This 1981 documentary creates a revealing portrait of Dan Rostenkowski, Chicago's most important Congressman in Washington, at the time when he first became Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. It demonstrates the style and deep-rooted network of politics in Washington and Chicago, the colorful man himself, and his contemporaries. "The Chairman" was at the height of his power when this documentary was produced, a over a decade before Rostenkowski was indicted, convicted and sent to Federal prison. It shows the inner workings of Congress and politics from the point of view of a genuine insider... the phone calls, relationships, and processes that run this country.
0:00Copy video clip URL Count-in, WTTW logo.
0:27Copy video clip URL Dan Rostenkowski, Chicago Congressman and longtime 32nd Ward Committeeman, relates a story that demonstrates the way that Chicago politics works. He recalls talking to President Lyndon Johnson about a median strip extension for CTA on the Kennedy Expressway on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Johnson assured him it would be happening. Johnson then talked with Mayor Richard J. Daley, and immediately called back Rostenkowski and said that he had been mistaken, all along the money was actually going to be used to extend median strip for the surface lines on the Dan Ryan Expressway on the South Side of Chicago, right near Daley’s Bridgeport home.
1:54Copy video clip URL Signs proclaim “Dan Rostenkowski, your voice in Washington DC.” Rostenkowski gives speech at 32nd Ward Pre-Election Rally in Pulaski Park. “We’re talking with our community 365 days a week.”
2:33Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski describes himself as Daley’s right hand man.
2:55Copy video clip URL Mayor Jane Byrne talks about Rostenkowski. Virginia Fletcher, Rostenkowski’s executive secretary, talks about how difficult Rostenkowski’s job is. We go through Rostenkowski’s schedule for the day with him.
3:58Copy video clip URL Former President Gerald Ford talks about Rostenkowski while standing by the golf course in Palm Springs. He attributes Rosty’s success to his honesty and decency.
4:23Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski talks about his theory of success in politics. “My theory is…if you try to spread yourself out so that you ‘re not really thin, but you’re exposed to as many people that are moving, when lightning strikes, you might not get the whole bolt, but you’ll get a bit of a shock, and that will keep you moving. And all my life, throughout my political career, I like where the action is, and I move in that direction, and it’s fun.”
4:55Copy video clip URL Senator Adlai Stevenson, Democrat from Illinois, describes why Rostenkowski is an effective legislator. “I think of him more as a man who can get things done than I do of him as a philosopher…as one who can get things done for the City of Chicago and for his President.” We see a Rostenkowski billboard and footage of Rostenkowski with a young Richard M. Daley at a rally.
5:37Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski talks further about political tactics. He says that sometimes you have to vote in the interest of the country instead of your constituency.
6:05Copy video clip URL House Majority Leader Rep. Jim Wright (D-Texas), talks about Rostenkowski. The essence of Rostenkowski: sincere. “I would trust my life or my wife with Danny.”
6:43Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski says there is a distinct similarity between inner city politics and southern politics.
7:20Copy video clip URL Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Democratic Speaker of the House, praises Rostenkowski’s style.
7:42Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski says that what he most enjoys is frank appraisals by his colleagues. He says he always tries to win in every situation.
8:05Copy video clip URL Ford, who spent 23 years in Congress, says he has gotten to know Rostenkowski much better since leaving the Oval Office. He says that Rostenkowski hates losing in any situation, including golf.
8:27Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski says that he’s not afraid to go over to people in other states and bargain.
8:54Copy video clip URL We see Rostenkowski in Washington in Congress, where he has recently been elevated to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Rostenkowski talks about the power involved in the position and how the power of the whole Regan White House will flow through that committee.
10:53Copy video clip URL Al Ullman, House Ways and Means Chairman for 20 years, describes the responsibilities involved in that position, which he claims restricts the office holder in having to frame all decisions through a larger context of the White House and the country.
11:05Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski says that he has always dominated his relationships because he is creative. Ullman, who has spent 26 years in Congress, says Rostenkowski will do things differently than him, but he has confidence in his abilities.
11:36Copy video clip URL Ways and Means Committee meeting. People mill around and talk.
11:56Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski says he talked to Governor Thompson about a particular surface transit bill that will benefit Illinois and the Midwest. “The governor gives me the impression that ‘The only person who can do it is you, Dan.'”
13:10Copy video clip URL Rep. Harold Washington, in his first day as a Congressman, greets Rostenkowski at a meeting for newly elected Democrats. Rostenkowski speaks to group about tactics for voting and doing a good job in office. He says that the most important thing in the first two years of office is getting re-elected, so they’re not going to ask them to vote for things that will ruin their chances. Talks about the important thing being their commitment to the Democratic Party. Basically an introduction to the give-and-take involved in politics.
16:48Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski going in to a closed CIA briefing on Poland.
17:32Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski talks about the situation in Poland.
17:50Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski on airplane talking about how he has one set of keys and stuff for Chicago and another for Washington.
18:10Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski at the rally in Pulaski Park. Band, confetti, smiling children. Rostenkowski says that his voters have given him a great privilege by sending him to Washington. He has won 18 consecutive elections. He says he was lucky to have started when he was so young because now he has seniority.
20:42Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski talks about commuting between Pulaski Park and Washington. We see his wife, LaVerne Rostenkowski, and his four daughters.
21:28Copy video clip URL St Stanislaus Church. Rostenkowski was born and raised in Pulaski Park, and his family goes as far back in the neighborhood as his grandfather. They all even go to the same church, St. Stan’s. He says that he always wanted his kids to grow up in the Midwest because of a particular attitude present there. “I like the Midwest. I think that if there’s a contrast, it’s here in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan. People want to tell you the way it is, and I’d like my children to be raised under that umbrella….[coughs]…That’s all.” He ends the interview.
22:28Copy video clip URL Rally. Rostenkowski introduces Nick Melas of the sanitary district.
23:10Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski talks about how in Chicago, congressmen are not high profile, but other offices like county clerk are. He also talks about President Lyndon Johnson, saying that throughout Johnson’s career, he was an expert on creating the right public image. He says that it is surprising to see him in person because he was a regular guy. When he and his wife went to visit the White House, the President told Lady Bird Johnson to “take him upstairs and show him the private quarters, show him everything.” Weinberg asks what Rostenkowski’s political ambitions are, whether he wants to eventually be Mayor, Speaker or the House, etc. He claims to not know, he just says that he became a congressman at age 28 and has gradually moved up in rank. To him, public service is an obligation. “I should think that any citizen that says, ‘I don’t want to be mayor’, there’s something wrong with that.” Rostenkowski is unclear about whether becoming mayor would be a step up for him, but acknowledges that in the city of Chicago, the office of mayor is much more important than in other cities, because of the legacy of Richard J. Daley.
27:18Copy video clip URL Rostenkowski with wife walking to Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, which is a polling place for the general election. They vote extremely rapidly. “You were faster than me!”, they joke to each other. Rostenkowski says goodbye to Tom: “Ok Tom, that concludes our association.”
28:50Copy video clip URL Credits with Chopin’s “Polanaise.”
29:10Copy video clip URL End of tape.