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Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello

Reflections on Twenty-Two Years in the Illinois Senate

Philip J. Rock, with Ed Wojcicki

Publication Year: 2011

A loyal partisan and highly principled public official whose career overlapped with those of many legends of Illinois politics-including Mayor Richard J. Daley, Governor James Thompson, and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan-Democrat Philip J. Rock served twenty-two years in the Illinois Senate. Fourteen of those years were spent as senate president, the longest tenure anyone has served in that position. This nuanced political biography, which draws on dozens of interviews conducted by Ed Wojcicki to present the longtime senate president's story in his own words, is also a rare insider's perspective on Illinois politics in the last three decades of the twentieth century. 

A native of Chicago's West Side, Rock became one of the most influential politicians in Illinois during the 1970s and 1980s. As a senator in the 1970s and senate president from 1979 to 1993, he sponsored historic legislation to assist abused and neglected children and victims of domestic violence, ushered the state through difficult income tax increases and economic development decisions, shepherded an unruly and fragmented Democratic senate caucus, and always was fair to his Republican counterparts. Covering in great detail a critical period in Illinois political history for the first time, Rock explains how making life better for others drove his decisions in office, while also espousing the seven principles he advocates for effective leadership and providing context for how he applied those principles to the legislative battles of the era. 

Unlike many Illinois politicians, Rock, a former seminarian, was known for having a greater interest in issues than in partisan politics. Considered a true statesman, he also was known as a skilled orator who could silence a busy floor of legislators with his commentary on important issues and as a devoted public servant who handled tens of thousands of bills and sponsored nearly five hundred of them himself. 

Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello, which takes its title from the volume of calls and visits to elected officials from constituents in need of help, perfectly captures Rock's profound reverence for the institutions of government, his respect for other government offices, and his reputation as a problem solver who, despite his ardent Democratic beliefs, disavowed political self-preservation to cross party lines and make government work for the people. Taking readers through his legislative successes, bipartisan efforts, and political defeats-including a heartbreaking loss in the U.S. Senate primary to Paul Simon in 1984-Rock passionately articulates his belief that government's primary role is to help people, offering an antidote to the current political climate with the simple legislative advice, "Just try to be fair, give everyone a chance, and everything else comes after that."

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

I first approached former Illinois state senator Philip J. Rock in 2002 about writing a book. His response did not surprise me. “Who cares what I think?” he asked. A lot of people do, I told him. Phil Rock was one of Illinois’s most influential politicians in the 1970s...

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pp. xv-xvi

This book would not be possible without the assistance, guidance, and support of many people. Among those who provided early direction or guidance along the way were former members of the Illinois Senate Democratic staff Bill...

Chronology of Senator Philip J. Rock’s Career

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pp. xvii-xix

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Introduction: Try to Be Fair and Evenhanded

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pp. 1-10

In my fourteen years as the Senate president, from 1979 to 1993, I never had what I considered to be a solid majority of Democrats. The Senate had fifty-nine members; it took thirty to have a majority. We Democrats had between thirty and thirty-three members...

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1. They Told Me It Wasn’t My Turn

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pp. 11-18

My mother and dad were diligent about voting but never actively engaged in politics. Nobody in my extended family got involved in politics, either, nor did we know anybody politically involved. When I was growing up, I didn’t even know what...

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2. Getting My Opportunity in Springfield

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pp. 19-31

In 1970, when there was an opening on the Democratic State Central Committee from the Sixth Congressional District, the lineup worked in my favor. The Sixth District included parts of several wards. In two other wards, about ten candidates...

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3. Battling Walker and Fighting for Children

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pp. 32-42

When I prepared for my second term in 1973, I wanted to get more involved. I wanted to be named an assistant leader under Senator Cecil Partee, the leader of the Senate Democrats. So I asked my mentor, former senator Art McGloon, “How does one go about getting...

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4. My Finest Accomplishment

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pp. 43-49

Richard M. Daley, the son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, arrived in Springfield as a state senator in 1973. He was thirty-one then, five years younger than I. The Illinois Senate was his first legislative office, although he had been elected a delegate to the 1970 constitutional...

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5. A Scandal I Didn’t Deserve

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pp. 50-59

My dad, a barber by trade, was an avid horse player. When I was a kid, he took me to the track, usually Arlington Park. Once or twice we went way south to a track called Washington Park; it was like the South Side’s Arlington Park. Over time, I enjoyed the races more and more...

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6. The Crazy Eight Emerge

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pp. 60-71

I was at my law office Christmas party on December 20, 1976, at a place called the Junk in Chicago’s Chinatown. We took the staff there and had lunch and a few drinks, the typical Christmas party. The Junk’s owner, George Chung, a big-time Democrat, came running out of...

