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A Conversation on Conventional Wisdom and the Hung Jury

Thomas F. Roeser 24 August 2010 No Comment

When the news broke that the Blago jury was hung up on 23 counts and could only get agreement for conviction on one, I was talking on the phone with an old Harvard buddy who was on the faculty the same time I was a Kennedy Fellow in 1977 (he’s since retired). Since Kennedy Fellows are treated the same as faculty, we’d chow down frequently at a not too shabby place: the Harvard Faculty Club during January to June of that year.

What brought us together was this: He was interested in meeting Andrew Young, then UN ambassador who was doing a guest lecture at my class to interviewi him for a book he was writing. He’s a sociologist and author…black and unconventional…and was rated as one of the best profs around.

My assessment still holds about Chicagoans’ cynicism which contributed to the passivity of the jury. But when the news first came down, nobody knew the identity, gender or race of the holdout juror. He and I were speculating idly on the phone when he said this:

“ I’ll bet you the ranch it’s a black woman.” .

Why do you say that?

“Poor black women, black women without husbands, particularly those who are Moms… far more than men…, support anyone who has been a conduit to government assistance because so many of them are hooked on it: and Blago had his All Kids program and free transit rides for seniors. With a great number of black poor women, marriage—at least to black men—is less important than it used to be. Take a look at the numbers. Far more black women are going to college than are black men. In the number of business promotions, they greatly exceed men. This is very sad because as even Pat Moynihan discovered with his report on the black family in 1965, increasingly then poor black women looked upon black men an almost useless commodity aside from being sperm donors. That finding almost killed Pat with the liberals.

“Poor black women who raise children by themselves must depend on government. And now even not-so-poor black women. That means that as jurors black women generally reward those defendants who though crooked have been involved in government and have endorsed governmental largesse for the poor. That’s not very surprising, is it?”

Well, I guess not now that I think of it. I’d like to refer to this on my blog.

“Okay so long as you don’t use my name. The statement I just made is exceedingly unpopular with the politically correct—and they rather not see it brought up. They are in denial. You know what political denial is, don’t you?”

“Of course. Take a look at the issue of gun control. It doesn’t work but is a staple to every liberal’s urban affairs repertoire (I was going to say “arsenal”) because without it the onus would be on chaotic families which produce kids running the streets who join gangs and shoot `em up. An indictment of the state of being, frankly. But don’t think this is largely a black issue. It is starting to go with white divorced or single women who are moms as well. They generally vote for Democratic candidates because they believe more assistance will come from the government if Democrats are in control—and they’re right. But black women are particularly responsive as jurors when support of someone like Blago is involved. I’ll bet you a good steak dinner I’m right. Agree?”

Yes if the payoff is at The Capital Grille.

“Capital Grille? We’ve got one here in Boston on Newberry street. You’re on.”

Wait a minute. It hasn’t been proven yet. If I win the dinner will be at the Capital Grille in Rosemont next to O’Hare.

“Not likely. I’ll win this one.”

You think.

Then the word came out that the holdout was named Jo Ann Chiakulas. The photo that flashed on and off over TV was indeterminate. I called my friend at once.

You lose. She’s a Greek. Her name’s Chiakulas.

“I’m still in the game. I saw the photograph as well. Can’t tell from the picture. But she’s a retired state public health worker with ties to the Urban League. She listens to NPR and liberal talk radio shows.”

But her name is Chiakulas.

“Not a factor. Probably married a Greek. You’re closer to the scene than I. Once you find out, give me a call.”

A day later I called and said:

Okay, the Capital Grille in Boston it is. Tell me what made you call it right—right from the start.

“Fifty years ago ethnic identity meant about as much to whites as black does to my African American colleagues—especially women. An Irishman would, all things considered, vote to sustain an Irish defendant and so on. It has to do with the low esteem the Irish felt they were rated with other nationalities—Brahmins– in some social circles. Well the Irish were right. Then they tended to stick together. The same with blacks except not so much the men. Black women are vulnerable votes for any defendant. My guess is she lost her objectivity long before she was picked for the jury because of Blagojevich’s All Kids program. And in case she forgot, you’ll remember that the young defense attorney what’s-his-name…”

Sam Adam, Jr.

“–Sam Adams,. Jr…”

Adam. Singular. Sam Adam, Jr. and his father Sam Adam, Sr.

“Ok, ok. Adam. We out here are used to the name Sam Adams because–.”

Please. I know about the Adams boys from Massachusetts.

“Junior was the guy who as he talked to the jury wiped a tear away and called attention to his developmentally disadvantaged son who benefited from All Kids. Apart from the outrage that a wealthy young lawyer poached on the All Kids program which was designed for children of the poor, it was a not so subtle reminder to the jury to take into account an issue that had nothing whatsoever to do with the charges. It’s dynamite with black women. Especially former social workers, Urban League, workers with the state health agency. My God, that prosecution was really inept to let her sneak by into the pool without a challenge!”

Looks like it.

“Well, Blago can have his fun now but on the re-trial it’ll be different. As a matter of fact, this cocky-ness he’s showing is going to do him in.”


Tom Roeser is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Daily Observer and a Kennedy Fellow at Harvard

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