SNEED ON A VP SELECTION OF THE ’80S; FACTCHECK OF GOV’S ASSERTION ON JOBLESS CLAIMS
Identity. Back in June 1984, a very secret source gave me my first national “scoop.”
It was one of those exclusive stories that lasted about as long as it took ice cream to melt.
It was short and sweet — but it was juicy.
Now that U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has been chosen our nation’s third female (as well as first Black and of South Asian descent) veep mate, it caused Sneed to pull a little fluid out of the old ink well, a sort of political palimpsest.
It was when U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was chosen the nation’s first major-party female vice presidential nominee during my stint as co-author of the Chicago Tribune’s old INC. column, a brokerage house of top tips, my beat covering politics, crime and hard news.
I wasn’t credited with a scoop du jour byline back then, but on Wednesday, June 11, 1984, I wrote via INC. that the nation’s first female vice presidential nominee had been selected. Back then, it appeared in the first edition of the morning paper the NEXT day, June 12. “It’s a girl!” I wrote.
What I didn’t print, but knew, was Ferraro had definitely been chosen by Democratic presidential contender Walter “Fritz” Mondale as his running mate, according to an impeccable source who didn’t want to be identified. The editor was informed before my column went to print. I presume a second source was the issue.
The old boy network was in full force back then. We were women. We cried, after all.
My source was literally in the room where it happened, an emissary sent by private jet to pick up the woman Mondale had just chosen as his running mate.
On June 12, two Tribune male reporters wrote Mondale was poised to make history but still hedged somewhat on Ferraro being a choice written in stone — but noted Ferraro’s name was on a plane list en route to Minnesota, where Mondale would make his VP choice official.
But by then the story was everywhere.
But the story behind the story is divine circumstance unfettered by plain old good luck, a reporter’s USDA grade prime tenderloin steak.
And it did involve a plane. So here goes:
◆ Back shot: Although it was already known in early June 1984 Mondale might make the history books by selecting a woman as his ticket mate, the big question was who?
◆ Double shot: It had basically whittled down to then-San Francisco Mayor (and current U.S. senator from California) Dianne Feinstein, a brunette — and the flaxen-haired New Yorker, Ferraro.
◆ Bank shot: Sneed’s source, still in the dark as to the winner, was dispatched to San Francisco from Chicago, to pick up Mondale’s choice. He immediately phoned me upon landing.
Feeling compelled not to disclose the name, the source only stated: “It’s the blonde.”
Mamma Miaaa! Mondale had chosen a blonde Italian-American Catholic!
Back then, it was reported the very formidable Ferraro’s placement alongside a very sedate Mondale was expected to give his campaign “flair.”
Sound familiar, Kamala? She is a formidable former prosecutor who could kick the tootin’ out of Putin.
On July 13, 1984, I quoted a source from the Mondale camp analyzing why Mondale saved the first dance for Ferraro.
“He needed to do something dramatic,” said the source. “His greatest fault is that he appears too predictable — good ol’ safe Walter … she’s his complete opposite — outgoing, literally overflowing with enthusiasm. She adds sizzle whereas he’s laid-back.” Sound familiar, Kamala? Mondale once talked to Time magazine about what Ferraro endured on the campaign trail from the old boy network.
“We went down to Mississippi, and some old farmer said, ‘Young lady, do you make good blueberry muffins?’
“And she said, ‘Yes. Do you?’ (Hmmm. I think Hillary Clinton was asked something about baking cookies.)
“That was the kind of thing that she was bumping up against,” Mondale stated. “She had to keep her cool. She had to be nice about it. And yet she was undergoing a revolution.
Hey, the old boy network is still at work.
And a second source is not required to report an American woman has yet to be elected president of our country.
Overwhelmed by a surge in unemployment claims during the COVID-19 recession, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has faced criticism for lengthy backlogs, a data breach and user fraud.
During an Aug. 4 news conference, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker defended his agency’s response given the tsunami of new claims flooding in.
“IDES, as you know, was hit with something no one expected: 10 to 20 times the claims, even during the worst recession of my lifetime. That was the 2008-2009 recession,” Pritzker said. “No one expected that we could see a recession worse than that one.”
Nationwide, initial unemployment claims last week dipped below 1 million for the first time since March, but the figures remain staggeringly high. Even so, we wondered if the number of claims filed in the early weeks of the pandemic in Illinois really reached the levels Pritzker suggested.
So we reached out to the governor’s office to ask for the data.
Spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh sent us IDES figures for initial unemployment claims for each week of the current recession, which officially began in February. She highlighted two separate weeks when the number of claims reached a peak, and sent data for the corresponding weeks of the Great Recession which started in December 2007.
In Week 9 of the current recession — the week ending April 4, 2020 — IDES received more than 202,000 new unemployment claims — 12.5 times more than the roughly 16,000 the agency received for Week 9 of the 2008 recession.
And in Week 15 of the current recession — the week ending May 16, 2020 — initial claims spiked again as jobless workers in the gig economy and others who were previously ineligible for unemployment insurance began to apply under the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. That week, IDES received a little over 10 times the number of new claims it got in Week 15 of the previous recession.
Both peak weeks fall within the range Pritzker cited even though they don’t reach as high as 20 times more, or even 15 times more. Tallies for other weeks this year outpaced the comparable period of the Great Recession but by less than 10-fold.
Experts told us it was fair for Pritzker to highlight those early spikes given the unique challenges state unemployment systems faced in processing claims because of the sudden health crisis sweeping the nation.
“It was all of a sudden, just everybody at once,” said Eliza Forsythe, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign’s School of Labor & Employment Relations. “Because it was so fast, these claims were many times over what we usually see, even in other recessions.”
Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, said although there are multiple ways to compare this recession, “they all point to a surge in initial unemployment claims of historic proportions.”
Pritzker’s spokeswoman also told us the governor’s claim referred to the difference between the claims IDES is seeing this year and the numbers it normally receives. Pritzker did not make this clear in his original remarks.
“The governor is saying IDES is seeing 10-20x the claims they normally do as well as EVEN more than the worst recession,” Abudayyeh wrote in an email.
IDES data backs that up. New claims this year outpaced those received in Illinois last year by 10 or more times in 10 of the last 20 weeks. In three of those weeks, cases were between 20 and 23 times greater than the same period in 2019.
Pritzker said when COVID-19 struck, IDES “was hit with something no one expected: 10 to 20 times the claims, even during the worst recession of my lifetime.”
His office pointed to two weeks when state data show new unemployment claims surged by as much as 12 times the number of initial claims received in the same weeks during the 2008 recession. Those two weeks of peak claims fall within the range Pritzker cited, if not hitting 20.
His spokeswoman also told us the governor was referring to the difference between the claims IDES is seeing this year and the numbers it normally receives, which is supported by the data too. However, that more accurate comparison wasn’t made clear in his remarks.
We rate his claim Mostly True. The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together at https://chicago. suntimes.com/section/politifact/.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is the third woman to be a major-party vice presidential candidate. The first was U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y., in 1984.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions during a news conference in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood in July.