Recently, my ten-year-old grandson, Kaelan James Kerrigan, in preparation for “Grandfather’s Day” at his elementary school, asked me what kind of work I did. I responded that I was a lobbyist in Washington, working with Congress and federal agencies. Kaelan looked puzzled, and he further probed whether that was a good thing, whether I worked with good people.
Our conversation triggered a flashback to my childhood. When I was Kaelan’s age, the lines of right and wrong, good and bad, were still hazy to me. Such concepts boiled down to whether or not my actions would get me thrown out of Catholic grammar school. Concerning politics, these lines of good versus bad got even hazier. Thanks to the Chicago Tribune, I was bombarded with examples of local politicians who put self-interest first, even at a cost to others. I wondered if my interest in politics precluded being good. So when I was ten, Kaelan’s age, I wrote to Mayor Richard J. Daley asking him to explain just how politics worked in Chicago. His office sent a generic letter that did not answer my question.
Not long after, I told Mark Elliott, a friend of many years, I was going to write a book about political operatives I have known who demonstrated good character in their public and personal lives. Mark immediately quipped: “That’s going to be a very short book! I bet you can’t even find ten.” Challenged by Mark, I felt a bit like Abraham in Genesis. Like Abraham, I had to find ten good persons. If Abraham failed, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. In my case, I would lose a bet with a friend and have a disillusioned grandson.
Daley never gave me a straight answer, but I will give one to Kaelan. This book will answer my grandson’s question and Mark’s challenge. The pages that follow will show that there are indeed good people in politics. With admiration for their achievement and good character, I will present ten principled politicos—nine men and one woman. They will answer my questions about their personal and professional lives and their value systems, about how their formative years prepared them for being in politics and still being good. In short, they will answer the question that Mayor Richard J. Daley had ignored.
I hope that Kaelan and others interested in politics, history, government, or ethics will find it interesting to discover the virtues that were important in the lives of these successful political players. By reading the biographies and interviews that follow, they will see what strengths these leaders brought to bear when their character was tested. They will see how they handled public pressure during adversity, how they were their own honest critics when that was necessary. Finally, readers will also see the joy that all ten have experienced during public service because they did not compromise their values in the process.