It’s too bad that Michael Mann’s latest film, Public Enemies, was more or less a flop at the box office — budgeted at $100 million, it’s grossed about $93 mil domestically, which means that Johnny Depp or no Johnny Depp, it’s not going to earn out — because if ever the time was right for a great gangster film, it’s now. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that make me proudest to be a Democrat is our party’s long history as a crackerjack criminal enterprise; why, just the other day in Hudson County, N.J., the feds rolled up a whole passel of pols, almost all of them Democrats, on bribery, extortion, money-laundering, and organ-trafficking charges. The new mayor of Hoboken and even a few Orthodox rabbis got caught up in the sting.
Well, Jersey has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Gangland, Inc., since the heyday of Longy Zwillman, so there’s no surprise there. Throw into the mix Arkansas, the “retirement” home of Owney Madden, who controlled a long line of jail-bound governors from his redoubt at the Southern Club and Grill in Bill Clinton’s home town of Hot Springs; Nevada, which was basically Benny Siegel’s brainchild; and Richard J. Daley’s Illinois, and you have the foundation of a real political movement, one that stands for egalitarianism, tolerance, fairness, and the Little Guy. Not to mention slavery, segregation, secularism, and sedition, but we’d rather not talk about that right now.
Still, nothing in our storied past has prepared us for this great moment — the ultimate meeting of man, faux biography, red-diaper baby, ballerina, dumbed-down electorate, DSM-IV, and the Chicago Machine: the presidency of His Serene Highness the Emperor Barack Hussein Obama II, Lord of the Flies and Protector of the Holy Cities of Honolulu and Chicago. What Tammany boss and veep Aaron Burr only dreamed as he shot Alexander Hamilton, what Chicago Tribune journalist Jake Lingle dimly perceived as one of Capone’s men ventilated his double-crossing straw boater, what Frank Costello, the “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” only vaguely glimpsed as he roomed with Tammany macher Jimmy Hines in the Drake Hotel in Chicago when our party chose Franklin D. Roosevelt as its standard-bearer during the Glorious Revolution of 1932 — all this has at last come to Technicolor fruition. (Sentencing Hines in 1939 for selling protection for Dutch Schulz’s numbers racket, the judge observed: “Instead of using his political power and influence for the well-being of the city and for the promotion of law and order and good government, he used his position for the promotion of the interests of this crowd of criminals.” Well — duh!) With the Obama Ascendancy, we are at last out and proud.
Yes, my friends, the great line of gangsters with the letter “D” after their names, from Tammany Hall to the Outfit to the Syndicate to the Combine, has now reached its apotheosis as our party controls the White House, the Congress, and, soon enough, the Supreme Court. Because, in fact, we are a gang. A syndicate. A combine. An outfit. Just don’t call us a Mob — that’s a term we’ve now reserved for all you Brooks Brothers and Ann Taylor thugs who have the audacity to show up at town-hall meetings protesting our “health care” power grab. Not since the heyday of gangland back in the 1920s and ’30s has there been such a bumper crop of corrupt politicians, shtarkers, and hoodlums with their hands on the levers of power, and it’s time to celebrate it.
So here’s my movie, a thinly veiled film à clef. I haven’t written the script yet, since I know that even if I sell the first draft, I’ll get fired and replaced either with Paul Haggis or Tony Gilroy, which is why I’m pitching it to you in the hopes that some producer sees it and gives my agent a call. I’m calling it Public Enemies II: This Time, It’s Personal.
Our dramatis personae, with casting suggestions in parentheses:
Dutch Schultz (Rahm “The Ballerina” Emanuel) — the fabled Dutchman, the last of the great Jewish gangland chieftans, was actually born Arthur Flegenheimer, but he changed his name to honor a previous Bronx thug named “Dutch Schultz.” The dreaded Rahmbo, meanwhile, is legendarily handy with a steak knife and known to send dead fish to his enemies. Emanuel is one of three brothers raised by Israeli immigrants to the United States, who changed their surname from Auerbach in honor of Rahm’s paternal uncle Emanuel, who was killed fighting the British with the terrorist organization Lehi, better known as the Stern Gang. Rahm’s father, Benjamin, fought with the Irgun, which in 1946 blew up the British headquarters in the King David Hotel, killing 91 people.
One of Rahm’s brothers is Ari “Entourage” Emanuel, the head of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, a former ICM agent who was fired when he and three other ICM agents were caught stealing files out of the agency’s old Wilshire Boulevard offices in the middle of the night. His other brother is bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, President Obama’s health-care adviser; according to his official bio at the National Institutes of Health, he is “widely published on the ethics of clinical research, advance care directives, end-of-life issues, euthanasia, the ethics of managed care, and the physician-patient relationship.” I don’t know about you, but I feel better already!
