Superstitious? Coroner’s election routine keeps working
BY BRIAN STANLEY firstname.lastname@example.org November 11, 2012 4:24PM
Will County Coroner Pat O'Neil reads the Bazooka Joe's fortunes that he has gotten on past election days. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2012 10:20AM
LOCKPORT — Here’s an Irishman who feels he has to make his own luck.
Like many baseball players, Patrick K. O’Neil’s superstitions started in Little League.
“I wore dirty socks. If I had a good game they stayed on for the next one. Mom couldn’t wash them,” he recalled.
O’Neil eventually left sports behind for his family’s mortuary business and politics. He first ran for Will County coroner in 1992.
“I was the underdog, but I was fortunate enough to win and when the next election came I wanted to remember what I did that day and try to do the same things to see if I could keep the streak going,” he said.
Like his political supporters and opponents, O’Neil knows there are other reasons he’s been chosen as coroner for the last 20 years. But everyone from Joe DiMaggio to someone stepping in the box for the second at-bat of their amateur softball career would think O’Neil was less rational if he ignored the mantra illustrated in the classic movie “Bull Durham” — You have to respect the streak.
1. The uniform
Typically, O’Neil wears a suit or dress shirt and tie when he goes to work. But at some point on Election Day he has to put on the white sweater and stonewashed blue jeans he was wearing in 1992. Despite Jen O’Neil’s efforts to weed through her husband’s wardrobe over the years, the sweater and jeans safely have been hidden at the bottom of a drawer.
“He’s superstitious about everything and he’s making our kids (Shae, 12, and Ryan, 10, both athletes) that way,” Jen said. “A black cat could walk right across here and it wouldn’t bother me.”
The O’Neils didn’t start dating until after Pat’s first election, but Jen knows it’s not coincidence her husband takes her to a Cubs game around their anniversary every year.
“That was our first date because I was a Cubs fan. And we go to Wrigley Field even though he’s such a big White Sox fan,” she laughed.
All kidding aside, Mrs. O’Neil is “thrilled” her husband still fits into the same jeans he bought 20 years ago.
“Yeah, but I think I’m one pancake away from busting out of them,” the coroner acknowledged.
2. The lineup card
For this year, O’Neil put on his traditional outfit before voting at Broken Arrow.
The order of the rituals can be rearranged. They just all have to get done, he said.
While his contest has never been at the top of the ballot, O’Neil rearranges that order, too.
“I have to vote for myself first. Then I go back through the rest of the ballot,” he said.
3. Something to chew on (box score)
O’Neil doesn’t chew a lot of gum, but during a stop at the store on his first election day he bought a piece of Bazooka bubble gum and saved the wrapper.
Twenty years later it isn’t as common to find a jar of individual Bazooka gum pieces by the cash register, so O’Neil now looks in the candy aisle of gas stations and drug stores for packs.
“The gum isn’t important. The Bazooka Joe comic isn’t important. It’s the fortune on the wrapper. That’s what matters,” he explains.
In an envelope in the pocket of the stonewashed jeans, O’Neil brings out a gum wrapper with “92” handwritten on the back and “Today is the first day of the rest of your laugh” under the comic on the front. “96” was a good one — “You’re headed for the most excellent day ever.”
If the coroner runs again in 2016, a challenger who isn’t above a dirty trick could cause havoc by hitting the candy aisles around town the night before. O’Neil hasn’t pre-shopped and his first stop at Speedway is unsuccessful. There’s plenty of gum, but no Bazooka.
“Gotta be Bazooka. That’s why they’re here,” O’Neil tells the manager who is wondering why a reporter and photographer are watching him look at candy.
“Oh. Are you Bazooka Joe?” she asks him.
The aisles of Corwin’s Pharmacy seem to be strike two until Jen O’Neil spots a box on the outside corner and tosses her husband the last pack in the store. Pat O’Neil catches it easily, then picks up the empty box, too.
“That’s lucky, too, right,” he says to the cashier.
4. The home team
The candidate has spent five past election nights watching returns with his family in his parents’ basement.
This year, O’Neil surprised everyone familiar with “The Streak” by throwing a changeup.
Since O’Neil’s father, Patrick J. O’Neil, died in May 2010, his son decided the event would be held at his own house this year.
“I was shocked that he changed it,” Jen O’Neil said.
O’Neil proclaimed it the start of a new tradition. He visited his father’s gravesite in the afternoon and said his mother, Joyce, was happy to come to his house.
But old traditions die hard for someone who doesn’t plan to upset the Election Gods.
“I still went to my mom’s and walked around her basement, just as I always have. So that’s done, too,” he said.
A few hours later, Pat O’Neil continued his streak as the longest-serving Democrat in countywide office when he was elected to his sixth term.