Raw tape #23 for Vito Marzullo documentary. Despres #1. Interview with Alderman Leon Despres, who had a longtime feud with Marzullo and served with him in the city council for over twenty years. He gives his description of Marzullo's character and shares his dislike of Marzullo both personally and politically. Despres also gives a concise description the political institution known informally as the "Chicago Machine" and how it operates.
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00:54Copy video clip URL The tape begins in the middle of a conversation between director Tom Weinberg and Alderman Leon Despres, a critic of the Democratic “Machine” who accused Alderman Vito Marzullo of wrongdoing. Despres reads a press release from Marzullo which says in part, “I consider Despres wholly irresponsible, a nitwit, vicious person, a menace to the city council and the public at large.” When Marzullo’s words boast that he never abstained from a city council vote due to conflict of interest, Weinberg asks “Is that because he didn’t have any?” “No,” Despres replies with a laugh.
03:16Copy video clip URL Weinberg shares the observation that Marzullo “doesn’t give a damn at all” about what he says. Despres suddenly realizes that the camera has been rolling and the interview starts in earnest.
04:21Copy video clip URL Weinberg shares some strong personal opinions about Marzullo before asking Despres for his views on the man. “I’ve never known him to make a disclosure, or full disclosure, or anything resembling it, of either his assets or his income,” Despres says, adding that Marzullo “has been turned into a kind of folk hero,” though undeservedly. Mentioning Marzullo’s many guest lectures at universities, Despres says Marzullo spouts half-truths, even though “he gives the appearance of talking frankly and openly.”
07:44Copy video clip URL Turning to Marzullo’s political life, Despres dubs him a “dominator of his ward and the people who work for him,” and explains the tight-knit nature of the political machine. Despres, who served more than 20 years with him in the city council, feels that Marzullo votes as a typical “machine man” who didn’t promote progressive city policies. “He used to thunder against people who tried to eliminate discrimination and segregation. That was his pet subject,” Despres says.
09:38Copy video clip URL Despres explains the roots of the feud between him and Marzullo, which sprouted over a statement Despres made on the council floor with regards to the Committee of Local Transportation. Marzullo, a member of that committee, took the statement as an insult. “If you mention my name to Marzullo, he becomes livid. To this day—I haven’t been to the city council since 1974—to this day he becomes livid.”
11:38Copy video clip URL Despres, former Political Action Chairman of the Independent Voters of Illinois, explains that when Marzullo first ran for alderman, his group sponsored their own candidate in the race in an attempt to clean up the then-unsavory reputation of the 25th Ward. Despres claims that his group was pushed off the ballot, and though they lost, Marzullo still carried a grudge against the one precinct who didn’t vote for him.
13:27Copy video clip URL Weinberg, a regular visitor to the ward office throughout shooting, shares his own observations of Marzullo’s “authoritarian” governance of his precinct captains. “If the guy doesn’t do his job, he is raked over the coals and removed.” Despres responds, “The lash of patronage is the destruction of livelihood. That’s the power of patronage, that’s what makes an organization authoritarian. You go to the ward meeting of an authoritarian committeeman, and you don’t hear any discussion of democratic principles. You hear a completely authoritarian, Hitler-style tirade.” Despres talks at length about the patronage system in Chicago under Mayor Richard J. Daley.
16:50Copy video clip URL Weinberg says he’s been unable to get Marzullo to speak about his personal finances and shows the 25th Ward Democratic Committee ad book to Despres. Chuckling as he thumbs through the pages, he comments, “It allows businesses to pay money to a ward organization, and in reality what is a political contribution, but is allowed as a business deduction for advertising. Of course, the advertising value is zero.”
18:53Copy video clip URL Weinberg inquires further into the connections displayed by the ad book, and seems perplexed and frustrated. Despres begins to explain, “The Chicago political machine is an aggregation of about 35,000 people… mostly men—in all the high positions, only men—who make a living off politics.” He goes on to detail the legal and illegal ways in which machine politicians make money, and accuses Mayor Daley of using the machine system to make money for friends and family. He explains that many business under pressure from machine politics, like the ones in the book, place advertisements as a protection against reprisals from officials.