Friday, December 11, 2009

Milty We Hardly Knew Ye

Milton J. Sumption announced this past week that he was withdrawing his candidacy for Congress in the North Suburban Illinois 10th Congressional district.

If you are scratching your head and saying, "Who?," you are not alone.

Milt Sumption is a 40-something resident of Lake Bluff, who briefly had a low level job in Senator Tom Daschle's office in the 90's, then made a small fortune as an investment banker on Wall Street, got out just before the crash and decided to buy a pricey home on the North Shore and run for public office.

As often the case with overacheiving business types, he declined to start with something modest like school board or even the county Board, but reckoned that only his rapier intellect could save the rubes of Mark Kirk's district from themselves. So he jumped right in to run for the U.S. Congress.

A fellow has to start somewhere, why not the top?

But after spending a few grand to get on the ballot and accosting voters door-to-door in his posh neighborhood, Milt came to the sad realization that he had no name recognition, no base and not a snowball's chance in hell against the relatively veteran Dems, State Rep. Julie Hamos and perennial candidate, Dan Seals.

At least Milty had the good sense to pull the plug on his 3 month campaign whimsy before a bevy of political consultants could milk his hubris for all it was worth.

But that hasn't always been the case in Illinois.

10 years ago, the 30-something scion of the R.R.Donnelly telephone book fortune, Shawn Donnelly, decided that her massive experience as political affairs director of the family business made her the obvious choice to succeed outgoing 10th district Congressman, John Porter.

She spent several million of her inheritance on that Quixotic whim. In garnering a 4th place GOP primary finish, her chief contribution to the political heritage of the district seems to have been the invention of enormous, billboard-sized lawn signs, that have since been outlawed by many municipalities.

And then there was John Cox. A Glenview lawyer, he made a bundle in acquisitions and mergers during the go-go 80s and decided that he should then devote his formidable energies and newfound cash toward saving the people of the 10th CD. With no political or civic resume to speak of, he dropped a bundle on the race, but alas, he too was an also ran in that 2000 GOP Congressional primary.

Undaunted, Cox, however, reasoned that his problem was that he was wasting his time on too small a challenge. So he decided to drop another few mil in a 2002 bid for the U.S. Senate.

A paltry 3rd place showing there only served to convince him that his sights were still too low. So he began pouring his money into a laughable 2008 campaign for President (of the United States.)

In accord with his pattern of losing and then running for the next higher office, word is that he is now testing the waters for a bid for UN Secretary-General.

And then, of course there was Blair Hull.

He got his seed money as a high stakes Las Vegas blackjack player. He parlayed that stake into a fortune made gambling on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange.

He then sold the business to Salomon Bros. and set his sights on the 2004 U.S. Senate race.

He had a successful quasi-scientific system in Vegas and boasted that he had come up with a "surefire algorithim for winning campaigns."

Apparently his $40 million campaign warchest and his scientific formula didn't predict the Chicago Tribune's yellow journalistic efforts which unearthed the nasty private details of his divorce and it was all for naught.

But there will no doubt be many future megabucks candidates who will arm themselves with the delusion that their business success (or huge inheritances)will be quite enough to secure for them high public office.

To steal a line from Paul McCartney's Lady Madonna:

"See how they run!!"


  1. You are absolutely correct. We are so well served by people who spend their entire lives in political office. We certainly have a very effective government with a balanced budget and a Congress which is admired by all.

    People who spend a lifetime building businesses, raising families, founding charities, serving on civic boards and the like have no business running for office. Better they should spend their time as community organizers, part time constitutional law professors and hold a succession of public offices, where they prove they can raise money, spend public dollars and make deals for their own benefit. Then they can get elected President and lead the nation into trillions of debt.....

  2. You have no real quarrel with me. I agree with President Reagan's vision of the ideal lawmaker being like the Roman farmer, Cincinnatus, who, when the Republic was threatened from without, left his farm to assume the First Consulship, led Rome through its crisis and returned to his plow.

    But for the life of me, of the 535 members of the House and Senate, I am hard pressed to think of one such person.

    The four office seekers I chronicled had precious little in the way of previous community civic involvement and all came from the realm of speculation or PR -- not exactly productive business enterprises.

    I think the unhappy reality is that since the era of non-stop campaigning, beginning perhaps in the late 70s, campaigning has become, however regretably, a complex, full-time business and is no place for dreamy dilettantes.

    Term limits might have curbed this unhappy trend, but that 80's fad seems to have fallen by the wayside.

    If anyone knows how to ameliorate this sad state of affairs, I'm all ears. But until then, campaigns are the arena for the full-time political class.

  3. To stae the ober-obvious: Oberweiss.


Comments invited, however anonymous commentors had better deal directly with the issues raised and avoid ad hominem drivel. As for Teachers' Union seminar writers -- forget about it.