Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story
By Dan Walker
Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois, 2007, 338 pages. Available on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Dennis Moore
April 25, 2010 (San Diego) -- While sitting on the balcony of Dan Walker’s home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Baja California a few years ago, the former Governor of Illinois asked me a question that would later give me insight into him and his book about Illinois and Chicago politics, The Maverick And The Machine. The book was winner of the "memoirs" category in the San Diego Book Awards in 2008.
Having dinner that Walker’s wife had prepared in this picturesque setting, we discussed Chicago politics, since we both had been precinct captains in Chicago. He asked me how many jobs I controlled as a precinct captain, to which I responded, “None.” I guess it was a way of him measuring me up to learn just how involved I might have been in Chicago's machine politics. This question from Walker speaks volumes about his book.
We took pictures together as we swapped political war stories about Chicago. Walker autographed his book and wrote, “To Dennis Moore – good luck to a gutsy and remarkable guy – With kind regards, Governor Dan Walker.” Although he had long since left office as Governor of Illinois, he clearly relished treasured memories of his once lofty position. I gave him a draft of the first chapter of my book, The City That Works, Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago. Perhaps, that is why he referred to me as “gutsy.” I guess it is “gutsy” to challenge the status quo—a trait Walker clearly possesses.
Walker’s book tells the dramatic rags-to-riches story of his own rise from dirt-poor beginnings to become a successful trial lawyer, business executive, and governor of Illinois and then to the fall that sent him to prison. It reveals a man blinded by ambition and also probes the inner sanctum of the governorship, in a way that might help to explain how another former Governor, Rod Blagojevich could now be faced with an indictment and impending trial for attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.
The Maverick and the Machine is a story of triumph over tragedy. The book is mostly about Walker’s battles and challenges with the first Mayor Daley, Richard J. Daley. (My book, by contrast, focuses mainly on the second Mayor Daley, Richard M. Daley.) The parallels have an element of Greek tragedy.
Walker takes pride in recalling marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taking on the mob in Chicago, and while in prison, helping other inmates understanding their legal rights. He mused from his prison cell; “As I finally close my eyes and find badly needed sleep, I think back to my involvement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – a man who would have abhorred the violence as much as I did – when I marched with him through racist crowds in Chicago.”
You will also read of the remarkable feat of this man walking 1,971 miles, from the southernmost part of Illinois, to the northernmost part of the State, in his campaign for governor. Photos in the book also show then-Governor Dan Walker greeting President Gerald Ford on his arrival in Illinois for a visit, as well as meeting Emperor Hirohito of Japan at O’Hare International Airport on an official visit to the United States.
Walker has been described by many as a reformer who was always colorful, provocative, and controversial, becoming a political maverick and winning two tough elections to become Governor. Once at the pinnacle of power in Illinois as its chief executive, Walker would later find himself behind the bars of a federal prison after his conviction on charges of bank fraud. This is nothing new in the State of Illinois, as governors preceded him in this ignominious fate, and more governors followed him, with former Governor Blagojevich predicted to be the next one.
Walker gives his insights into investigations of Governor Blagojevich’s administration and the criminal trial of former Governor Ryan. He offers his assessment of the continuing culture of corruption in Chicago and Illinois government, maintaining that the “pay to play” system has not changed. He even weighs in on ties by the current President, Barack Obama,to what he considers a corrupt political machine in Chicago.
Walker describes a particularly poignant moment in his book, when upon entry to prison he is strip-searched upon his entry into prison, which he describes as being deliberately dehumanized. He also writes in vivid detail of another inmate in his prison cell being sodomized by other inmates. This is quite a contrast to his being a naval officer in World War II and the Korean War, working in Chicago as a trial lawyer, and arguing cases before the Supreme Court. This book will have you wondering how anyone could fall so far from grace.
A lot of what this author has written about in The Maverick And The Machine, I lived through as a former specification engineer for the City of Chicago Department of Aviation at O’Hare International Airport, attending former and recently indicted Governor Blagojevich’s first inauguration, and being expected and directed to steer contracts in the Daley administration. This is truly an enlightening book on how politics in Illinois and Chicago works, and Walker is masterful at revealing it to us. He bares his soul in this book!
This book can best be summed up by the coauthor of another book with Walker, Taylor Pensoneau. He states in Dan Walker: The Glory and the Tragedy: “I’ve known other Illinois governors during the past fifty years, and none of them has written anything as self-revealing as The Maverick and the Machine. Former governor Walker bares his soul, extolling his virtues and confessing his weaknesses while laying out in vivid detail stages of his life with little parallel.”
Having sat down and talked with Walker, comparing notes from our respective political involvement in Chicago, I wholeheartedly agree. This is an amazing story, and Dan Walker is an even more amazing man for telling it as he has. I strongly recommend this book to all those interested in politics and the human tragedy.
We became colleagues while both writing for the Baja Times Newspaper in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. But it was this book, The Maverick and the Machine, that gave me a greater insight into this remarkable man and his story of politics and “pay to play” in our hometown of Chicago.
Dennis Moore is a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild. He has written for LifeAfter50 Magazine in Pasadena, California and the Baja Times Newspaper in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. He has also written a yet to be published book about Chicago Politics, The City That Works, Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago. He is the President of his Church’s Prison Ministry at Bethel A.M.E. in San Diego. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.