Raw tape #20, #21, #22 for Vito Marzullo documentary. City Hall #1, #2, #3. Political historian Milton Rakove, a professor of political science at University of Illinois-Chicago, interviews Vito Marzullo in his office at City Hall.
00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars. While the crew adjusts the camera, director Tom Weinberg can be heard briefing Rakove on what to ask in the interview.
01:40Copy video clip URL Easing into the interview, Rakove asks Marzullo what he thinks of the Channel 11 crews documenting his life. Marzullo’s answer reveals a great deal about his attitude toward news media as a whole, namely that he sees it as a waste of taxpayer money that can’t accurately reflect Chicago politics.
02:04Copy video clip URL Hitting the political questions, Rakove asks if the 25th Ward is a microcosm of Chicago politics, to which Marzullo unhesitatingly responds, “I’ve got the best ward in Chicago.” “I’ve got people from all walks of life… you name ’em and I’ve got ’em,” he says, explaining the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup and its changes over time. “Did politics change in the ward?” Rakove asks. “Not at all… because they get the same service no matter who they are,” Marzullo responds.
03:49Copy video clip URL “What kinds of things does your ward organization do?” Rakove asks point blank. “Anything that’s within the power of the city or county or state government,” comes Marzullo’s broad answer. Rakove challenges him to further explain, and Marzullo’s answers center on the idea of “service,” boasting that his organization connects citizens with services ranging from sanitation to police protection to legal advice and more for no charge. “So what do you expect the voters to do in return for you?” Rakove asks. “Let their conscience be their guide… they vote Democrat.”
06:15Copy video clip URL Taking a tangent to criticize “intellectuals” who he criticizes for not participating in political life, Marzullo emphasizes that his precinct captains are the “backbone” of his political organization because they live and associate with voters and participate in the community.
07:22Copy video clip URL Marzullo pauses to answer a phone call, which seems to regard some sort of promotion or hiring. Rakove seizes the moment to question Marzullo about political patronage. “I talked to some employees looking for some kind of promotion. They qualify. I’d like to see them promoted,” Marzullo says. “Nothing wrong with that. Is that a crime? In the eyes of some big people that’s crime because they don’t want the ordinary person to contact the people personally.”
08:57Copy video clip URL “I’m like Truman — if I can’t stand the heat I get out of the kitchen, but I can take more heat than any public official in the country,” Marzullo says of his 58 years in politics. He goes on to explain his choice to enter politics and his loyalty to the Democratic Party.
10:01Copy video clip URL Asked what he looks for in a precinct captain, Marzullo says, “I practice what I preach and I preach what I practice. I want them to carry on the policy of the Democratic Party and above all, the policy that I believe in.” He goes on to explain that he recommends people for jobs based on both their loyalty to him and their qualifications for the job. As for his expectations of his employees, Marzullo again emphasizes the idea of “service.”
11:38Copy video clip URL Rakove questions Marzullo about the heavily democratic makeup of his ward, citing figures that the difference between parties in some precincts is as high as 320 Democrats to 3 Republicans. Marzullo deflects the questions with self-evident answers. They also cover hot-button issues of the ward, like distribution of garbage cans, which Marzullo obtains from friends in that business. “Is that a crime?” he asks again.
14:37Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks what criticisms have made Marzullo angriest over the years. He responds, “I’m not a perfect man… The only ones who don’t make mistakes are the people not doing anything.” The ensuing conversation dips into past offices he held, and reveals that Marzullo has run 20 times for re-election as alderman, but only once had any opposition. He won that election by a margin of 15 to 1.
17:48Copy video clip URL They remark on many citizens’ ignorance of politics, to which Marzullo says, “It isn’t our fault the people don’t want to learn what kind of government we have.” He goes on to compare Chicago’s 50 wards to miniature cities, each in need of public services and leadership, and he elaborates more on his role as alderman. Weinberg and Rakove continue to question him about his relationship with his precinct captains, especially when election season rolls around and Marzullo says he must give estimates to party leaders about how many democratic votes his ward can provide. Tape cuts out for about 10 seconds.
22:43Copy video clip URL Rakove and Marzullo speak briefly about the alderman’s relationship with local clergy, including a priest who is a personal friend of Marzullo’s and tries to deliver him Democratic votes. Marzullo says he makes sure that churches receive street sweeping for Easter Sunday and snow removal before the rest of the neighborhood in the winter.
23:53Copy video clip URL Rakove asks him about his availability to his citizens. Marzullo says that people visit his ward office on referrals of businessmen, precinct captains, clergymen or simply by themselves. They talk more about the role of precinct captains and Marzullo shares his experiences as one earlier in his political career.
