By Dennis Byrne

Wall Street Journal, Eastern edition [New York, N.Y] 02 June 1994: PAGE A14.

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CHICAGO — Whatever else happens, Dan Rostenkowski’s indictment already has accomplished one thing in these parts: restoration of sympathy for politicians caught chiseling the taxpayers.

Hard to believe, I know. If anyone ought to be mad about Rep. Rostenkowski’s alleged felonious behavior, it’s Chicagoans. But apparently not so. “A little theft as long as it doesn’t hurt {Chicagoans} — that’s just the way Chicago business works,” said a retired contractor. “It’s very functional in its own perverse way. It works very well.”

The newspapers, wire stories and columns here are chock-full of such conventional wisdom. A little graft to get things done is no vice. Make a little dough on the side, help a few friends. That’s the Chicago way, and if you don’t know that, you don’t know the score.

Far be it from me, a Chicago native, to disagree with my fellow city-residents, but the gnashing of teeth over how we might have to live our lives without Rosty doing us favors has become just a bit too much.

Well, yes, he has done a few things: He helped engineer the deal for Presidential Towers, the financially troubled housing development that benefited some pals. He got funding for rebuilding the Kennedy Expressway, a road bisecting his district that’s loaded with suburban motorists crawling home. He slipped into law some bonds for Comiskey Park, which some folks criticized as just some more public money for private interests.

Despite all the ballyhoo about his effectiveness, though, when it comes to federal aid Illinois remains a bottom feeder among the states. Guess Rosty couldn’t do it all.

But many seem to think that, on the federal level, he could. As strong as the can’t-get-along-without-Rosty sentiment is here, it is an affliction that appears to have caught on nationally. Only Rosty, we’re informed, can navigate health care reform through Congress. Credit Rosty for tax reform. Never mind that his vision for health care reform may not be best for the nation. Never mind that there’s some dispute over just how great a favor Rosty did for most Americans with his version of tax reform.

Something’s gravely amiss when it is expected that legislation should move along not on its merits, but on who can swing the best deal, bend the most arms, smooth over the most bumps. If you need someone like Mr. Rostenkowski, whose campaign and now legal defense funds have benefited so hugely from the special interests, then maybe what he intends to push through Congress ought to get a much closer look.

Here, the pitiful remorse at the perceived loss of Chicago’s clout speaks about how poorly and pessimistically Chicagoans have come to think of themselves. It was gut-check time for Chicago-ans when the Democratic primary rolled around last April, and folks had to decide where they stood in the face of the reports that the fellow they were voting for could soon be indicted. Many of the most powerful people and institutions in town went for Mr. Rostenkowski, not so much because they cherished the American precept of innocent until proven guilty, but because they bought wholesale his campaign theme: “He delivers for Chicago.”

And so, we witnessed a Republican Party that refused to slate a credible candidate against him, virtually ensuring that voters in November would have a choice between an indicted Democrat and a no-name Republican. We had a Republican governor who looked more like he was running on Rosty’s slate than his own. We had a fat, boring, historically Republican newspaper endorse Rosty for the good he could do our town, never mind whatever assault he may have committed on public morality and decency.

And what good has he done for us? Here’s one way of looking at it: The average American pays roughly $1,900 a year in federal income taxes. If the charges against him are true, all the income taxes that 263 Americans paid went for Rosty’s transgressions. Not for national defense, not for Head Start, not for deficit reduction. As they say in Chicago: Please, don’t do us no more favors.

Mr. Byrne is a member of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.