday night surrounded by his wife, children and family at his Oak Lawn home. He was 65 years old.

Mrumlinski's name may not ring a bell immediately, although he has one of those names like "Hanania" that leaves a few extra letters hanging on your lips after pronouncing it, a joke he and I always used to share over the years.

He succumbed to cancer but only after fighting it for many years. That's not surprising because Arthur J. Mrumlinski was a fighter who didn’t give up easy. And it's that fighter that I remember so clearly from my early days as a Chicago reporter, as if it were just yesterday.

Mrumlinski was a towering figure.

It was about 28 years ago that I first met Mrumlinski. I remember writing about Mrumlinski’s exploits fighting for the underdog, and standing up on behalf of the abandoned residents of the southwest side of Chicago who were abandoned by then Mayor Jane M. Byrne and abandoned by her chief ally at the time, House Minority Leader Michael J. Madigan. Madigan wasn’t a member of the “Cable of Evil Men” that Byrne railed against when she was a “reformer” toppling the house of Mayor Michael A. Bilandic. But Byrne threw out reform and embraced the cabal, and then cut a deal with Madigan to try to destroy her arch enemy, Richard M. Daley.

Although Madigan could not stop Daley from becoming State's Attorney in 1980, he was able to stopD aley from becoming mayor. People have forgotten Madigan's support of Byrne was one of the chief reasons why Daley lost the Democratic Primary election in 1983 against Byrne and then Mayor Harold Washington.

But Mrumlinski was never a hypocrite. And when Madigan abandoned the needs of the Southwest Side to trade off his support of Byrne for her favors, Mrumlinski did not hesitate to take up the challenge and fight to help Daley in his bid for state's attorney.
Later, Mrumlinski ran for alderman against Madigan’s handpicked incumbent, John S. Madrzyk to weaken Byrne's re-election support.

Madryzk was a nice enough fellow. But he was Madigan’s personal henchman in the Byrne City Council.

In 1980, when Daley ran for Cook County State’s Attorney hoping to survive Byrne’s often vicious personal onslaught, Madigan lined up to undermine Daley. Byrne hated Daley more than she hated Vrdolyak, the leader of the “Cabal” and one of the cleverest members of the notoriously corrupt Chicago City Council. Vrdolyak, she knew, wanted power. Daley she was convinced by Vrdolyak, wanted her job. Mrumlinski helped Daley win that election.

In 1983, when Daley challenged Byrne, Mrumlinski again stood up for Daley by running for 13th Ward alderman and challenging Madryzk. The truth was it was an impossible election to win for Mrumlinski. But he knew it would put Madigan in a spot. he could take Mrumlinski for granted and send his precinct workers throughout the city to help Byrne where she needed help, or keep them in the 13th Ward to take no chances with Mrumlinski.

Mrumlinski's candidacy forced Madigan to refocus his ward resources from championing Byrne's re-election campaign. Instead of putting his powerful 13th Ward Democratic Machine Precinct Captains in wards throughout the city that might have favored Daley, Madigan was forced to pile them up five-deep in precincts in the 13th Ward to protect their own. nd that was critical.

Madigan could not afford any embarrassments. Although Mrumlinski might not beat Madryzk, he could garner enough votes to make Madigan look weak. Byrne was like the Roman Emperor Caligula, who ruthlessly sacrificed his ablest generals fearing they might undermine him.

I remember that election so well. Mrumlinski held his fundraiser at a small bar on Pulaski Road in the 13th Ward one night. There were more 13th Ward precinct captains spying on the Mrumlinski fundraiser event than there were attendees. Many people helped and loved Mrumlinski but they recognized how vicious Madigan could be. If they dared to show up, he would have had them fired.

Madigan drowned the ward’s front yards with “Re-elect Madigan” signs and his precinct goons ripped down the few that Mrumlinski was able to place. But Mrumlinski was relentless. Every time one of his signs came down, he was there to put it back up.

Madrzyk won re-election, thanks to Madigan’s power. But thanks to Mrumlinski, Madigan could not help Byrne as much as he might have.

Years later in 1998, Madryzk was convicted of corruption and was sentenced to 41 months for mail fraud. But long before the Feds grabbed Madrzyk and scarred Madigan’s Machine, Art Mrumlinski was on the front lines, an aldermanic Don Quixote who raised his banner to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming and powerful forces.

Mrumlinski spent the rest of his years working to help educate children in the Chicago public schools, and served as the principal of John F. Kennedy High school, 6325 W. 56th Street in Chicago.

Mrumlinski is a tough name to pronounce, but it is a hard name to forget. He’ll be remembered for a long time as a person who stood up for what is right. Persevering against all odds and challenges, be it an impossible uphill aldermanic fight or the refusal to go down easy for cancer.

Arthur J. Mrumlinski: Jan. 11, 1944 - Feb. 9, 2009
Wake: Sunday, February 15th, 3PM-9PM, Blake Lamb Funeral Home, 4727 W 103rd, Oak Lawn, IL 60453. Funeral Mass/Burial: Monday, February 16th, 9:30 AM, Funeral Mass, St. Linus Church, 10300 S. Lawler. Burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 6001 West 111th Street in Worth, Illinois.

-- Ray Hanania


Sarah M. said...

Mr. Mrumlinski was my first-year teaching supervisor. He scared the daylights out of me when I first met him (towering is an understatement along with his booming voice), but was so thankful for his presence in my classroom. I appreciated his honest feedback and reality checks. They were always accompanied with a "you can do it" attitude. I will remember him fondly as a mentor and appreciate all that he has done for me as an educator.

Arthur said...

Sarah, Thank you for the kind words about my father. He shared the same "you can do it" atitude with his children as he did his students. It's very nice to hear from people that he has affected througout his career.