Clear It with Sid!: Sidney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Presidents, Pragmatism, and Public Service

by Michael Dorf, George Van Dusen



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2019 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 304 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252042447
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 296,598
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Michael C. Dorf is a practicing lawyer and an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was Congressman Yates's Special Counsel in Washington and remained his lawyer and campaign chairman until the congressman's death. George Van Dusen is Mayor of Skokie, Illinois, and an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College. He oversaw Yates's Ninth District Operations for over twenty-five years.

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The House of Representatives is the only branch of the federal government that has been elected directly by the people since its inception in 1788. Over its long history, "the People's House" has had many statesmen and able politicians, as well as its share of rogues and scoundrels. Some have displayed amazing courage; others have shown crude and narrow self-interest. Regardless, it always has come to represent the dreams, desires, and aspirations of people in the United States. As groups — religious, ethnic, racial, sexual — came to gather political strength, their members sought representation in the House. The first Jewish member was elected in 1840, the first African American in 1870, the first woman in 1916, the first Asian American in 1956, the first openly gay member in 1972, and the first Muslim member in 2006. The House of Representatives truly represents the great diversity of the United States.

In part because of its size and diversity, the House, as an institution, has developed mores, customs, and procedures so that it can get the people's work done in an orderly, if not always timely, fashion.

No man or woman elected to the House is without ambition. Some members see their aspirations fulfilled, some ambitions are rerouted, while others are dashed. For some of them, the House is only a way station, a stepping-stone to perceived greater power and influence. Although nineteen presidents served in the House of Representatives, only one, James Garfield in 1880, ran for president while a sitting congressman. Contrast that to the three senators, seven governors, and thirteen vice presidents who became president directly from their prior position. For those congressmen seeking higher station, the House was not the place to make their name.

But for those who decided to become "men (and women) of the House," the journey could be very rewarding. It was necessary to form friendships, learn the idiosyncrasies of their fellow members and, of course, the rules of the House in order to become an effective advocate for one's district and eventually to advance within the institution.

Unlike the Senate, where a lone senator until just recently could block nominations and delay legislation for substantial periods of time, if not indefinitely, the House of Representatives is dominated by the majority. Through its leadership, the majority party can impose its agenda on the body. The seniority system of Congress, which took root in the House after the Civil War, and continues despite various efforts to reform it, provided the means for members able and willing to accumulate tenure eventually to rise to positions of power and influence. Moreover, the senior members of the minority on each committee, known as the "ranking members," also achieved a measure of power.

While the House, as a branch of our government, has been extensively studied, there have been few biographies of individual congressmen other than Speakers of the House. But as has frequently been observed, the real work of the House is done by individual members outside the limelight, in the hallways, the committee hearings, the mark-ups, and meetings with constituents and special interests. To accomplish anything, representatives must delicately balance personal relationships with colleagues, constituents, and financial supporters. Often getting there is easier than staying there and being effective.

This book is about one such member, Sidney R. Yates, a Democrat from Illinois. During forty-eight years of service between 1949 to 1999, Yates served under ten presidents of the United States and eight Speakers of the House of Representatives. He debated and helped shape many of the major issues that formed U.S. dominance in the postwar world. In particular, through his leadership as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the subcommittee with funding jurisdiction over large parts of the Departments of the Interior, Energy, and Agriculture and all the cultural agencies, Yates became the preeminent legislator on such issues as the environment, the fight against anti-Semitism, and the humanities and the arts. At the height of his influence as one of the congressional "cardinals," House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill would tell members to "clear it with Sid" when certain sensitive policy questions arose.

According to census and naturalization records, Louis and Ida Yatzofsky emigrated to the United States via Quebec from present-day Lithuania in 1899. Initially living in tenements on Chicago's South Side with other Eastern European Jewish immigrants, they soon settled in the Lakeview neighborhood on the city's North Side, where an expanding upwardly mobile Jewish community was establishing roots. Louis, a blacksmith, found a job as a truck driver by the time Sidney Richard, the sixth and youngest of Louis and Ida's children, was born on August 27, 1909. Sometime between the filing of Louis's petition for naturalization in 1914 and his admission to citizenship in 1915, the family had changed their name to Yates.

Like most children of Jewish immigrants in Chicago, Yates attended his neighborhood public school during the day and his synagogue's Hebrew school in the evening. Tall at six feet, the teenaged Yates was welcomed onto the Lake View High School basketball team. Pictures taken of him at the time show a handsome, smiling, and athletic presence. After graduating in 1927, Yates attended the University of Chicago, placing in the honors program each year. Easily qualifying for the University of Chicago basketball team, at the time a Big Ten member, Yates received an honorable mention for All-American guard. He also joined the school's chapter of Pi Lambda Phi, founded in 1895 and one of the few fraternities that welcomed Jews to its ranks. He graduated from Chicago in 1931 with a bachelor of philosophy degree.

