Watching the Election | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Watching the Election 

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I spent election night as I usually do, with my little electronic precinct captain, a portable black-and-white Panasonic. I've long since forgotten how the vote totals went, but I am absolutely certain that my old friend Jewel was pushing pasta and finger foods.

With 83 or 87 or 89 percent of the precincts reporting in, Channel Seven had the Bank for Business segueing into a smiling face that announced "This is not the commercial you were supposed to see!" My neighborhood Ford dealer and all his cohorts had got carried away by something, I guess, and had hired this fellow to commandeer the airwaves and urge me to buy a Ford right now. As it happens I had just voted for Chevy and so didn't need a Ford, but I was glad to learn that there is a Walgreens just around the corner from me, wherever I am.

"When Rich Daley started this campaign four months ago he wanted to put a stop to the name-calling," said Chicago's prettiest anchorblond. Soon her handsome sidekick was saying: "Well, Mary Ann, this is a big night."

Channel Five had problems. Reporter Rich Samuels looked at Ed Vrdolyak and said: "Are we live now?" Duh. Uh. Well, the polls say this and the polls say that. So the question remains: do you have a future in politics? "Why not?" asked the perennial loser. He suggested that Channel Five poll its viewers on whether to fire Rich, or the anchors, or maybe even the commentator.

"We have some technical problems," Samuels responded.

Back in the studio, Ron and Carol wanted badly to corner the wounded pol. Viewers could hear their questions, but Samuels had to repeat them to Vrdolyak, who at one point said: "I guarantee that 100 percent of that 55 percent were white." "Are you not white?" asked Ron. Samuels relayed: "The question is, are you white?" As 100 percent of the interviewee responded in the affirmative, I exited to Channel Two, where a husky black man from the state's attorney's office said, "That charge is absolutely untrue." Moments later, Jim Avila was saying "Back to you, Bill and Walter." Daley headquarters disappeared and there was Alderman Bobby Rush in a different hotel, dancing around sour grapes.

More political news on Channel 26: a taped interview of Sonny Bono translated into Spanish. Si. ÁComo no! Cher's ex-husband expressed much concern about serving the needs of Hispanic voters in every corner of whatever town it is in California where he got elected mayor. The weatherman on Channel 32 was assuring his audience that there would be no rain in tomorrow's clouds. A Dr. Don Brugman expounded on the need for Bible schools everywhere. Once Upon a Time in the West was on Channel 50, where--according to one of its "limited commercial interruptions"--the fun had begun at five.

Back among the very high frequencies, it was Channel Seven's turn to press Vrdolyak into a telecorner; he denied the pain of electoral annihilation.

On Channel 11's Frontline, a black kid stated: "Having a parent on heroin is hell." Apparently, people in South Dallas are waiting for the city to take action. In the meantime, individuals do what they can. The drug dealers have gone away--down the block or maybe just to another time slot. In a suburban setting--neat yard, well-kept two-story house--a self-respecting black lady was watering her bushes, saying she intends to give South Dallas her last shot. Frontline's last shot was Judy Woodruff in Washington saying how lonely the citizen's struggle can be.

"Can I count on you for dinner tomorrow?" An affluent woman on Channel Five sat alone chatting on the phone. Do it the Illinois Bell way: "Just call." Need to have something delivered? Try UPS. Want a revolutionary twist? Buy Elizabeth Arden's two-brush mascara.

What kind of mascara does Jane Byrne use? She looked better tonight on Channel Two than she had in the same slot on February 28. Mike Sneed came in like a lion the day after the primary, poking fun at Lady Jane's polka-dot dress, but I'd hardly noticed because I couldn't understand why no one had done anything about her hair. This time both hair and dress were under control.

On Channel Seven, Hugh Hill sat with Mary Ann and John in the studio for a while looking mighty darn upright. He wore a striped shirt with a white collar that was so neatly pressed it had to be starched. Out in the suburbs was Joan Esposito. Her hair looked like a lamp shade on her head. Chuck Goudie looked like he'd earned a break. He'd taken off his suit coat and sat down in front of a bank of computers at the Board of Elections showing off some really spiffy suspenders. He had his beat covered.

Chuck turned the clock back to daytime so viewers could know what had happened in the trenches. Tim Evans's people had talked up this street-heat thing--7,000 brothers and sisters stirring up the vote. Daley had a more surefire approach. One of those old-fashioned sort of precinct captains had such a handle on things that he even took to the polls an old lady with a broken arm. "That tells the story," said Goudie. "Now, back to you."

Now, which of the brothers is Joel Daly?

On Channel Five, Ron was asking the Decision '89 team of experts: "Is the media going to wind up being the issue?" Dick, Clarence, and Mike all seemed to say: not entirely. Carol was wearing a jumpsuit unbuttoned almost to her navel and I don't remember what she said.

Evans conceded live on all three stations. A few minutes later, Ron cut off Jesse Jackson in midsentence to go live to Daley headquarters. Streaks of light cut across the screen.

"There are green and red and blue lasers," quaked Phil Walters, reporting live from somewhere in that darkened hall. "This is a Hollywood production by a Hollywood producer!" Really. Phil told us that an actual Hollywood producer had actually come from Hollywood to do this favor for Rich Daley. Phil has been around the block a time or two. Yet even after 25 years in this biz, he'd never witnessed so spectacular a political event.

It even included the theme from the Olympics!

Chicago's favorite son of a boss worked his way toward the podium to tell "the doubting world" that the sun had set on this great city's habit of name-calling. When the speech was history, Walters uncorked the praise on Daley's $6 million campaign. What happened during those four long hard months of media events? Chicago's new mayor "learned to perform," Phil said. And did the seasoned reporter have some inside story from the campaign trail to offer as proof? Maybe he did, but he wanted to talk about something he'd seen on TV. "The last commercial," Phil said. "The famous locker-room commercial. . . . He walked and talked at the same time."

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