During the Vietnam War, I was trying to persuade my South Side draft board to recognize me as a conscientious objector. But they were having none of it.
They sent me to meet with their lawyer in South Chicago. He advised me to forget about being a C.O. and instead join the Army and get it over with. The advice was: "Wise up: Do you really want to go to jail?"
As I recall, this skinny, earnest young attorney was none other than future Alderman Edward "Fast Eddie" R. Vrdolyak. Fast Eddie pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme in federal court on Monday.
I was never recognized as a C.O. My draft board felt I was "insincere" because my father worked for the Defense Department, ignoring the fact I was my own person. The U.S. Attorney Jim Thompson, our future governor, found the draft board had made procedural errors and then made mistakes of his own. I was arrested twice for draft evasion. Thompson once put out a fugitive warrant on me, resulting in my being arrested at work.
The upshot was no C.O., but ultimately no jail time. I walked because of the violation of my rights.
In some ways, Chicago is a small town. If you're around long enough, you bump into and against everyone else.
I went to grade school and high school with Jon Burge, who eventually would become the Chicago police captain charged with using torture to obtain confessions, I went to Cub scouts and Hebrew school with "Chicago" Eddie Schwartz, the popular radio personality, who recalls Burge having knowledge of torture techniques back in the AV Club at Luella Elementary School. (Last week, Burge pleaded not guilty to the torture charges.)
And Richard Speck murdered the nurses across from Luella. Ah, the memories.
Vrdolyak of course would go on to infamy as head of his own white cabal that tied up appointments and proposals from Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor, in the city's Council Wars chapter.
Years have passed. Fast Eddie switched parties. Lost an election for mayor. Did a radio talk show. Kept making deals.
Federal prosecutors have recommended Fast Eddie do 41 months in prison. He slinked out the back door, avoiding the press.
So the guy who advised me to wise up is himself heading to jail, joining a long list of Chicago politicians to do time.
My advice to him? Bring along some good books and share your legal acumen with your new colleagues Stay away from the Aryan Brotherhood if you can.