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Cox gets points for talking up his Senate bid

Eric Zorn
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July 17, 2003

One last question for Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Cox: Why do you think you're going to win?

"I'm going to excite the people of Illinois about some real positive change and solutions to problems," he says. "I'm going to talk about ending the politics of corruption and cronyism that has disgusted the people of Illinois ..."

We are standing in the parking lot of Lake Meadows, the 1950s-era South Side urban-renewal housing development at 33rd Street and King Drive where Cox spent the first five years of his life.

"... I'm going to be painfully honest with the people of Illinois and tell them what actually needs to be done..."

The setting is my idea. Cox, one of more than half a dozen announced and likely GOP hopefuls in next year's race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, called to say he wanted to explain his candidacy, particularly why he's not just another rich guy with a whim to start his legislative life at the top.

"...I'm sick and tired of political decisions being made because of some crony or because it moves money to some guy who's going to give you a political hand up. That's nonsense..."

One of his opponents, former bond trader Jack Ryan, has won admirers for having quit his job to teach at a private, all-black South Side high school. But Cox grew up on the South Side, he said, and rose from humble beginnings, unlike the silver-spoon Ryan.

"...I could be playing tennis or golf or sitting on the beach. I have a lot of things I could be doing. I am passionate about this because it's fun to have an impact on things. It's an interesting thing to do..."

His late mother, Priscilla, was a Chicago Public Schools librarian, a single mom and a liberal. He's a tax attorney and owner of several successful businesses, a divorced and remarried father of three and the most conservative candidate in the race.

"...People will look at my background and say `Hey, here's a guy, he knows hard work, he started with nothing and built something. He's got some ideas, I don't agree with all of them. Maybe I don't agree with being pro-life. Maybe I don't agree with some of his positions on issues. But he's working hard...'"

Cox, who turned 48 Tuesday, is intense and loquacious. His reply to my last question alone ran more than four minutes without interruption, and we'd already been talking for nearly 90 minutes.

"...By the way, this idea that I'm a failure because I've run and lost a few times? Well I think you're a failure if you haven't tried..."

In 2000, Cox finished 5th in a 10-candidate Republican primary for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. John Porter; last year he finished last among three Republicans vying for the opportunity to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Both times, post-election analysts said he was simply too far to the right to win in Illinois.

"...It's a failure of our country that more people aren't involved in the political process. That's why we end up with a lot of professional politicians who feed at the trough..."

To his credit (though likely to his ultimate doom at the polls), Cox has not backed off any of his positions: He's opposed to abortion, even in case of rape and incest; opposed to limits on firearms purchases; in favor of the flat-rate income tax and public school vouchers. But the edited transcript of our interview--posted on the Internet at ericzorn.com--shows that he's intending to stress his opposition to political corruption and on bringing economic opportunity to the poor.

"...Let's put people in office who have done something in the private sector..."

At least five GOP millionaire businessmen who have done more than something in the private sector, including Cox, will enter this race. With Democratic millionaire businessman Blair Hull setting the overall spending pace and a big-bucks, multi-candidate contest brewing in that party as well, we're in for a flood of declarations, promises and accusations to make John Cox seem positively reticent.

"If I can find people who are interested not in building political machines but in building real change," he concludes, though by now I've forgotten the question, "I think that'll help."

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune


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