Call it "sway" or "pull" or "juice" or "clout" — we're talking about power or influence, often of a political nature. Clout may have made one of its frequent Chicago appearances recently when Metra CEO Alex Clifford got a lucrative buyout deal that included a nondisclosure clause. Some believe it was "hush money" to hide various attempts by politicians to control contracts and jobs. Here are 10 influential facts:
1 Sidney Korshak, a Chicago native suspected of mob ties but never indicted, made his mark as a fixer for Hollywood moguls and Las Vegas hotels. When he entered negotiations, labor problems often disappeared. Film producer Robert Evans credited Korshak with persuading MGM executives to make Al Pacino available for "The Godfather." Korshak was also known for little favors. When comedian Alan King was told that a swanky European hotel had no rooms, he called Korshak from the lobby. Before King had hung up, a clerk tapped on the phone booth and told him his suite was ready.
2 A city councillor in York, England, made arrangements for her daughter's wedding in 2005 — including switching nine sets of traffic lights to green so the bridal party could breeze through the usually traffic-clogged streets. The politician, Ann Reid, insisted that her main goal had been legitimate, to test the system that turns the lights green for emergency vehicles, and that the benefit to her daughter was just a bonus.
3 As Senate majority leader, Lyndon B. Johnson wielded unprecedented power, lording it over other senators and his aides. How did he get there? He identified the power brokers early and made himself indispensable. Florida Sen. George Smathers described how Johnson did it: "He was ... so condescending, you couldn't believe it! I've seen him kiss Harry Byrd's ass until it was disgusting: 'Senator, how about so-and-so? Wouldn't you like to do this? Can't we do this for you?'"
4 In New York Police Department slang, a "rabbi" has nothing to do with religion. It's a term for a mentor, higher-up or otherwise connected person who can help an officer get ahead.
5 Bill Clinton's last day as president featured the controversial pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was convicted of tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran while it held American hostages. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, had donated more than $1 million to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library. Two lawyers in the case later gained wider fame. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who represented Rich until about a year before the pardon, became Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and was convicted of perjury in the CIA leak case. Libby's prison sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush. Then there was Eric Holder, who as deputy attorney general gave a recommendation on the Rich pardon that was "neutral leaning favorable." Holder is now attorney general.
6 New York mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano spent World War II in prison, but maintained enough clout that U.S. authorities cooperated with him in something called "Operation Underworld" to aid the war effort. Luciano made sure there were no work stoppages or acts of sabotage on the New York City docks. In exchange, authorities moved Luciano to a prison closer to the city, and after the war they commuted his sentence and deported him to Italy.
7 Dan Quayle's nomination for vice president in 1988 led to disclosure of his successful effort to use his wealthy family's connections to get into the Indiana National Guard and avoid the Vietnam War. But Quayle insisted he got into the Guard "fairly." Asked why he didn't just go down to the Guard's office and apply, he said, "I do what any normal person would do at that age. You call home. You call home to mother and father and say, 'I'd like to get in the National Guard.'" That comment may have inspired the protest chant "Quayle, Quayle, called his mom, everyone else went to 'Nam."
8 Besides the sacks of cash, the clout of special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, AARP and unions springs from their ability to mobilize armies of volunteers at election time to help friends and to punish enemies, much as political parties do. In Chicago, the Democratic army is often peopled by city workers. That reality was highlighted by a federal investigation that found a third of city employees in five targeted departments were absent on Feb. 25, 2003, the day of municipal elections. In fact, more workers took that day off than the Fourth of July or Christmas the year before. Said one Streets and Sanitation employee: "Garbage, we could take care of that some other time. We had to take care of the votes."
9 In 2009, Tribune reporters pored over 1,800 pages of emails and documents for the "Clout Goes to College" investigation of favoritism in University of Illinois admissions. One email exchange initially stumped reporters. A U. of I. staffer bemoaned the fact that "(redacted) was overlooked again," and a colleague responded that "poor (redacted) ... should be in." The reporters finally figured out that the discussion was about Cubs great Ron Santo, who had been denied admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The U. of I. official who handled the redactions mistakenly thought Santo was a student applicant.
10 One of the most egregious abuses of power arose out of ... (What? Are you speaking to us? Yes. No, we couldn't, really. Wow, how generous. We're flattered. Please give him our thanks.) Now, what were we talking about? Oh. Never mind.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "Safire's Political Dictionary" by William Safire; "The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang" edited by Grant Barrett; "NYPD: A City and Its Police" by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto; "The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America" by Lee Bernstein; "The Master of the Senate" by Robert A. Caro; "The Use and Abuse of Power: Multiple Perspectives on the Causes of Corruption" edited by Annette Y. Lee-Chai and John A. Bargh; "The Kid Stays in the Picture" by Robert Evans; London Telegraph; Chicago Tribune; The New York Times; Los Angeles Times.