Whalen had worked the previous year on credential challenges at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and would return to the role powerfully at the 1972 convention working on a compromise that would have seated competing lists of delegates led by the mayor of the city. era, Richard J. Daley and by Chicago. Aldus. Bill Singer and Reverend Jesse Jackson. Daley rejected the compromise, which would have given each delegate half a vote, and absented himself from the Miami convention which nominated George McGovern as the Democratic nominee for the presidential election that year.
“In 1972, like in a hundred other situations, Wayne was the master strategist,” Singer said.
In the Chicago legal community, Whalen made waves in 1984 when he left the law firm now known as Mayer Brown with five other partners to establish a Chicago office for Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, a law firm Wall Street lawyers tasked with dealing with hostile takeovers in the era of ‘greed is good’ deals. Skadden was at the forefront of a now common phenomenon of out-of-town law firms plundering local talent to establish a beachhead and expand with promises of higher salaries and profits of partnership.
“People came and threw resumes over the door,” said John Schmidt, another defector from Mayer Brown (now back at the company), who also worked with Whalen on the title fight. of 1972. “At the time, hardly anyone left the big Chicago law firms, let alone to open another office. It was mind-boggling.”
Whalen led the Skadden office for 25 years, developing a leading practice in mutual funds and corporate governance and serving as trustee of Van Kampen Investments, a former mutual fund company.
“It’s a bit of a Faustian bargain,” Whalen told the Chicago Tribune in 1991, which described him as a solidly built outdoorsman with the face of a friendly homicide lieutenant. “If you choose to practice law like we practice it, you have given so much of yourself. You think about your legal issues in the shower and on the way to work. You miss more children’s birthdays than you do. don’t want to count it.
Whalen himself has remained busy outside of the business, having advised Harold Washington’s successful mayoral campaign in 1983. Prior to the first debate with incumbents Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, advisers met asked whether to confront rumors that Washington had failed to pay income taxes (when, in fact, it had failed to file returns for several years). “Wayne was the proponent of getting it out, how to send a message to the whole situation,” recalled Jacky Grimshaw, one of those advisers. “He was a shrewd political tactician.”
It might look like a sphinx, resembling a restrained WC Fields. “Wayne was the guy who whispered in your ear,” Singer said. “He was also inscrutable. To get it out of him, you had to snatch it out of him.”
Whalen grew up near the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, not far from Ronald Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico. Whalen’s family raised mallards, up to 150,000 at a time, for hunting and catering purposes.
He attended the Air Force Academy despite a presidential appointment at West Point, he said, on the advice of his father that the then fledgling service would offer more career opportunities for someone without military connections. Although he felt he had made a mistake on his second day on campus, he held on, fulfilling his commitment as a missile launch officer at Air Force bases in Texas, in California and Nebraska before attending Northwestern Law School.
At the 1969 Illinois Constitutional Convention, Whalen met his future wife, who was a convention liaison to Governor Richard Ogilvie’s office and later Governor James Thompson’s policy director and president of Governors State University. in the university park in the southern suburbs.
Although raised as a Democrat, Whalen associated with the state’s two most famous Republicans. He purchased the building where Reagan was born, in 1911, at the request of local residents, who feared it would fall into unwanted hands as the owners grew older. And from 2009 to 2016, he chaired the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield.
“The library has probably had more ups and downs than it should have,” said former Governor Jim Edgar, the foundation’s founding trustee, referring to the well-documented conflict between the library and the foundation. “He was able to bring stability through some of those challenges. He was able to mediate.”