Monday, August 22, 2011

Will White still be around in ‘19?

On the one hand, the idea of a man pushing age 85 holding the political post that is one of the most visible in Illinois government reeks of absurdity.
WHITE: The pol who won't leave?

That’s how old Jesse White will be if he actually runs for Illinois secretary of state in the 2014 elections and manages to make it all the way to the end of his term in January of 2019.

EVEN RONALD REAGAN wasn’t that old when he finished his terms as U.S. president early in 1989 – and was starting to show signs of the behavior that later was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease.

But then again, Jesse White has never been the typical politician – or person.

Anyone who saw White as I happened to see him on Saturday – helping to lug heavy mats around in hot, humid weather while helping to set up a stage in suburban South Holland for his Jesse White Tumblers gymnastics team (which was making its second of four scheduled appearances that day) – would not have seen a 77-year-old man.

To play off that old cliché, White was working so hard that it made me tired just watching. Let alone having to keep track of 17 young people AND handle the driving of the bus that was taking the tumblers from appearance to appearance.

WHITE OBVIOUSLY DOES not give much thought to retiring. He got elected to his fourth term in the office that most prominently issues our driver’s licenses (his name sits in the wallet of nearly every legal driver in the state) during last year’s election cycle.

He’s already thinking ahead, using political rallies at the Illinois State Fair last week to tell people he’s already planning to be the Democratic nominee in 2014.

Any other government official who talked of running for re-election this early in the process (three years and three months remaining until Election Day) would be considered delusional.

Yet in the case of White, the reaction seems to be mere acceptance. It’s like White has become one of those officials that we just assume belongs in political post.

IT’S MAKING ME wonder if the name “White” is becoming something akin to “Daley” for Chicago-area politicos.

What amazes me the most about White’s longevity as secretary of state is the fact that he had already had a full political career by the time he first won election to the position in 1998 – the year that Democrats started once again getting elected to Illinois government posts and culminating with the 2002 and 2006 elections that saw Democrats take over everything.

It’s almost like White was the leader who plowed the path for his political allies to come along and take control of the Springfield Scene from people who always saw the purpose of their authority as keeping Chicago under check – instead of trying to work with the city on issues.

But back on that day in January 1999 when White first took that oath, he was already pushing 65 years of age. He was the guy who had been a long-time state legislator from the Near North Side and who had moved “up” to the world of Cook County government by serving as recorder of deeds.

THAT, IN AND of itself, would be a full political career that few other government officials in our city could match. The perception back then was that White would be secretary of state for a term (or two, at most) before retiring. By that logic, White should have moved on years ago.

But he hasn’t.

He doesn’t want to seem to go anywhere, except to work.

That is, when he’s not engaged in the act of operating his self-named tumbling team that he created in 1959 to provide inner-city youths with an alternative to urban street life (a sweet-sounding euphemism for street-gangs and drugs). Which is work.

THE TEAM ROUTINELY performs all over the United States, and in fact later this year has plans to perform in London and in Edinburg, Scotland.

Which means that White could be busy enough if he were to focus his time on managing the tumblers – which in-and-of itself would be a noble way to spend his final years.

Yet White seems determined to hang on politically, knowing full well that anybody who seriously thought of challenging him in a Democratic primary would be seen as bringing down the Wrath of God (a.k.a. state party Chairman Michael J. Madigan) for causing internal political problems.

About the only way that White won’t run for secretary of state in 2014 is if he literally suffers a mishap and departs this planet. Not that I’m wishing for anyone’s death. But it seems that will be the only way that White won’t try to get a fifth term as secretary of state.

AND AFTER SEEING White in action during the weekend, I can’t say I see a man who looks like he’s going to leave us any time soon.

So much for a man whose sense of failure in life probably extends only to the fact that he was once a professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization in the 1960s who never made it to the big club.

Was the Cubs’ loss the people’s gain?


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