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7. A Move to Oak Park

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pp. 72-78

In 1977, Sheila and I decided to move from our house on the West Side of Chicago just over the city border into Oak Park. What surprised me was that the move aroused such great suspicion. Some of the independents in Oak Park and the West Side publicly cast aspersions...

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8. Finally, the Senate Presidency

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pp. 79-86

When I moved to Oak Park, Tom Hynes was in his first and only two-year term as Senate president. He wasn’t in the job very long before he decided to run for Cook County assessor in 1978. He wanted out of Springfield...

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9. Choosing Leaders and Saving Chrysler

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pp. 87-97

I kept the Senate Democratic leadership team in place in my first term as Senate president: Jim Donnewald, Kenny Hall, Frank Savickas, and Terry Bruce. Donnewald was from the downstate town of Breese and was a steady presence and somebody...

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10. A Redistricting Fight

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pp. 98-103

Every ten years when we drew new legislative district maps, it was always a big issue, one of the biggest issues of the session. In 1981, the Republicans controlled the Illinois House, with George Ryan as Speaker, and I finally settled into my second term as Senate president...

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11. Going National and Beefing Up Our Party

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pp. 104-113

During my first decade in the Illinois Senate, there was no organized conversation between those in the Illinois legislature and Illinois members of the U.S. Congress except about what happened personally in one’s district...

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12. Speaker Madigan

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pp. 114-118

We started 1983 by making history. Democrats regained control of the Illinois House because of the remap, and they installed Michael Madigan of Chicago as Speaker of the House for the first time. He would be the Speaker for most...

Gallery of Images

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13. Getting Behind the Tax Increase of 1983

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pp. 119-134

Jim Thompson was elected in 1982 to a third term as Illinois governor. (There are no term limits for governor in Illinois.) He squeaked out a win over the Democratic candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson III, by 5,074 votes. For a few weeks...

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14. Boosting Regional Transportation

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pp. 135-145

One thing we didn’t get done in the 1983 spring session was the resurrection of a much-needed subsidy for the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). For some reason, Governor Jim Thompson and Mayor Jane Byrne had negotiated...

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15. A U.S. Senate Race against Paul Simon

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pp. 146-153

It’s no secret that I wanted to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1984. I planned to challenge incumbent Republican Charles Percy, who almost lost his reelection bid in 1978 to an upstart Chicago attorney named...

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16. Year of Major Education Reform

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pp. 154-163

Going back to the Illinois Senate helped to heal the wound. For a few months, the press continued to mention my “disappointing fourth-place finish” in the primary, but I was moving on. When we convened for the Eighty-Fourth General Assembly...

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17. The Debacle of the 1986 Elections

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pp. 164-172

The idea for a world’s fair in Chicago had been bouncing around for seven years, at least since architect Harry Weese proposed it to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the successful 1893 Columbian...

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18. Illinois Women in Government

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pp. 173-177

In the 1970s, it was clear that women were becoming more active in government and running for public office more frequently. Alan Rosenthal, the distinguished director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University from...

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19. The Cubs and the Sox

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pp. 178-184

Some of the major issues we planned to deal with in 1987 were carryovers from previous sessions. Political pundits and the press sometimes complain when Congress or the General Assembly doesn’t accomplish something...

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20. Another Tax Increase and Another Mayor

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pp. 185-193

One issue that did get away from Governor Thompson in that summer of 1988 was his attempt to get another increase in the state income tax. In fact, he had tried for a tax increase the year before, too, in 1987, just four years...

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21. Riverboats and Governor Edgar

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pp. 194-204

I felt good as we rolled into 1990, when the biggest news would be about all the statewide elections. An issue that became urgent for a few of my members resulted from action in Iowa just across the Mississippi River from Rock Island and...

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22. The Final Year

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pp. 205-211

Along with dealing with a new governor in 1991, we faced a worsening economy. As a result, the state was falling short of projected revenues. We had to be creative to make up the budget deficit since our normal reliance on natural revenue growth from income taxes...

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Epilogue: After the Senate

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pp. 212-217

When I left the Senate, I was fifty-five years old. My children were almost grown up, and I had one grandchild—the first of twelve. I was ready for the next phase of life after twenty-two years in the Illinois Senate, the last fourteen as Senate...


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pp. 220-221


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pp. 223-232


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pp. 233


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pp. 235-247

Author Bios, Back Cover

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pp. 249

E-ISBN-13: 9780809330720
E-ISBN-10: 0809330725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330713
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330717

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 19 B/w halftones, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Legislators -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Illinois. General Assembly. Senate -- Biography.
  • Illinois -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Rock, Philip J., 1937-.
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