If the billionaire Koch Brothers dumped a 5 story high mountain of a sooty black substance in a Chicago neighborhood; could Mayor Rahm Emanuel make the giant dirt mountain go away?
Lester would know. And I saw him just as I stepped off the train.
Framed by the faintly falling snow in the front window of a bar just off the Montrose Brown Line stop. His trademark madras sport jacket like a Christmas lights display gone wrong, I saw him nod at a slender grey haired man picked out from the river of commuters pouring down the stairs and spilling out on to the snow muted street; then Lester picked up his ginger ale and took a sip. Even from across the street, that bulging lower lip that made you not want to get too close to the spray when he started spouting wisdom, was on full display.
But Lester "The Lip" Lapczynski knew things. He also put up with me. I think it had to do with how much I admired an old uncle of his named Slats Grobnik.
Still, Lester never wasted time with pleasantries. So pushing into the warmth of the little bar, I was greeted with, "So you wanna know if two of the richest men in the world can get away with dumping a giant pile of toxic garbage on the street? A grimy mess that can blow into the lungs of children, get so thick it will blind bus drivers and then make a crispy crust on the burgers at backyard barbecues, right?"
"Well, yeah. That and. . ."
"That and do it when it's Rahm Emanuel's street? Now have I summarized the problem for you Roger?"
"Pretty much Lester."
"Ok then the first comment I got for you in our little lesson today is 'Shut up.'
"But I. . ."
"The summary sucks. First of all the garbage is pet coke. It comes from tar sands oil. And the FDA has never proven that it's dangerous."
"Lester, the FDA has never proven that the fumes in underground Martian caves are dangerous either."
"Hah! Good answer Schmutz Brain! When a neighborhood turns coal dust black like some kind of zombie movie, no one cares what the FDA has to say.
Now, lets see what else you've figured out. Tell me what angle the Koch Brothers will take when its time to play "good cop or happy neighbor."
"Um. . .am not sure what the good part of pet coke would be."
"Of course you're not, yuppie scum. Now pay attention Roger. This matters. The happy mouthpiece, paid by the Koch brothers, will tell you that the pet coke is a new and exciting, viable source of energy!"
"Lester, they sell this crap to China. Sure they use it there but. . ."
"Did you miss the part where you shut up Roger? The point is that they are not wrong. And it sounds all sweet and it makes your tummy feel good so why is everybody always picking on the poor old rich men?"
"OK, I get it Lester. The spin here is good. First rule of good PR. Start with truth. Which I suppose will make the fight even thornier because those great big mountains of pet coke are legal."
"You know Roger, that's what I just don't get. Every time I have you pegged for a total moron, you make a point. You're right. It's legal. For now. And if it's not, no matter how many lawsuits are filed, the sooty black mountain still stands. At least until the wind blows hard. Which is really what got this mess all started. The wind started blowing. And the mountain started falling on the neighborhood,"
"You mean like on Aug 30" When there was a "significant wind event?"
A "significant wind event."
"Roger, No one talks like that."
"Lester, I heard that from Koch Brother's P.R. Not me. And it was after that big wind that they tossed out a few million dollars for giant water hoses to tamper down the dust. So that the next time the wind blows hard. . .they can get out the giant water cannons and hose down the dust before it ends up on the hamburgers in backyard barbeques."
"Sure." said Lester. They can control it. Just like BP controlled the Gulf. Or Japan controlled the nuclear reactor when the tsunami hit. No problem. And you buy that Roger?"
"Well I. . ."
"You just think about it then Roger. You figure it out. Weigh all the pros and cons. Test the political waters. Think about how the Koch Brothers will respond. What kind of shot they'll take back. Because of course they will. And low hanging fruit? Like any other company involved in this? Swept up and handled. But I will tell you right now, what's gonna happen. I will tell you who will win this fight. The Mayor will win this.
The Mayor will win this Roger. It might take awhile. This is not an easy fight. And there will be other players. But Mayor Rahm will win this fight."
"Lester, how will the Mayor win?"
"Here's how. He will say to the Koch Brothers, 'get off my lawn.'
And the Brothers Koch will be smart enough to listen.