Civil Rights, Law, and the Federal Courts: The Life of Cecil Poole, 1914-1997
VII 1972 Democratic Convention at Miami Beach, Florida
Credentials Committee Hearings
[Poole begins with a discussion of hearings held on diversity of the delegations to insure that minorities and women were included. These were based on a resolution approved at the 1968 convention calling for quotas for blacks, women, and youth. This had come out of a reform commission chaired by George McGovern. This discussion was not tape recorded. -ed.]Poole
The party set-up was just about as tough as it could be. [Mayor Richard Daley] had all these aldermen and other politicians and they had all the delegate seats [referring to the Illinois delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 1972]. People like Jesse Jackson and a lot of others around there wanted to break that up, so they made a complaint. The chair of the Credentials Committee of the Democratic Party was Patricia Roberts Harris. She sent out a hearing officer, and the hearing officer that she sent out to Chicago to hear these complaints was a fellow named Louis Oberdorfer, who had been assistant attorney general in charge of the Tax Division in the Department of Justice at the time I was U.S. attorney. He and I were old friends. He went out there to conduct this hearing.
There were about seventy-five people, all of whom were delegates. They were all male. They would hardly let him talk. He was with a law firm at that time—one of the big law firms in Washington, D.C.—and they represented General Motors. General Motors had sold some motor coaches to the city of Chicago, and there was an argument about the performance or lack of performance of these vehicles, and there was a lawsuit either pending or threatened. When Lou Oberdorfer got out there, they did him badly. He couldn't talk. They were standing up making motions and everything. Finally, they started talking about his law firm.
I've known Pat—had known her—for a long time, and she had asked me, "We're going to have these field hearings in different places in the country, and if we needed you, could we get you to be the hearing officer at one of them?" I told her to let me know, and never gave another thought about it. She called me. I was in Washington, D.C., and she thought I was somewhere down in Los Angeles that day. She was trying to get me, and finally I found out I was only about three blocks away from her. She told me what this was about and asked me if I would do it, and she said that they were very vicious out there. I said, "Well, thanks, Pat!"
Yes, you needed that!
"Wish me only the best." But I decided I'd go out. They rescheduled this hearing and I went out.
This is to Chicago?
Chicago, yes. I've got some of those clippings. They're right here I believe. I had a cousin, who at that time was a police lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department. He knew I was coming because he read the papers there. He said, "Do you want to stay with me?" I said, "No, I don't want to stay with you. I'll get you ostracized from the city." Anyhow, he came down and we had breakfast together. I went over there and I met them. Here they all were, and I introduced myself, and we talked. They were a very unruly bunch of people. They were used to hearing themselves talk, and they weren't used to listening to anybody else.
These are the delegates to the convention?
These are the delegates, yes. They were all male. [Laughter] I called the meeting to order, much to their surprise. This was way down the line when that happened, but that all started with me.
Tell me now what happened.
Here's what happened. When I started, I said, "I guess the first thing I should do is to put on the record my letter of appointment from the chair of the committee." Every time I would say something, there would be eight or ten of them get up and make speeches and things like that. It went on and on, and I was making a little progress, so I discussed with them what would be
So it went on and on. Then they began doing the same thing they had done to Lou. They wouldn't stop talking. Somebody had furnished me with a little gavel, and I gaveled on the table there. I said, "We've been here for—" I think we went to lunch and nothing had been accomplished. They went to lunch and came back in about an hour and a half, and when they got back, everybody had a motion he wanted to make.
And I said, "Sit down." I said, "You know I am fully aware of what happened when Mr. Oberdorfer was here, and you had it within your power, by the sheer numbers, to make it impossible for this hearing to go on. I'm compensated adequately. I don't have to do this. I don't make any part of my living by coming to things like this, and I've got some clients in my law firm back in San Francisco who would be just as happy if I went back there to service them. But," I said, "I'm not thinking about doing that until I finish this job. As I say, you can make it impossible, but I want you to think this over. Each one of the complaints that was made against the delegation as presently constituted was either sworn, an affidavit, or was affirmed by it, and in any court of law that constitutes some measure of evidence. So you can make it impossible for me to carry on this hearing, and what I will do in that case is, I'll pack up my briefcase and I'll take these complaints and I'll go back to California, and I will go through each complaint, and I will take the evidence as I got it from the accusers that you wouldn't let me hear anything else, and I'll make a report on it." I said, "Do you want to try me on that?" It was almost as if the seas calmed. They were rushing upon the beach. So we got along pretty well from then on.
Negative Report on the Diversity of the Chicago DelegationPoole
I listened to Jesse and his people and some of the others. It went on for about three days. When I got through, I wrote a report, and it took me about three days to prepare the report. Finally, back in Washington, they couldn't stand it any longer, because there were newspaper columns and clippings and so forth all over that. They asked me, "Would you read it to us on the
When I got through, there was dead silence because of what I told them. My report concluded that they had violated every one of the laws of the canons of conduct that the McGovern report had advocated, and I felt that there was no question but that they had done so. My recommendation was that they be barred from participating in the forthcoming presidential primary. There was silence on the other end.
Who were you reading this to?
I was reading it to Pat Harris and to Larry O'Brien. Remember Lawrence O'Brien used to be the postmaster general?
Let me tell you—their offices were in that building where the robbers came in.
That's right. Their offices were in the Watergate. I don't know about this, but I'm telling you, it was three days after I had given them this report that the break-in at Watergate took place. I assumed, actually, that it was coincidental, but I wondered if they were trying to get that report, because that was dynamite. Nobody knew about it except the members of the committee and my secretary and I. That was my report, and six weeks later they had the Democratic National Convention down in Florida. The Daley delegation was challenged. Take a look at these clippings.
This headline says, "How Mayor Daley Lost His Gamble on Delegates." And that's how he lost it, right?
At the convention, he and his people were saying that they would never throw out the Illinois delegation. They said, "If McGovern wants to be president, he'll never do that." But they adopted my report, and they barred the [Illinois] delegation. So the delegates went home. I have a copy of the report I'll find at some point, but I won't take the time to do it now. It was quite sensational, and I was laughing all the way home.
"Daley's Delegates in Retreat," this one says. They actually barred them from participation?
I came across the report one time not too long ago. It's a pretty long report. I enjoyed that.
And I would say that was fairly crucial.
Yes, I enjoyed that.
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
Title: Civil rights, law, and the federal courts : oral history transcript : the life of Cecil Poole, 1914-1917 / Cecil F. Poole
By: Poole, Cecil F., 1914-1997, Interviewee, Coblentz, William K, Author, Hicke, Carole. ivr, Interviewer
Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
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