Yates continued his studies at the University of Chicago School of Law, receiving his degree in 1933, only two years after arriving. At the same time, he pursued his passion for basketball. Yates spent what spare time he had playing for the Lifschulz Fast Freights, a semipro basketball team in the Missouri Valley AAU League that was a frequent championship contender in national AAU tournaments. Yates was paid $5 per game. Formerly known as the Rosenberg-Arveys, the team was sponsored by Chicago alderman Jacob "Jake" Arvey and 24th Ward Democratic ward committeeman Moe Rosenberg, two of Illinois's most influential Jewish politicians. Rosenberg became very wealthy as a business partner of future Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.

Arvey was a product of the Jewish Training School and had received his law degree from John Marshall Law School in 1916 at the age of twenty-one. After a stint in the office of the Cook County state's attorney, Arvey went into private law practice with A. Paul Holleb, a like-minded ambitious Jewish lawyer. In only a few years, Arvey had established himself as one of Chicago's most effective aldermen through attention to the needs of the residents of his ward, the twenty-fourth, on Chicago's West Side. An observer once said, "Not a sparrow falls inside the borders of the Twenty-fourth Ward without Arvey's knowing of it. And, then, before it hits the ground, there's already a personal history at headquarters, complete to the moment of its tumble." Arvey's hard work translated into large majorities on election day. His key moment came in 1931 when Arvey backed the successful election of Cermak for mayor of Chicago. Arvey consolidated his power, becoming Democratic ward committeeman and, in an alliance with Mayor Cermak in 1932, providing critical assistance to elect Henry Horner, a Jew, governor of Illinois. He became chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, making him one of the city's most important politicians. His ability to produce became legendary when, in 1936, FDR won the twenty-fourth ward with a margin of 26,112 to 974. The president declared Arvey's domain "the No. 1 ward in the entire Democratic party." Arvey described the secret to success in politics: "Let me put it in a crude way — put people under obligation to you. Make them your friends. You don't want to hurt a friend. And that's politics — put a man under obligation."

While Arvey's star was on the rise, Moe Rosenberg was in free fall. He spent twenty months in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1915 for stealing freight cars. He was again indicted in 1933 for failure to pay $65,000 in taxes from alleged racketeering income but died before he could be brought to trial. Arvey, never one to let sentiment sway a political judgment, replaced Rosenberg as Democratic committeeman and quickly changed the basketball team's name to honor David Lifschulz, a wealthy sponsor and owner of the Lifschulz Fast Freight Company. As part of the deal, Arvey installed Lifschultz's son, Sam, as coach.

Arvey and his law partner Holleb were part of a strong nucleus of Jewish businessmen who built their careers during this period. Several family fortunes, including the Crowns, the Pritzkers, and the Rosenwalds, known for their charitable works as well as good business practices, were created at this time. Most Jews in the 1920s were Republicans in the Lincoln tradition but became converts to the Democratic Party as FDR's New Deal took hold. Arvey and Holleb gladly went with the flow and thrived accordingly.

Yates was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1933 and joined with Holleb's son, Marshall, another young ambitious Jewish lawyer, to create the law firm of Yates and Holleb. Two years later, Yates married Adeline Holleb, Marshall's sister. Yates's marriage to "Addie" would last for sixty-five years.

The practice of law, particularly with A. Paul's help, provided good income but Yates found the work unappealing. Besides, A. Paul would see to it that he and Addie were comfortable even if Yates were not making much money. Not too long after their marriage, A. Paul purchased the young couple a co-op on North Lake Shore Drive.

Yates had been impressed by the speeches of FDR in the 1932 presidential campaign, and he observed with pride and approval the appointment by the president of more Jewish public officials and advisers than any administration in U.S. history. His idealism stirred by the New Deal, he gravitated to government service. Yates told Arvey and A. Paul of his ambitions, and, in 1935, they secured for Yates a political appointment from Illinois attorney general Otto Kerner Sr. as an assistant attorney general. Kerner, a Democrat, and one of the political stars of the influential Bohemian community of Chicago, had founded the Bohemian Lawyers Association of Chicago and had been a close ally of Mayor Cermak, a fellow Bohemian. Cermak had gotten Kerner elected attorney general in 1932, and, in 1934, a year after Cermak's assassination by a bullet meant for FDR, Kerner's son, Otto Jr., would marry Cermak's daughter Helena.

Kerner was glad to do a favor for Democratic committeeman Arvey and wealthy A. Paul, and Yates was soon representing Illinois in transportation and other regulatory matters before the Illinois Commerce Commission. Intellectually challenging at first, the work proved unsatisfying, and Yates resented the anonymity of appointed public service. But politics, with its opportunities for personal recognition as well as good works, was his true vocation. In 1939, with the active support of his father-in-law, he ran for alderman of the North Side 46th Ward in the Chicago City Council. Yates ran as part of an insurgent group allied with Cook County state's attorney Thomas J. Courtney against Mayor Ed Kelly and the 46th Ward machine of Democratic committeeman Joseph Gill. Running in a field of three, including the incumbent, James Young, Yates came in dead last. Yates's slogan during that race was "Smash the Machine." Later, Yates reflected, "I tried to crack the machine and the machine cracked me." On that same election day, a young professor of economics from the University of Chicago, Paul H. Douglas, also running for the first time, won a seat in the City Council from the south side. Unlike Yates, Douglas had aligned against the Courtney crowd and was backed by Kelly.

