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An Illinois elephant heads to the RNC

Ever heard the name Don Haider? “I’m probably best remembered as the guy that rode the elephant down State Street,” he said. Haider’s now a business professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and he’s an alternate delegate for Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

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Jean Haider, left, helps her husband Don display memorabilia from his unsuccessful 1987 Chicago mayoral campaign.

Jean Haider, left, helps her husband Don display memorabilia from his unsuccessful 1987 Chicago mayoral campaign.

WBEZ/Alex Keefe

Ever heard the name Don Haider?

“I’m probably best remembered as the guy that rode the elephant down State Street,” he said.

Haider’s now a business professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and he’s an alternate delegate for Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Jean Haider, left, helps her husband Don display memorabilia from his unsuccessful 1987 Chicago mayoral campaign.  (WBEZ/Alex Keefe)

But back in 1987, he was a Republican candidate running for Chicago Mayor against incumbent Mayor Harold Washington, in need of a good publicity stunt.

Enter the elephant.

“It was scary as it can be, because I am not accustomed to riding elephants,” he explained.

Unaccustomed, indeed: Haider had just spent years working as a budget expert for Democrats like Mayor Jane Byrne and President Jimmy Carter.

Haider was, of course, clobbered by Washington in the ‘87 election.

“I got 50,000 votes,” he said with a laugh."That’s 500,000 votes too little.”

He says that election taught him he doesn’t have the stomach for partisan campaign politics.

Haider walks me up to the office on the third floor of his house on Chicago’s North Side, and shows me a bookcase packed with framed photographs.

“This is Cheney,” he said, pointing to the former Vice President of the United States. “Here’s Teddy, playing rugby,” he said, showing me a black-and-white photo of former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Haider’s dished out budget advice to both parties, though he says he’s always leaned to the right. Despite his long-time proximity to big-wigs from both parties, Tampa will be his first national political convention.

Why get involved now? He says the country’s finances are the worst he’s ever seen.

“This is something that is unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t go back to the Depression, I was born in 1942. But we haven’t seen anything like this since.”

As we’re talking on his front porch, Haider doesn’t take many swipes at President Obama. But he says he does wish there were more business people in the White House. And he’s banking on Romney to bring tap his skill set as a venture capitalist to turn around the U.S. economy.

“And so we really do need a change in this country. And I think that’s what Romney represents: change, hope, make a difference, get the economy going.”

Hope, change - I point out to Haider this rhetoric sounds familiar.

But he says, this time around, he actually buys it.

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