Lipinski Reflects on Lessons His Father Taught Him
Continuing the Lipinski reign over Illinois's 3rd Congressional District, Dan Lipinski still considers himself a kid who grew up on Chicago's Southwest Side.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D)was standing at the Orland Park Metra Station at 5 a.m. last Monday, shaking hands and passing out literature to voters in the newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District.
It’s a routine that the four-term congressman follows every two years when he’s up for reelection. In 2008, he beat the Republican and Green Party challengers in a 73-percent landslide.
He is expected to easily win over Republican Rich Grabowski of Hometown, a Constitutional Conservative and favorite of local Tea Party groups.
“We’ll keep fighting until the polls close,” Lipinski said. “I’m very hopeful in this district that I’ll get returned to office.”
The scene circles back to 1982, when his father, William, first ran for Congress from the Southwest Side neighborhood. Young Dan was a high school junior riding the CTA bus down Archer Avenue on his way to St. Ignatius High School, watching his father shake hands with voters at the bus stop.
“I remember my father being out there campaigning at the bus stop,” Lipinski said, whose first political job was folding campaign letters for his father and stuffing them into envelopes. “I would go to events with him but there’s not much I remember from that campaign.”
Growing up in Chicago’s pre-Orange Line, Garfield Ridge neighborhood, Lipinski recalls the neighborhood values that shaped who he is today.
“It was a pretty quiet neighborhood,” he said. “The neighborhood didn’t have rapid transit. We rode the bus downtown. It was always a frustration to get downtown whether it was going to high school or going downtown for a summer job.”
He was more interested in playing Little League baseball and 16-inch softball than he was in was politics.
“I remember one great [Little League] game but other than that I was not all the extraordinary,” he laughed.
Entering Northwestern University where he graduated with a bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering, he expected to continue on to law school and eventually get into politics, but says he lost interest in following in his father's footsteps.
“I decided it wasn’t the life I wanted for myself,” he said. “I got into a couple of law schools but didn’t know if I wanted to go to law school or if I wanted to practice.”
Interested in economics, he earned his master’s in engineering-economic systems at Stanford University.
“I was interested in economics. At some point in college I started thinking about the possibility of being a college professor,” Lipinski said. “I liked the idea of school and teaching.”
After finishing at Stanford, he was recruited by Swissair to work a 6-month stint as a systems analyst. At age 23 and alone overseas, Lipinski was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes in October 1989.
“I had the typical symptoms,” he recalled. “I lost a good amount of weight and was urinating a lot. I went to see a doctor who immediately diagnosed me as diabetic. It was especially difficult living in a foreign country and not speaking the language. I was fortunate that nothing happened to me.”
After being diagnosed he came back home for a month to be treated, but insisted on going back to Switzerland to finish his assignment.
Lipinski said he’s never had to deal with the disease’s long-term effects unlike other diabetics.
“I’ve always been pretty disciplined in how I take care of myself,” the congressman said. “It's something I live with on a daily basis. I take insulin shots four times a day. It keeps me in a routine and encourages me to get out and exercise.”
Returning from Europe, Lipinski applied to and was accepted at Duke University, earning his doctorate in political science toward a college teaching career. He wrote his dissertation on political communications and Congress, specifically the newsletters that members of congress sent to their constituents.
He was teaching and on the tenure track at the University of Tennessee but didn’t want to settle there. In August 2003, he married his wife, Judy. Waiting for the publication of his dissertation and getting turned down for a job at Northwestern University, Bill Lipinski announced that he was retiring from the house in 2004.
“After 22 years he had enough,” Lipinski said. “He didn’t like being away from home and traveling to Washington. He figured he’d ask me if I was interested in running in the primary but didn’t think I was going to be interested. I was settled in and committed to teaching, but there were more political science PhD’s than there were jobs.”
Lipinski has carried on his father’s tradition of offering caseworkers at district offices to help connect constituents with government services.
“I learned that politics and government should be about helping people. That’s what I always took from what [my father] did,” Lipinski said. “I’ve continued on with making constituent services a very important part of what my office does.”
Another lesson his father taught him was putting an emphasis on getting things done and less focus on getting into the news. Lipinski became a news story when he became the only Illinois House Democrat that did not support the president’s Affordable Healthcare Act, or “Obamacare” because it included publicly funded abortions.
As a Catholic and as a scientist, Lipinski is staunchly opposed to abortion and believes that life starts at conception. He’d like to see U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling repealed, but as a member of the house, he says he has little control over making that happen.
Does he want to someday run for president?
“Never,” Lipinski says. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing. People ask me to run for statewide office—I would love to in the U.S. Senate with a six-year term—there is a lot more I could be getting done in the senate than the house but I’d have to travel all the time. In many ways I am representative of my district.
“I can spend my time being who I am and still have a relatively normal life as a representative. I mow the lawn, take care of the garden, shovel snow and wash my own clothes. That’s important to me to live life in my community like my constituents do. I still see myself as the kid who grew up on the Southwest Side of Chicago.”