by Ken Feltman
Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski was my friend. The fact that he was a Democrat and I a Republican did not change that. The fact that he went to jail did not change that.
He was a friend to thousands, from his Congressional district on the North Side of Chicago to Wall Street and especially to Main Street. He was Mayor Richard J. Daley’s man in Washington. Many Chicagoans consider Congressman a demotion from alderman or ward committeeman (boss).
Rosty agreed to speak before a trade association that I managed while he was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. This was in the middle of consideration of legislation that eventually become the sweeping 1986 revision of the tax code. Dozens of people wanted to corner Rosty with questions before and after his speech. Many of the questions were hostile. A group of critics followed Rosty to each of his speaking engagements to hector and shout.
He and I agreed that we would take written questions only. We compiled the questions just before Rosty arrived at the meeting hotel. I arranged to meet Rosty at the food vendors’ dock. We took a freight elevator. I handed Rosty the questions, sorted by tropic. He discarded the most slanted but kept most tough ones. As we weaved our way through service corridors, he put the questions in batch order. The whole process took less than five minutes as we navigated the back hallways.
“Ask them in that order, okay?” “Okay,” I responded.
He finished his talk and I joined him at the podium. I explained that many questions were on the same theme and I would select one so we could cover more topics. Then I picked the top question in each batch…till I came to an especially nasty question. I skipped that one. Rosty seemed surprised and took a long glance, then answered the remaining questions in thoughtful and organized sentences.
When he finished, we escaped through the service corridors to another loading dock where Rosty’s driver awaited. As we walked, he put an arm around my shoulders and looked me in the eyes: “So you think I can’t handle the really tough questions, huh?” I laughed. “Look,” he said, “you got it wrong. I can hit the curve ball. I just don’t throw the curve ball.” He smiled, punched my shoulder softly and shrugged, “I just tell it like it is.”