Kadner: This Napoleon seems to like running
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org December 7, 2012 5:34PM
Napoleon Harris is seen in this May file photo
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:32AM
I would like to know why Napoleon Harris is willing to spend so much of his money to run for public office.
From what I’ve read, Harris seems like a pretty bright guy. And according to published reports, he also has millions of dollars.
A graduate of Northwestern University, where he played football, Harris went on to play linebacker in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs.
Since his retirement from football, he’s bought two Beggars Pizza restaurants in the Southland.
Having grown up in Dixmoor, Harris is one of the few professional athletes who returned to the south suburbs (Flossmoor) to live, so you’ve got to like that about him as well.
But he spent about $250,000 of his money running for the Illinois Senate this fall, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the state.
Soon after he won the Nov. 6 election, reports surfaced that he planned to run for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former congressional seat.
Several local political observers told me Harris would have to be considered a front-runner in the special election because he could spend $1 million on his campaign, far more than any other candidate would likely raise in a short period of time.
So I called Harris’ campaign office to see if he was indeed running and ask him why, having just spent a chunk of money running for the state Senate, he would want to spend even more of his cash on a congressional race.
“He’ll call you when he has something to say,” I was told by someone at Harris’ Senate campaign office.
I called a few days later and got the same response.
Several suburban mayors have told me that Harris has called them to solicit their support for Congress.
And Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Sean Jensen wrote that Harris told him, “I’m running.”
So why won’t Harris talk to me, or other news reporters, about running for Congress?
“Well, you wrote something that wasn’t very flattering about him in a recent column,” I was told.
Actually, the column questioned whether it really mattered who won the congressional race. That column also mentioned, in a rather critical manner, just about every candidate who has said they would run.
As for Harris, I wrote he “just got done telling voters he really wanted to represent them in the state Senate” and has “apparently decided he would rather be in Washington.”
That was about it.
I’ve got to believe Harris heard harsher criticism in much stronger language from his football coaches over the years.
I think it’s valid for voters to ask why a fellow who just got done saying he really wanted to be a state senator decided what he really wants to do is be a U.S. congressman.
Harris isn’t the first person with personal fortune to spend big money running for elective office.
Heck, Illinois ice cream and dairy man Jim Oberweis has spent millions, mostly on failed political efforts.
Harris won in his very first try.
I’m always fascinated by people who spend money on politics because, quite frankly, it’s not something I would ever consider.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people speculate on how they would spend cash from a big lottery win and not once have I heard someone exclaim, “I could run for public office.”
Most people talk about buying their dream house or going on a great vacation, quitting their jobs and maybe even helping out people in need.
Harris apparently uses some of his personal fortune on football camps for local youths and to support other charities in the area.
He seems sincere about giving something back to the community, and maybe he really feels another way to do that is public service.
That would be admirable indeed if it’s true.
Still, I have this thing about people in public life refusing to answer questions or return phone calls.
NFL players can tell reporters to get lost.
Businessmen can say, “It’s not your business how I spend my money.”
But once you say, “I want to represent the people,” you have a much greater responsibility.
Harris now is a senator-elect.
He wanted the job. He paid good money to get it. And he ought to tell the people who backed him why he’s even considering running for Congress before he takes his Senate seat.
Harris has spent much of his life in the public eye. That should give him a big advantage over other first-time officeholders.
One of the benefits of electing a guy like that is that he should be able to handle the news media, be a more effective advocate for the issues he supports and represent his community in a positive way.
I really have nothing against politicians who finance their campaigns.
Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), a banker, spent millions on his campaign and was one of the best public servants this state has had in recent years.
But Harris doesn’t seem to understand he’s entered a new arena that requires accountability and accessibility.
The 2nd Congressional District and the 15th Senate District are in need of a leader.
There’s a possibility that Harris has his sights on much bigger things down the road, such as becoming a governor or president.
Those are pretty cool jobs.
Whatever his motivation for running for public office, he better prove soon he’s not afraid to answer questions.
Harris once took on 300-pound linemen in the NFL who were trying to do him bodily harm.
Reporters just want to toss some questions his way. If he can’t handle that, he really has wasted his money.