Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

The Pope of Driver's Licenses

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When Jesse White first ran for Secretary of State, in 1998, he beat his Republican opponent by promising never to run for higher office. At that time, the Secretary of State’s office was a waiting room for the governorship or the Senate -- Jim Edgar, George Ryan and Alan Dixon had all cooled their heels there.

    Now, it’s a waiting room for … heaven, apparently. White has become the Pope of Driver’s Licenses. At the Illinois State Fair, he announced that he plans to run for a fifth term in 2014, when he’ll be 80 years old. Evidently, tumbling keeps him young. An approving Gov. Pat Quinn called him “our Secretary of State for life.”

    When he completes his current term, White will break the record for longest-serving Illinois Secretary of State, currently held by 15-year officeholder James A. Rose, who is remembered only for being Secretary of State for a long time. Despite White’s persistence, he’s not even close to being the longest-serving statewide official in American history, or even the longest-serving Secretary of State. Here are some other officeholders who refused to go away.

    Thad A. Eure, Secretary of State, North Carolina: Served an amazing 53 years, from 1936 to 1989. Won his first election with the slogan, “Give a young man a chance.” Adding in his service as a mayor and a legislator, Eure spent 64 years in public office.

    Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Michigan: Served 37 years, from 1961 to 1998, earning the nickname, “The Eternal General.”

    Grady Patterson Jr., Treasurer, South Carolina: From 1966 to 2006, he was in office all but four years.

    John M. Coyne, Mayor, Brooklyn, Ohio: Served from 1948 to 1999, and enacted the nation’s first seat belt law.

    Robert A. Byrd, Representative and Senator, West Virginia: From his first election in 1952 to his death is 2010, Byrd cast more votes than any other member of Congress.

    Louis XIV, King, France: Louis reigned for 72 years, beginning at the age of four, before he was old enough to vote. As he was dying, he told his court, “Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?”

    Jesse White will say the same to his staff.

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!