I saw Joe Mathewson, my former Business Journalism professor, at Medill’s downtown office this morning.
Joe’s had an enormously varied career, having worked in broadcast, written for The Wall Street Journal, gone to law school at the University of Chicago at the age of 40 and practiced corporate law, and served as a Cook County commisioner at different points in his life (This says nothing about his avid passion for family, sailing, and swimming).
Now in his late 70s, Joe’s a remarkable man of undiminished vigor who has taught at Medill since 1997 during what for many would be their retirement years. For Joe, working a half-day is the same numbers as what high school soccer coach John Lojeck would say about his business: 12 hours.
In addition to entering the world of blogging and writing about saving newspapers, Joe is also putting the final touches on his latest book. This one, his second, is about the Supreme Court.
Up Against Daley, his first work, written and published in the mid-70s, is a chronicle of efforts to unseat Illinois’ Democratic leadership headed by Richard J. Daley, to many the ultimate embodiment of urban machine politics.
Although he is a journalist with a stated commitment if not to objectivity, at least to balance, Mathewson cannot help but let his independent leanings show through in this engaging work that holds up well at a distance of more than 35 years.
While readers can be excused for raising an eyebrow at his sympathetic portrayal of former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, that section of the book is a reminder of the change many thought he could bring to the state. Bill Singer, who is running again for alderman as an independent, also receives a dose of Mathewson’s attention and lively prose, even as he, too, was investigated by the feds in 2006 for his role in a land deal.
On the other hand, while the Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization, or IVI-IPO, receives significant space in the book, Chicago’s black community, which became the engine of Harold Washington’s 1983 barrier-shattering victory, gets less.
Toward the end of the book, Mathewson writes about the machine’s vulnerability-a sentiment that contained elements presumably of wistful desire on Mathewson’s part as well as his assessment of the future political landscape. In some ways, the book, in its description of a fermenting desire for change, anticipates, but does not predict, the elections of Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first female mayor, and Washington.
We who know how the story turned out have the benefit of hindsight. If at times Mathewson’s enthusiasm for systemic change led him to see greater possibilities than what actually materialized, he can be forgiven. I am sure there are many among us who on the first Tuesday of November 2008 thought that the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” would help the country look far different now than it does.
I enjoyed Joe’s book not only because of our personal connection, but in its own right, and recommend that you check it out, too. If looking back on early-70s progressive tendencies is not your game, then do give the upcoming book a chance. You won’t be disappointed.