I think I can make the claim that my father, Maurice W Conway, was responsible for one of the greatest political landslides in the history of the Democratic Party.
It happened in New Buffalo Township, in Berrien County, Michigan, across Lake Michigan from Chicago. New Buffalo Township surrounds the town of New Buffalo, which was around 2,500 people when I went through K-12 there, but was down to 1,884 by 2,000, at which time 2,468 people lived in the township.
When I was there, people in that area, in the township and town of New Buffalo and the two unincorporated burgs that were included in the township, either worked at one of the small businesses in town or for the consolidated school district, but more worked across the state line in Michigan City, Indiana, or further along the lake toward Chicago at one of the big steel mills at Burns Harbor or Gary, Indiana.
We had moved there from Ohio when my Dad, who drove for a big trucking company, was transferred to Chicago. Dad was, and in may ways remains, a mystery figure to me. He was on the road most of the time and died when I was 19 and I never had many significant discussions with him. Dad had not quite graduated from high school, he told me once, but there was a book shelf in the hallway and I remember books showing up there now and then with impressive titles. The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck was one, and one was Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, which I thought had a pretty catchy title, but it would be years later, decades really, before I found out what that book's significance is within the Left and in anti-coloinial and Civil Rights circles. It's not a widely read book, but it's a seminal, important book, and the fact that my Dad had it, the fact that he even knew about it, just deepens the mystery about him.
I know that he and Mom had named me after Franklin Roosevelt (except for the middle name, Delano, the story goes, "because Roosevelt had a lot of enemies, too.") I know that Dad had been in the Labor Movement when he and my mother started out, first in Miami, where he organized laundry workers and was the go-between between the segregated Black and White locals, then as some kind of an official in another union that represented some of the workers at big public works projects in the South. Those had been started by the Roosevelt Administration's WPA, the Works Progress Administration, and were still being built in the mid 1940s. Most were big hydroelectric projects where they dammed up rivers. (The Rural Electrification Administration, the REA, which financed the power lines that distributed that power to the entire rural American countryside, which the commercial power companies had always deemed not worth what it would cost them, came about in large part because of the efforts of a good New Mexico Democrat, US Senator Dennis Chavez.)
By the time I came along in 1952 my parents were back in Ohio and my Dad was driving a truck. He retired from that in the late 1960s, and was selling real estate part time when he and another guy decided to organize a Democratic Party in New Buffalo Township. There wasn't one before that, and all the township elected officials were Republicans. Southwest Michigan is a Republican area. I don't know the story of that, either, but it was, owing to being in the lee of Lake Michigan, a big fruit growing area -- apples, cherries, peaches, pears -- and the growers were locally powerful people who depended on migrant labor and low property taxes.
I can't say I know anything about Jim Keller, Dad's partner in organizing the New Buffalo Township Democratic Party, except that he was a retiree from Chicago who sat in a wheelchair and lived in one of the big houses along the lake. I also can't say I know much about their strategy or tactics, except that I remember that to me, they didn't seem very sophisticated, and the candidates they recruited were kind of surprising, too. They were just regular people, people from church and people whose kids I played baseball with and people who worked at the school, people I saw all the time. They didn't fit any image I had of politicians.
But when the election came, their entire slate won. I remember joy in the house that night, of course, and being proud of my Dad, who was, and still is, pretty much of a mystery to me, but who engineered a turnaround in one jurisdiction's governing body -- the Supervisor, the Clerk, the Treasurer and all the Trustees of New Buffalo Township -- of 100 percent, a rate of effectiveness that might be hard to beat.