The rise of the Cook County Board’s newest commissioner starts, as so many good political stories in Chicago do, a long time ago in the old neighborhood.
Ed Moody and his twin brother Fred Moody were teenagers hanging out at West Lawn Park on the city’s Southwest Side when they met a politician named Mike Madigan.
The Moody brothers’ mom had died when they were 14. Their dad struggled with alcoholism.
Mike Madigan, then a young state representative and Democratic ward boss, became a father figure to the boys, who followed Chicago politics as avidly as many kids follow sports.
Madigan later welcomed the Moody brothers into his political organization. They quickly became top Democratic precinct captains in the 13th Ward.
Now 52, Ed and Fred Moody have stayed out of the limelight until now. But political insiders long have counted them among the most respected and feared campaign operatives in the state legislative and municipal races where Madigan cultivates his power carefully, one voter at a time.
After decades of laboring door-to-door for candidates blessed by Madigan, the longtime Illinois House speaker and his state Democratic Party organization, Ed Moody is coming up from the trenches, finally, to represent a south suburban district on the Cook County Board. On Saturday, Democratic committeemen from the district unanimously picked Moody to succeed Commissioner Joan Murphy, who died last month.
Unlike the seemingly eternal speaker, the new county commissioner says he supports term limits. Moody says he plans to serve out the last two years of Murphy’s term and would run for no more than two four-year terms.
“I believe, if you stay in office too long, you lose that zeal,” says Moody, who lives in Chicago Ridge.
Over breakfast at Petros, the political meeting place that’s cater-corner from City Hall, brothers Ed and Fred say they’re happy to thank Madigan for all he’s done for them. But Ed Moody says he’s ready to show he can be his own man, too.
He says Madigan didn’t lobby the committeemen for his appointment to the county board vacancy. All of them knew Ed well already, thanks to the brothers’ famously effective efforts at getting out the vote all over the state.
When they first began knocking on voters’ doors trying to drive up turnout, Ed says, “We discovered we had a real knack.”
“We took a precinct that was at the bottom, and it became the No. 2 precinct in the ward,” Fred says. “That was just unheard of. Then, it was the No. 1 precinct in every election after that.”
“We really had the ability to meet people where they were,” Ed says.
“To relate and connect with them,” says Fred, who works during the day in the office of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
While many see “pounding the pavement” for candidates as grunt work, Ed says, “I consider it a real privilege when somebody is willing to spend time with us and shares their concerns.”
Working for the speaker has led the twins to knock on doors, asking to talk politics with voters everywhere from public housing projects to North Shore mansions.
“We’ve been to every single type of community all over the state,” Ed says. “I’ve talked to every type of individual.”
But the only government office he’s run for himself was Worth Township highway commissioner. Moody says he will quit that post at the end of his term next year and will immediately leave his $100,000-a-year day job, in the office of Chief Cook County Judge Tim Evans, to become an $85,000-a-year county commissioner.
He says he won’t mind the pay cut. And he says he’s ready for the increased scrutiny that comes with being a politician.
After seeing the speaker survive so many bruising battles, Moody says he’s well aware that, “The further up the ladder you go, the more your butt is exposed.”