Discouraged by his poor showing, Yates resumed his work in the attorney general's office. The election of 1940 resulted in a landslide for the Republicans. Republican Dwight Green became governor and C. Wayland (Curly) Brooks took the U.S. Senate seat. Republicans also captured control of the Illinois General Assembly, as well as 18 of 26 seats in the Illinois delegation to the U.S. House. Most relevant to Yates, Republican George Francis Barrett defeated Democratic state senator Harold G. Ward for attorney general. Yates well understood the rules of the game and knew that he soon would be dismissed along with all his Democratic colleagues. He resigned before the end of the year, returning to his law practice with his brother-in-law Marshall.

The experience in the attorney general's office and his unsuccessful race for alderman, however, encouraged Yates to reflect about the role of government in local affairs. In 1941, he published a well-received article, "Design for Chicago Transit: London Style," in the prestigious Journal of Land and Public Utility Economics, advocating the unification of Chicago's transit companies into a publicly run utility. Foreshadowing a future date, he even went so far as to urge "upon the suburbs the creation of a metropolitan transit district as an eventual measure." Yates would become an unwavering advocate for public transportation for the remainder of his career.

In 1940, Addie gave birth to their only child, Stephen Richard Yates. The responsibilities and exhilaration of fatherhood would, for a time, tamp down Yates's political plans. When the United States entered World War II, Yates, as a thirty-two-year-old head of household with a young baby, was not on the initial draft lists. But after Marshall was drafted in 1943, Yates enlisted in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant and serving in Washington, DC, as a lawyer for the Bureau of Ships. No records exist to explain this decision, but it can be presumed that Yates's inherent patriotism, the breakup of his partnership with Marshall, and a candid self-acknowledgment that being a veteran would be essential to any future political career, all played a part.

When the war concluded, Yates and Marshall once again picked up their practice. Yates also became more actively involved in the Chicago Jewish community, both sacred and secular. After Stephen's birth, Yates and Addie had joined Temple Sholom, a reform congregation whose large domed temple, a mixture of Byzantine and Art Deco influences, loomed across the street from their co-op apartment on Lake Shore Drive. In 1947, Yates became editor of the Bulletin of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, a professional organization of Jewish attorneys.

Jake Arvey was also back from the war, and again consolidating his power. He had served as a colonel in the U.S. Army and a judge advocate of the Thirty-Third Infantry Division in the Pacific theater. He resumed his career and by 1946 had become chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Arvey would face a daunting challenge, however. With a string of successes in the elections in 1940, 1944, and 1946, the Republican Party had gained dominance in Illinois. They controlled most of the statewide offices, including governor and both houses of the General Assembly. The elections of 1946 had been especially crushing for the Democratic Party. William G. Stratton defeated Emily Taft Douglas, Paul Douglas's wife, in her bid to win reelection to an at-large seat in the U.S. House. Stratton took 92 of 102 counties with a wide margin of 367,469 votes. The Republicans captured an advantage of 15 to 1 in downstate congressional seats, exceeding their margins only two years previous. The Democrats suffered defeat in Chicago as well. The Republicans took five congressional seats, including electing businessman Robert Twyman on the North Side of Chicago along the lakefront. In all, the tally was decidedly against the Democrats, with the Republicans holding an advantage of 19 seats in the House to only 7 for the opposition. One bright spot was the reelection of Adolph Sabath, the dean of the Jewish members of the House. Nationally, the Republican Party swept into power by taking control of both houses of Congress. This major defeat resulted in calls from many corners for Mayor Ed Kelly to step down and not run for reelection in 1947 for a third term.

Insisting on being called colonel, Arvey set about unifying the well-to-do Jews of Chicago's lakefront with the disadvantaged Jews of the West Side, using Israeli statehood as the common cause. Many have credited Arvey with using his influence as the boss of the Cook County machine to convince President Harry S Truman to recognize the State of Israel.


Excerpted from "Clear it with Sid!"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Michael C. Dorf and George Van Dusen.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, ix,
Prologue, 1,
1 The Road to Capitol Hill, 5,
2 The Class of '49, 15,
3 "Here Comes This Nice, Good-Looking Guy", 41,
4 "The Judgment of Admirals", 55,
5 Yates for Senate, 87,
6 To the United Nations and Back, 109,
7 "This Precious Resource", 115,
8 America's Committee, 133,
9 Three Years of the Culture Wars, 143,
10 "The Last Sanhedrin Met in 70 CE", 183,
11 The Final Years, 215,
Epilogue, 219,
Notes, 227,
References, 251,
Index, 259,
Photographs follow page 69,

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