Vito Marzullo

A portrait of Chicago's 25th ward alderman, Vito Marzullo, who is described as "the last of the old time machine politicians." It chronicles the workings of Marzullo's ward, Chicago's city hall, and politics in general within the Chicago Democratic "machine." This piece also provides insight into Marzullo's family life with his wife of 65 years, Letiza.

00:30Copy video clip URL John Damagalo, Marzullo’s personal secretary of 18 years, introduces the documentary and gives basic facts about the 25th Ward. A slide show plays, including a picture of Marzullo with Robert Kennedy and a picture of Marzullo with Jimmy Carter and Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic.

01:27Copy video clip URL Marzullo boasts of his 58 years in politics, holding positions ranging from precinct captain and ward superintendent to alderman and state legislator. “Do I look like a natural dumb?” he asks sarcastically.

01:51Copy video clip URL Chicago historian and political science professor Milton Rakove comments, “I think Marzullo is one of the last, without question, one of the last of the old-time machine politicians in Chicago.”

02:09Copy video clip URL Marzullo and his wife, Letizia, explain the changing ethnic demographics of their neighborhood from their living room sofa. They also talk about their family history. “I’ve been listening to this politics for 56 years, mind you. It’s a long time,” says Marzullo’s wife with a wry smile. Her husband criticizes the young generation of Americans, commenting, “I say this country better wake up or they won’t have no country left.”

08:16Copy video clip URL Footage from the 1978 Democratic Party Dinner, where Marzullo met President Jimmy Carter. “I know that God must love Cook County Democrats because he made so many of you,” Carter says in his keynote address. “The best democratic organization in the United States is yours.”

09:34Copy video clip URL As Carter praises Chicago’s system of aldermen, the video shows footage from inside Marzullo’s ward office. Marzullo meets with his precinct captains, to address neighborhood issues, and meets with a young woman of his ward who wants his help in securing a promotion at work.

16:07Copy video clip URL Still in his ward office, Marzullo has harsh words for a petitioner who complains about poorly-repaired potholes. “You gentlemen gotta learn one thing. If you’re sick and you go to doctor you don’t tell him… aches and pains, don’t tell the doctor how to cure it… I told him [Nebo] to do everything possible. Now what he didn’t do means he can’t,” Marzullo says.

17:16Copy video clip URL Rakove explains that Marzullo refuses to accept more prestigious political offices. ” ‘I just want to stay where I am as an alderman and a committeeman, where I can help my friends and screw my enemies.’ Now that’s a real Chicago Machine politician,” Rakove says, quoting Marzullo.

17:41Copy video clip URL Shot of Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, which pans over to city hall. A segment of Marzullo at city hall begins, showing him making business deals and schmoozing with associates.

20:22Copy video clip URL As footage shows Marzullo entering a city council meeting, a voice-over from Rakove says, “I think you have to understand that the Chicago City Council is not a legislative body in the traditional sense. It’s a cross between the Supreme Soviet in Russia and the House of Commons in Great Britain. It fits somewhere in between.”

21:22Copy video clip URL The meeting begins. A voice over from Marzullo says, “You got two kind of people in public life – one kind of people put their heart and soul where the money is, what they can get out of it. The other kind of people, that’s me. I put my heart and soul and everything I got in me where my heart is… The dollar never became my god.”

22:27Copy video clip URL Rakove’s comments on the city council continue, likening it to an elaborate act in which “certain people are given certain roles to play” and legislation is a foreordained conclusion. “It has very little to do, actually, with the governance of the city.” Footage shows Marzullo (wearing a wireless microphone) making private deals with other aldermen, all the while ignoring proceedings on the council floor.

25:59Copy video clip URL Rakove introduces a segment on ward politics. He says, “Politics at this level is not about issues. It’s about garbage cans, street holes, can you get someone a job… The [precinct] captains are totally non-ideological, no ideology, no philosophy, for them politics is basically taking care of people, doing favors for people, getting a job themselves out of it, so they can make a living themselves. And that’s about what they get out of it.”

26:32Copy video clip URL A segment at Marzullo’s ward office shows a difficult confrontation between him and some constituents who want his help cleaning graffiti in the neighborhood.

31:25Copy video clip URL Rakove explains the history of various ethnic groups living in the 25th ward, who “live in enclaves separate from each other and have very little to do with each other outside of politics.”

32:23Copy video clip URL Marzullo explains the demands made on aldermen, saying “You gotta be Philadelphia lawyer… you gotta be everything from a street cleaner to psychiatrist to be an alderman.” He also complains about the influence of Mexican-Americans on Chicago’s west side.

34:17Copy video clip URL “Sometimes he’s a little too open,” says his wife Letizia before the footage cuts back to Marzullo in his office, ranting about Chicago’s Latino population. He calls the conditions in Humboldt Park, a heavily Puerto Rican neighborhood, “a disgrace.”

35:56Copy video clip URL Returns to footage of the Marzullos at home, with the alderman talking about his political career. “If you were to quit tomorrow, I think you would drop dead in six months. He wouldn’t stand it,” Marzullo’s wife tells him.

39:18Copy video clip URL Footage shows Marzullo in his office, saying, “I don’t make as much in five years what it costs me to run this ward.” He pulls out the checkbook of the 25th Ward Democratic Organization and explains his office’s finances.

42:45Copy video clip URL Rakove explains how Marzullo sells $60,000 worth of advertising space in an “ad book” to raise funds. Leon Despres, leafing through the book, calls it a “great gift from the Internal Revenue Service.” He explains, “It allows businesses to pay money to a ward organization, in what is in reality a political contribution, but allowed as a business deduction for advertising. Of course, the advertising value is zero.”

45:58Copy video clip URL Marzullo says, “The only one who don’t make mistakes are the people not doing anything.” Footage cuts back to Despres, who explains that the Chicago Democratic Machine is composed of 35,000 people who make a living off politics, using legal and illegal methods. Rakove explains that rivals Marzullo and Despres are “the antithesis of each other in Chicago,” and explains another angle of the Chicago Machine.

49:00Copy video clip URL “The lash of patronage is the destruction of livelihood,” Despres says, criticizing the Chicago Machine’s “spoils system” and the authoritarian style of governance. Marzullo, however, maintains that “there’s not a black mark against me.” “Those jerks that want to talk about me, let ’em come face-to-face. Let them tell me why I’m not in jail, then,” he says.

52:02Copy video clip URL More with the Marzullos at home, who explain how the alderman’s political life affects their family life and personal schedules. The interview concludes on their balcony. “We’re gonna stay here and we’re going to die in this neighborhood,” Marzullo says.

57:11Copy video clip URL Credits roll as a montage plays of the most memorable clips.



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