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Mike Houlihan’s Campaign Trail: Nothin’s on the Square

John Powers 19 January 2018 One Comment

Mike Houlihan, the long time chronicler of all-things Chicago, Irish and Political (and the mix of all the above) has written “Nothin’s on the Square” a short account of the last mayoral election in Chicago, pitting Jesus “Chuy” Garcia against Rahm Emanuel in a contest between two very different (while both being left wing) Democrats for control of Chicago’s executive office.



Mike as “Houli” is one of those Chicago guys who can get away with referring to himself in the third person, while keeping a sane outlook to the reality of politics.  He signs up (along with the legendary Bill Crawford), to help bring in the Irish and Catholic vote for Chuy Garcia.  Houli does not see eye-to-eye with the hard-line Leftists running the Garcia campaign, but manages, along with Mike ‘Pickle’ Joyce to bring out the likable, regular guy nature of (St. Rita’s) Garcia and connect the campaign to everyday Chicago Catholic community of high school football games, union hall meetings, fish fries, tavern trips and Mass going.

The book is a real time narration of the months Houli was on the campaign, bracketed by the murder count that Rahm Emanuel has never been held accountable for.  Houli shows the media is in the bag for Mayor Emanuel, and that Emanuel has tied up all the major donors and political pros (including some of Mike’s best friends) in Chicago to shut out Chuy.   Houli identifies Rahm Emanuel as a petty, hateful, chair-loving, semi-human creature, thus making him the leading candidate for re-election as the Mayor of Chicago.

I’ve worked on a political campaign with Houli, and he is a pro, not only at writing, but also at setting a campaign into action.  He has an ideology, which informs but does not dictate his work, and does his best to tame the abrasive and erratic nature of politicians and politics so that they can connect with the voters.  This comes across in the book, where Houli repeatedly tries to keep Chuy away from fringe issues that the media and political consultants are telling the campaign are important.  Houli is not entirely successful on mainstreaming the Garcia campaign, but gives it a great effort.

The book itself is a quick read, written in punchy journalistic style.  Houli doesn’t spare anyone from his observations, and has the cynics eye view on much of the campaign (and politics in general).  Always concerned about being paid, Houli has an informed view on the congenital swindle which is Chicago politics, “Nothin’s on the Square” as the title says.

I’d recommend the book for anyone interested in the gear-grinding of the Chicago Machine, and the complexities of the various intramural squabbles within the Democratic Party here.  It is not a namby-pamby version of a campaign, as Houli lays it out there for anyone who can stomach the stockyard stench of Chicago politics.  The language is rough, and the characters are flawed (as flawed as the crystal at a South Side Outlet Mall?)  No one comes across as an admirable politician, while Chuy gets the better of Rahm as a likable person, he’s still hopelessly inept and beholden to some of the worst people in Chicago.

If there is a weakness, it’s that the book is not long enough, but as a chronicle, it is limited by the amount of time that the author spent on the campaign.   Given the right politician and the willingness to actually tell the story of how politics works, Mike Houlihan should be chronicling a political campaign from start to finish, so that the public can understand the messy, not-on-the-square nature of Chicago politics.

John Powers is the President of the Chicago Daily Observer.  He worked with Mike Houlihan on the Bill Brady for Governor Campaign in 2010

One Comment »

  • Jim Ridings said:

    Houli identifies Rahm Emanuel as a petty, hateful, chair-loving, semi-human creature, thus making him the leading candidate for re-election as the Mayor of Chicago. Observations like that make this a must-read.

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