First my parents gave me life and then they gave me Ab Mikva. It was 1972–I was 9 years old. We were living in west Wilmette. My father knew Ab and my mom decided to volunteer for Ab’s 1972 campaign in the old 10th congressional district. Every day after school, I would go with my mom to the New Trier township campaign office and stuff and lick envelopes. My first job title (like so many other lucky kids) was the alliterative “Mikva Messenger.” We went door to door canvassing and then on election day rang doorbells to make sure we got out our plus voters. My mom ended up being Ab’s finance director.
I cannot exaggerate the impact that my mother’s decision had on our lives. Let’s start with the people who we met: Mikvas, Morans, Tuckers, Daskais, Lauterbachs and the list goes on and on. Having met these enlightened Evanstonians, my parents decided to move to Evanston from Wilmette (yes, Wilmette to Evanston—a reverse commute, so to speak.)
Ab lost that 1972 campaign to Sam Young. I remember the devastating feeling of that loss, but I also remember beginning to learn the importance of never giving up. Ab went on to win in Evanston (1974, 1976 (by 201 votes), and 1978). These races were always very tight and we Mikva Messengers proudly proclaimed our contribution to helping Ab win.
These were not political campaigns—it was a movement. For me Ab Mikva was divine. When he was appointed to the bench, the judiciary’s (and country’s) extraordinary gain was my (our) loss. We Mikva Messengers went through withdrawal. At such a young age we Mikva Messengers were spoiled without realizing it. Having worked for Ab Mikva, we peaked too soon. It felt as if we would never again feel the connection, inspiration and experience of working for someone like Ab Mikva (although ironically the next time we approximated this feeling was with Barack Obama who was Ab’s mentee.)
The Mikva experience instilled in me, and so many others, the importance of being engaged and involved in the political process–to try make the world a better place. After the Mikva campaigns, I worked on a lot of campaigns, but it never was the same. It did plant the seed forever that working in the public interest is an obligation.
The next time Ab greatly impacted me was when I was in law school. I had a moot court problem that dealt with the scope of the RICO statute. I was reading through the legislative history of the statute and stumbled upon Ab’s floor statement about the bill and why he was going to vote against it. This was at a time when voting against a crime bill was not politically smart or advantageous. Ab said he would vote against the bill because it was way too broad and would be used in unintended circumstances that we could not even imagine. Ab was now a judge and had just ruled in a RICO case that RICO could be used against a union. He had voted against it, had foreseen “unforeseeable” consequences and applied the law (even though it was contrary to his personal beliefs.)
After law school, I went into private practice, but always had the Mikva Messenger public interest bug. After 12 years in private practice, I realized the dream of working in the public interest, first at the Environmental Law and Policy Center and then the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
I next encountered Ab right after I had started at the AG’s office. I was receiving an award from Public Interest Law Initiative as a former intern who had gone into the public interest. Ab was receiving a life time achievement award at the luncheon. He spoke before me—when I spoke I expressed my disappointment that Ab had not personally thanked me because, as a Mikva Messenger, I had helped him get those 201 votes and where would he be today had he lost that election. To receive an award on the same day as my hero, who was one of the main reasons I had chosen a career in the public interest, was such a thrill.
I had several more encounters with Ab at the AG’s office, one of which was completely surreal—Ab was appointed as the administrative law judge in the Emerald Casino license revocation case and I was the lead lawyer for the Illinois Gaming Board. I was trying a case before Ab Mikva. How did this happen? Needless to say, Ab was a model judge—fair, decisive and most of all, nice and friendly. And, I’m not just saying this because I won. My two favorite tidbits from that case is when the town of Rosemont tried to feed the press a story that I had been a Mikva Messenger so Ab must be biased. The other is when Ab called the lawyers into his chambers and with a glimmer in his eye trumpeted, “I am going on vacation with Mr. Gaynor’s parents and I want to disclose that.” This was classic—he wasn’t going on vacation with my parents, he was attending the Shaw festival with my parents and 30 other people who had attended annually for many years. Ab was well aware of his bona fides as a man of integrity and was actually provoking the other side to try to mess with his reputation (a trap they fell into.)
The next time I had the honor to be with Ab was while at the AG’s office as co-council on the motion we filed to try to temporarily remove Governor Blagojevich from office pending impeachment. Ab served as a special assistant attorney general. How was this possible—serving as co-counsel with my hero?
Attorney General Madigan (and other states) next appointed Ab as one of 3 arbitrators in tobacco master settlement arbitration case. Again, he was an exemplary jurist.
I was with Ab two times recently. I asked him to introduce U.S. senate candidate Maggie Hassan at a fund raiser which he graciously did–politically active and relevant to the end. For Ab’s 90th birthday my mom and dad had a dinner for him at their house (after a fundraiser for Kim Foxx of course). I was a fly on the wall of history. At that dinner Ab and Newt Minow reminisced and told endless stories about back in the day beginning with Milwaukee. It was simply a joy.
These encounters with Ab over the years are the individual stars that form the constellation of my life. I know that my experience with Ab was not unique—he had this impact on everybody. More importantly, Ab’s impact on us has had impact on our kids and will have an impact on our kids’ kids. Ab had impact on everyone from Presidents and Supreme Court Justices to “ordinary” citizens. He made us all feel important. We were just lucky to have known him. We are all Mikva Messengers.
Paul Gaynor, 7/7/2016