25:52Copy video clip URL Rakove shares statistics from a Northwestern University researcher saying that in 1976, Chicagoans made 450,000 calls to the mayor’s office. That same year, residents of Houston (at that time roughly comparable in size to Chicago) made only 20,000 calls to their mayor’s office. Rakove asks Marzullo about his role in a political climate in which citizens expect so much service from public officials.
26:46Copy video clip URL Marzullo talks about his interactions with non-Democrats, including his 10 years served in the state legislature under Republican governors. “I learned to respect the good will of the people, that they made the decisions they made.” He also criticizes people he sees as “obstructionists,” in the city council and other legislative bodies who are “against everything that God ever sends down.”
28:18Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks if Marzullo still enjoys his job—”You betcha,” comes the reply—and they talk again about Marzullo’s past political offices. Marzullo shares that when he was a precinct captain and a ward superintendent, he would deliver Christmas geese and fruit baskets to his people, paid out of his own pocket after he got discounts from merchants.
31:11Copy video clip URL Though he says he doesn’t deliver baskets anymore, he still delivers service—but only to those smart enough not to “demand” it. “I’m allergic to that word,” he says and shares an story about exchanging insults with a group of citizens who tried to make demands of him. “I said, ‘I before you go any further, I want you to know you don’t make no goddamn demands of this alderman.'” Angry people in the crowd that night swore that he’d never be alderman again. Marzullo concludes saying, “A lot of them are dead and buried now, and I’m still alderman.”
33:58Copy video clip URL Marzullo tells how he raises money for his organization, through a yearly dinner dance and selling advertisements in an ad book. He claims that he raises $45,000 to $50,000 from supporters all over the city through these means. He says that the money goes toward election expenses, relief, welfare, clubs and other fees incurred by the local Democratic Party.
36:35Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the history of the ward in Marzullo’s younger days, “when it was rougher, when it was different.” In those days, Marzullo says that rival politicians needed police escorts just to vote, and that the area (then the 20th ward before redistricting formed the 25th ward) was called the “Bloody 20th.” Marzullo seems disinclined to talk on the subject, despite Weinberg’s attempts to pry. “How would I know what the hell they were doing?” he says. Admitting it was a tough time for politics, Marzullo quips, “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.”
39:48Copy video clip URL Rakove asks him to compare his ward to others in Chicago and on the west side. “I think we have the most peaceful ward Chicago,” he replies. Rakove then asks him if the 1966 and 1968 race riots in the city caused unrest in his area. Though Marzullo says, “I didn’t have one inch of trouble in the 25th Ward,” while adjacent wards were “burning and killing.” Why? A group of prominent black citizens passed a resolution declaring the 25th Ward a “peaceful ward” and warned rioters to keep out with the threat to “fight fire with fire.” They even opened an old ward yard to provide police protection and food to citizens, and Marzullo and his citizens worked there from late night to sunup for a week.
42:20Copy video clip URL Digressing to speak about his positive relationships with constituents, like a proud papa, he says, “You know what, I think they like me… And I like them.” He says he even accepts people into his home, and elaborates more on how he helps solve people’s problems.
44:30Copy video clip URL After Marzullo gave a lecture at Harvard University, a political science professor on the faculty commented, “We’ve just seen the last of an old breed of politician that we will probably not see again.” Rakove asks him for his thoughts on this quote, but the tape cuts out before we hear his response.
45:22Copy video clip URL When the picture returns, Marzullo is showing Rakove a certificate showing that he’s still a member of the Ward Superintendents’ Association, despite having long vacated that post. He then shares words of praise he received from other prominent citizens, but says he still makes time to meet with ordinary people (especially young people), which sets him apart from other politicians. He also speaks briefly about his family life.
51:14Copy video clip URL When sharing how he deals with criticism, Marzullo says, “There’s no such thing as a Democratic machine. It’s a Democratic organization, and that’s where the intellectuals make their mistake.” He again praises his approach, which he sees as “constructive criticism” and pans “obstructionists.”
52:08Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about his recently praise from President Carter for being available to the people, and Marzullo replies, “It should be that way.” He says that elected officials should be public servants, but some voters (he calls them intellectuals and obstructionists) expect too much of officials and want them to act as “public slaves.” He again criticizes the use of the word “machine” to describe the Democratic organization.
55:20Copy video clip URL The tape stops and comes back to view Rakove and Marzullo casually chatting. Marzullo says that not many aldermen are at city hall five days a week like he is, and he says that he prefers to never waste time in politics, which he considers his business, and prefers not to take much vacation time. The tape again cuts out and comes back to follow Marzullo walking through City Hall and across the street to a restaurant/cocktail lounge with a group of his associates.