Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (1928-2010)

This has been a summer full of deaths that have a close connection to Media Burn.  Yesterday, we were saddened to hear about the death of former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

Dan Rostenkowski was one of the most powerful Congressmen in Washington for 36 years, serving as the Chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. His seat in the 5th district of Illinois continues to be a national and local locus of power, having been filled by Rod Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel, and now Mike Quigley.

In 1980, Tom Weinberg spent several weeks shooting Rostenkowski at the height of his power, at the time of his first appointment to the Chairmanship of Ways and Means. In our video tribute below, Rostenkowski openly discusses the way politics actually get done in Chicago and Washington. It begins with his frank introduction to the 1980 freshman Democratic Representatives orientation meeting, where he assures the new politicians that the Democratic party will never ask them to vote for bills that will harm their chances of being re-elected, and therefore expects their loyalty. Next, he tells a story that reveals not only his own power on the national level, but shows that in all matters Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley trumped even President Lyndon Johnson. Finally, we see Rostenkowski in action at a rally in Pulaski Park, speaking with genuine affection about his lifetime neighborhood of Bucktown, confident that it would eventually revitalize.

Weinberg and Rostenkowski

Dan Rostenkowski and Tom Weinberg on Election Day, 1980

Through the support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, we were able to digitize all 15 hours of Rostenkowski from 1980, and all of these rare historical materials are available on They form an in-depth look at the Chicago and national political process and this fascinating character.


A DVD of this documentary, including outtakes of the Congressman, will soon be available for purchase through the Tribeca Film Festival’s Reframe project — keep your eye out for an announcement this fall.



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