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Issue Date: November 2010 Issue

Campaign Promise

Mary Rose Oakar tells how a diner helped launch her political career.
I've always thought that diners are for regular people. People who come there are good decent people. No one is extraordinarily wealthy. The meals are always inexpensive — and the food is good. I always feel more comfortable at a diner than a five-star restaurant.

In my day, I did a lot of political stops at diners. I dined a lot at Tony's on 117th. Everyone went there. It was one of the best restaurants you could go to. They never overcharged you. And if you said you had to hurry up, they understood. Just like that. Diners promoted civility.

There was another diner on the far East Side that I remember going to a lot and another one in Slavic Village. After a little breakfast, I'd just go up and down the aisle and shake hands. Everyone was so friendly. People were glad to see you — even if they didn't want to vote for you.

I remember there was a diner out near the Ford Motor Plant that I first campaigned at. It was a railroad diner. All the Ford guys and gals ate there. It was the place to go if you wanted the UAW's endorsement.

I went there many times. I'd introduce myself and hand out one of my rose pens — that's how I got people to remember my first name: Rose. I got to know all the regulars. It's how I won my first election.

That year, the UAW had intended to endorse Tony Celebrezze. But the regulars at the diner overturned that endorsement. They just voted down the other UAW leadership. It was terrific for me. It really was responsible for winning my election in 1977. Or was it 1976?

Anyway, I got the UAW's endorsement every year after until I left Congress. Then I went to the state legislature, and they endorsed me for that too.

It makes me feel a little bit sad that diners aren't as prominent as they used to be. Denny's tries to emulate diners, but it doesn't quite work. Not that Denny's isn't a nice place. It is. But it's not a diner.  // as told to Rebecca Meiser

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