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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Political Campaign

I’d already started today’s blog post when I became hugely distracted by news of the Iowa caucuses; it was being live broadcast on every one of my four radios—each placed strategically throughout my little apartment.

Now, I’m not sure I’m a political junkie, but I am a news junkie, always have been, hence all the radios, each alternately tuned to NPR or WGN, and for large parts of most days.

There was that one time, though, when I was knee-deep in politics, working for an Illinois gubernatorial campaign in the spring of 1982. However, it wasn’t politics that drew me to the job; I was also knee-deep in a state of unemployment.

With some edits, here’s how I wrote about it in my book:

In April 1982, having quit yet another mind-numbing, soul-destroying job, I was hired as the word processor for a gubernatorial campaign. Democrat Adlai Stevenson III was running for governor of Illinois against the Republican incumbent James “Big Jim “ Thompson. 

It went like this: Days after leaving my job, I’d accidentally run into Stevenson’s campaign office manager—a neighbor friend—and told her I was looking for work. She said the campaign needed to hire someone who knew how to operate an IBM word processor, the latest in advanced technologies.

During our interview a few days later, I neglected to tell Susan that I’d really never used a word processor; instead I emphasized how fast I typed; what a good Democrat I was; and how badly I needed the job.

When I arrived at campaign headquarters on my first day of work, I suddenly got very nervous. I’d never used anything more complicated than an electric typewriter, and had no idea how to operate the big bulky thing—and all its component parts—that sat dead center on the desk in my tiny office.
But the techno-gods smiled down on me that first day: the printer had arrived broken and couldn’t be replaced for a week. That gave me the time I needed to plow through Book I of the enormous two-volume instruction manual. Even better, I used those life-saving days to become fast friends with every one of the tech support staff on the 1-800 help line.
Once I figured out how to work the damn word processor, which actually didn’t take all that long, I could then really pay attention to the campaign itself: the intense pace and day-to-day drama: the highly structured and endless campaign events; the media interviews; the missteps and headaches that often followed those interviews; the relentless fund raising; the professional politicians who daily worked for and/or regularly visited the campaign office; the phone calling and door knocking and polling.

For me, tethered mostly to my machine, typing position papers and fund-raising letters and every one of the many thank you notes that Adlai personally wrote and signed, mine felt less a job and more like a field internship, one that would come to an end shortly after the election on November 2. Which wouldn't be the case, I soon learned, for most of the other staff, those who'd made or wanted to make politics a profession.

And so I soaked it all in, discovering a world I’d never even imagined, enjoying the enthusiasm and energy among the staff, making new friends, working late nights, eating bad food, feeling the thrill of the chase.

But then, irony of ironies, it turned out that my job was not only not over in November, but was one of the few retained when Stevenson challenged the election outcome and demanded a recount. He had lost to Thompson by just a little over 5,000 votes.

And so starting on November 3, 1982 and well into January of the next year, I remained on the job, typing furiously away, now mostly incomprehensible legal stuff. Not surprisingly, the energy of that campaign office had been replaced with a lawyerly urgency that never quite engaged me. 

Then on January 7, 1983, Stevenson finally conceded the election, having failed to convince the Illinois Supreme Court to order a recount. It was time for both me and Adlai to move on.

For anyone who's interested, here’s a link to the Chicago Tribune article that I used to remind me of the timing of events in late 1982-early 1983.

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