Richard J. “Dixie” Davis (New York senator Charles Schumer) — the Dutchman’s personal mouthpiece and the epitome of the New York City shyster, Dixie was loud, brash, and obnoxious. He helped Dutch muscle his way into the Harlem policy rackets, edging aside gunman Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Attorney General Eric Holder) and voodoo lady Stephanie St. Clair (Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett); after the Dutchman’s untimely death by lead poisoning in 1935, Dixie took over the rackets himself. Busted a couple of years later, he did a year in jail and got disbarred. With his seats on the Finance, Banking, and Judiciary committees, Senator Schumer is obviously smarter than Dixie Davis, yet he is just as loud and even more obnoxious.
Richard J. “Boss” Croker (Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd) — the very incarnation of the Irish panjandrums and poobahs who ran Tammany Hall (motto: “stealing elections for the Democrats since 1797”) from the end of Boss Tweed’s reign through the heyday of sachems “Honest John” Kelly and “Silent Charlie” Murphy. The Irish-born Boss Croker beat a murder rap and rose to become Grand Sachem of the Wigwam on 14th Street, where he happily took bribes from all and sundry, amassed a huge fortune in his little tin box, and eventually retired to his castle in Ireland, one step ahead of the law. Dodd, the “Friend of Angelo,” was recently exonerated by the Senate Ethics Committee (stop laughing) of any hinkiness in his doings with Countrywide Mortgage or just about anything else. Like Boss Croker, Chris may well choose to end his days puttering around his own estate in the Ould Sod, if he knows what’s good for him.
Maerose Prizzi (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) — a fictional character from Prizzi’s Honor, the femme fatale so memorably portrayed by Anjelica Huston in her daddy’s movie finds a real-life counterpart in Nancy Pelosi (net worth: $19 million). She’s the daughter of “Old Tommy” d’Alesandro, whose “parking garage” connections forced him out of the Maryland gubernatorial race in 1953, and the sister of Franklin D. Roosevelt “Roosey” d’Alesandro, arrested in 1954 along with 15 other youths, as Time magazine reported at the time, for “taking two girls, ages 13 and 11, on an all night joy ride and keeping them in a furnished flat for a week. He was acquitted of the rape charge, but out of the investigation of this case grew a perjury indictment against 21-year-old Roosey.” Nancy’s mama, Anunciata, got into trouble that same year when she admitted on the witness stand to receiving $11,000 from a contractor named Dominic Piracci, who was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the city. Oddly enough, Piracci’s daughter married Tommy d’Alesandro III, who later followed his father into the Baltimore mayoralty. All in the family!
Jake Lingle (David Axelrod) — the double-dipping Chicago Tribune reporter shot dead in 1930 by one of Al Capone’s minions at the Illinois Central Railroad underpass across from Grant Park. Axelrod, the pride of Stuyvesant Town and the son of a reporter for the old leftist daily PM in New York City — “I got into politics because I believe in idealism,” he has said — began his career on the self-same Tribune, where he rose to City Hall bureau chief and got chummy with Richard M. Daley, the current mayor of Chicago. From there, it was just a short waltz to the other side of the street; in 1984 he went to work for the late senator Paul Simon, then formed Axelrod & Associates, a political consultancy. His client list has included Boss Croker, Ma Barker (Hillary Rodham Clinton), Pretty Boy Floyd (John Edwards), Dopey Benny (Rep. Patrick Kennedy), and Salvatore Maranzano (Andrew Cuomo). Axelrod’s also the man who gave us, however briefly, Gov. Eliot “Client No. 9” Spitzer in New York, Gov. “Cadillac” Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, and the presidency of BO2, for which he is now receiving the thanks of a grateful nation.
Al Capone — one fine day around 1920, a young man of great ambition and an utterly ruthless nature suddenly appeared in Chicago, where he was taken under the wing of the city’s leading South Side thug. Quickly surpassing his mentor, he organized the community, developing productive relationships with union members, employee groups, and Democratic politicians, and treating himself to the best in clothes, transportation, whiskey, and cigars as he burnished his “man of the people” image. There was nothing, it seemed, he could not do . . .
Now — who could that be?
– David Kahane has joined the witness-protection program. If you have further casting suggestions, you can write to him at [email protected] or become one of his friends on Facebook. Just don’t rat him out to the feds.