Chicago magazine political writer Carol Felsenthal interviewed Susana Mendoza in 2011 and came away “convinced”—as she would later write—that Mendoza “saw herself moving up from [city] clerk to mayor.” She’s since moved on to state comptroller, but that’s another stepping-stone position.
Felsenthal wrote about Mendoza back then to report palpable tension between Mendoza and the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and observe that when Mendoza could have used a little support from the Fifth Floor, Rahm “left her to clean up her own mess.” The “mess” was Mendoza’s wildly unpopular decision to pull the plug on the the annual city sticker design contest for high school kids because the winning entry allegedly contained gang signs.
“The city sticker controversy . . . has made Chicago a national laughingstock,” John Kass wrote.
Kass has taken Mendoza’s measure more than once. Last March Tribune political columnist Kristen McQueary published a piece headlined “Comptroller Mendoza is no independent voice.” McQueary accused Mendoza of being a shrill “mouthpiece” for the Democrats, in particular speaker of the house Mike Madigan.
Kass touted McQueary’s piece on Facebook. “I love it when machine Democrats pretend independence & carry Boss Madigan’s water,” he applauded. “Great column here by my colleague and friend. . . . Madiganistan. It was once called Illinois.”
In April Kass wrote a column calling Mendoza “Boss Madigan’s mini-me.”
But now all this is ancient history. Journalists recognize our duty to tell both sides of every news story, but when it comes to both sides of every newsmaker, that’s trickier. How many articles do you recall that tried to reconcile the George Ryan who corrupted the secretary of state’s office and the George Ryan who abolished the death penalty? It was almost always one Ryan or the other.
Now there are two Susana Mendozas, and focusing on the new one will be simple. Who the hell is going to remember the city sticker scandal of 2012 or will still believe she jumps through Mike Madigan’s hoops? Madigan’s “mini-me” just became the pugnacious heroine of a John Kass love letter.
For one Sunday last July, as Kass recently found out, Mendoza got off her bicycle, chased down a pickup truck driver she’d seen run a red light and smash into some cars, followed the driver into a gas station, and told him, “I’ve got you on video. Say cheese!” (Yes, she was filming everything.)
To make a great story even greater, Kass recognized the driver—politically connected hard-ass John “Quarters” Boyle. Kass marveled last Sunday, “In chaotic moments, people reveal themselves. And Mendoza showed she is one tough lady. She confronted a certified Chicago tough guy, a two-time ex-con. She warned those nearby, she announced she’d called police, she backed the tough guy down and he finally ran away.
“And she made wisecracks along the way, like her soon-to-be-famous ‘Say cheese!'”
Boyle later turned himself in.
I suppose Mendoza now has a shot at any office she wants to run for, and I don’t think she needs to worry about getting blown off as anyone’s toady or mini-me or meat puppet. As pundits like to put it, she’s been inoculated.