Monday, January 7, 2013

Jeremiah Joyce: Remembering Chicago’s political best

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Remembering Chicago’s political best
By Ray Hanania

Oftentimes, we only think of the people who made it to the highest of political ranks when we reminisce about Chicago’s history, and usually on the date of some “anniversary.”

The other day we remembered the death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. Washington was certainly one of the most interesting city executives. He had the best sense of humor and did what many tried to do, bring reform to the City Council.

Sometimes we ignore those who should be better remembered, like former Mayor Jane M. Byrne, who slammed Chicago politics like a Tsunami. We don’t hear much about her, but we should.

But I want to recall someone I truly admired as a political genius. We haven’t heard much about him over the years, except when his son briefly took over the helm in the 19th Ward. Jeremiah Joyce.

Joyce was a Chicago alderman when I met him. A brilliant strategist with a mischievous inclination for political intrigue. I remember when Byrne was mayor giving a speech to the precinct captains at the old Bismarck Hotel – the same place where her predecessor Michael A. Bilandic compared himself to Jesus Christ before losing to Byrne – a helium balloon carrying a tape-recording of the late Mayor Daley blared loudly above everyone’s heads warning them that either they “hang together or hang separately.”

That was a time when Mayor Byrne was obsessed with destroying the career of Daley’s son Richie. Byrne defeated the Machine and then became its head with the rotted politically support of Ald. Ed Vrdolyak and CHA Boss Charlie Swibel.

Instead of destroying Daley, Byrne persecuted Little Richie Daley, politically martyred him and with Joyce’s brilliance, turned Daley into one of Chicago’s greatest mayors.

Joyce was a former Chicago cop and former assistant state’s attorney. He was a member of the Mensa Society, a place reserved for true geniuses scoring among the top 2 percent on standardized intelligence testing. There were not too many members of the Chicago City Council who qualified in that narrow region of intelligence. Most were in the 2 percent at the other end of the spectrum.

It wasn’t just that Joyce was so much more brilliant than the rest of his colleagues, like the one alderman who lost his loaded gun leaving it on top of a City Hall toilet during a council meeting.

Joyce wasn’t just brilliant. He understood the reality of Chicago politics and didn’t covet it the way others did. He loved his ward, always bringing home the bacon for his neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and Mt. Greenwood.

I first met Joyce at the annual Snowflake Ball in Beverly Hills. He arranged an interview with Bilandic and later introduced me to one of the most colorful and quotable characters Chicago, the late Ald. Roman Pucinski. Pucinski had a class you don’t see often these days in City Hall. He struck a powerful profile of power and leadership with his long white hair.

Our falling out happened when I happened upon two of Byrne’s bodyguards working the Anna’s Fried Dough booth in 1980 at ChicagoFest, an event Byrne vowed to cancel. Byrne secretly gave Mike Graney and Rory O’Connor the lucrative concession. They blamed Joyce believing he tipped me off. In fact, it was the greed and arrogance of Byrne, Graney and O’Connor that got them in trouble.

Oh, the old days were great. I know that I’m not the only one who misses them.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at

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