Former Congressman Henry Hyde died yesterday. He was my client. But more than that, he was my friend. Of all the candidates and elected officials I have known, he was the best to work with. His wife, Jeanne, was easily the most cooperative and helpful spouse.
Henry and I disagreed on many of the issues of the day - the death penalty, choice, guns - but Henry was never disagreeable in advancing his ideas, which were firmly grounded in his Roman Catholic faith and his legal education.
A Quixotic mission?
He was already a senior and powerful member of the Illinois General Assembly when he was recruited to give up his powerful position and run for Congress in 1974. That Watergate election promised to be very difficult for Republicans and the party leaders finally prevailed on Henry to enter what appeared to be a Quixotic mission. Henry accepted my suggestion for his finance chairman and embarked on a campaign plan that called for him to take the high road in a mudslinging election.
We could have slung mud with the best of them, but for a brown envelope. We took the high road for defensive reasons because that envelope contained restaurant and motel receipts and other records of a time Henry regretted. He had confessed to his priest and Jeanne and did not hide the affair from those of us who were helping him in the campaign. So when I received that envelope, postmarked Chicago but otherwise unmarked and unannounced, I knew that, somewhere, someone was letting us know that we could expect the contents to be revealed at any time.
The working-class, staunchly Catholic district was not so tolerant as others might have been. I spoke with the political editor of the Chicago Tribune about what to do if and when that happened. He, too, had received a brown envelope.
We waited. Nothing happened.
On election night, the three major television networks "elected" our opponent based on early projections. Henry was holed up with key supporters and the finance chairman called me to express concern. "Only Henry seems unworried," he said. "Wait for Cicero," I said. "The votes are there."
Cicero's Republican Party traced its history to Al Capone. When Chicago's corrupt Republican mayor, Big Bill Thompson, was thrown out in 1931, Capone needed a new home for his criminal and political activities. He picked Cicero, home to many second-generation immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Soon, Republican precinct workers had secure Cicero payroll jobs and even a Republican-sponsored pension plan for long service.
We had the preliminary vote totals for Cicero and knew that the Republican boss wanted to hold back their release to embarrass the TV networks because they tended to focus on Cicero's gangster past. When the Cicero vote totals were announced, a mad scramble to get the TV cameras to the Hyde headquarters ensued. By the time the cameras arrived, our celebration was mostly over. Cicero's GOP chairman had his revenge and Henry went on to distinguished service in Washington. I began to think that the brown envelope was gone.
Fast forward to December 1998: As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry reluctantly took the lead in presenting the case for the impeachment of President Clinton. I knew that an envelope like the one I had received a quarter century before might soon be spilled open. It was.
When I spoke with Henry the next morning, he said, "This is the first time I have been glad that Jeanne is gone and will be spared this." During the 1974 campaign, Jeanne had remarked to me that she hoped the contends of the envelope would stay hidden. "It will be so much harder on Henry and [here she named the other woman] than on me."
Months later, I was told that Hillary Clinton was behind the release of the contents of the brown envelope. I do not know if that is true but I do know that it made no difference. Henry, as chairman, did what he had to do.