Letter From Rockfordrnby Scott P. RichertrnI’ve Got a SecretrnBack in November and December,rnwhile Republicans across the countryrnwere writing letters, calling in to talk radio,rnand even taking to the streets tornprotest Al Gore’s attempt to steal the electionrnin Florida, their fellow party membersrnin Rockford remained strangelyrnsilent. They must have found it disquietingrnwhen the Bush campaign kept insistingrnthat machines are more accuraternthan humans. After all, it’s been a staplernof local Republican belief for almost 20rnyears that Rockford Democrats have manipulatedrncomputerized counting machinesrnto steal at least three of the last fivernmayoral elections.rnIn theory, at least, it’s possible. AsrnJames J. Condit argued in Chronicles fourrnyears ago (“A House Without Doors,”rnViews, November 1996), the same technologyrnthat simplifies the process ofrncounting votes also makes it much easierrnto steal an election. Since computerizedrncounting is conducted at central locations,rnballots must be moved, whichrnmeans there’s an opportunity to substituternpre-punched ballots for the onesrnvoters actually used. If that fails, therncounting machines’ computers can bernprogrammed to return the desired result.rnWhile I have been a pollwatcher duringrnone local election and have observedrnthe vote counting after another, I’ve seenrnno evidence that local Democrats havernactually tampered with either ballots orrncounting machines. But I am convincedrnof the truth of a related conspiracy theory:rnMost politicians in Rockford are heavilyrninfluenced by a small group of publicrncontractors and real-estate developers.rnTheir own campaign-finance disclosurernstatements on the Illinois Board of Electionsrnwebsite {www.elections.state.il.us)rnprovide plenty of evidence.rnBut if everyone here in Rockford hasrnheard that the last two mayors have simplyrnbeen pawns of monied interests (andrneveryone has), then why have the Democratsrnwon the last five mayoral electionsrnin a city routinely described as Republican?rnThe simple answer could be that localrnvoters just don’t care.rnThere may, however, be more at workrnhere. When most people —in Rockfordrnor elsewhere—hear the word “conspiracy,”rnthey think of a cabal aimed at overturningrnthe will of the people. That’s certainlyrnthe way popular literature, movies,rnand TV shows portray conspiracies. Butrnif you were trying to gain power (orrnwealth) in the modern world, why wouldrnyou set yourself against the people? It’srnmuch easier to present yourself as theirrnchampion. Give them what they want,rnand they will return the favor.rnBoth Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitorrnand the Cigarette-Smoking Man on ThernX-Files understood this. So, too, did therninterests that backed Rockford Democraticrnmayoral candidate John McNamararnin 1981. A blue-collar town heavily dependentrnon the aerospace industry, Rockfordrnhad been hit hard by the recession ofrnthe late 70’s and early 80’s. Unemploymentrnwas over 20 percent; factories werernclosing; new businesses weren’t taking uprnthe slack. Rockford was on its way to becomingrna ghost town.rnHelped along by the Reagan militaryrnbuildup (which revitalized Rockford’s industiies),rnJohn McNamara gave the peoplernwhat they wanted—economic recoveryrn—while enriching his benefactorsrnthrough a series of public-works projectsrn(knocking down Rockford’s historicrnbuildings and erecting Soviet-style ones),rntax breaks, and zoning changes thatrnencouraged private development. Byrnthe time McNamara left office in 1989,rnRockford’s economy had not only reboundedrnbut added a service sector (read:rnstrip malls and chain restaurants). Thernpublic-works contractors and real-estaterndevelopers who had supported him werernfirmly entrenched, and he was able tornhandpick his successor: our current mayor.rnDemocrat Charles Box. Box has nurturedrnthe city’s relationship with McNamara’srnbenefactors, and McNamara himselfrnbecame president of the parentrncompany of the chief public-works contractor,rnRockford Blacktop.rnBecause many of us don’t like the intimaternconnection between RockfordrnBlacktop and our city government, we oftenrnforget that most people in WinnebagornCounty don’t mind as long as thernroads that Blacktop builds make it easierrnfor them to drive from the vinyl-sidedrnranch houses they bought from GambinornRealtors to the strip malls that SunilrnPuri’s First Rockford Group built. In otherrnwords, those who supported John McNamararnin 1981 have triumphed —notrnby working against the people, but byrnrecognizing what they wanted and usingrnthat knowledge to gain power andrnwealth. (If government weren’t involved,rnlibertarians would undoubtedly proclaimrnthis a stunning example of the virtues ofrnthe free market.)rnThat doesn’t change the fact that arnsmall elite dominates the government ofrnRockford and Winnebago County for itsrnown enrichment, but it changes thernpolitical dynamic. Those of us who recognizernwhat’s wrong here in Rockfordrncan’t count on setting it right by winningrnelections—particularly since politiciansrnin both parties realize which side theirrnbread is buttered on. Our next mayoralrnelection (in April) will pit a Democraticrnstate representative with strong ties to thernMcNamara/Box machine against a Republicanrnbusinessman who shares a campaign-rnfinance chairman —and severalrnkey supporters—with the current Democraticrnmayor. What’s the point of havingrntwo parties?rnAt its root, the degeneration of modernrndemocracy is a cultural problem, not arnpolitical one. Once political power isrnvested in the people, all that stands betweenrnoligarchy and freedom is the virtuernof the masses. In the 18th and 19th centuries,rn”popular” revolutions failed becausernthe revolutionaries didn’t realizernthe extent to which the people were stillrnattached to throne and altar. But now,rnthe throne is occupied by the likes of BillrnClinton and the altar is attended by Jessern36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn