Blase of glory: Author probes life of ‘Prince of Niles’
Author Andrew Schneider gives a talk to patrons at the Niles Public Library about his book detailing former Niles Mayor Nick Blase's career Sept. 26. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 3, 2012 1:35AM
NILES — Will former Niles Mayor Nicholas Blase be remembered most for the positive changes he made in the village of Niles during his nearly 50 years in office? Or will his 2006 arrest and later conviction on federal corruption charges be his legacy?
Only time will tell how history views Blase.
But journalist Andrew Schneider gives a comprehensive history of the former mayor’s political career in Nick Blase: The Prince of Niles, Illinois (The History Press, 2012). The Park Ridge native discussed his book at the Niles Public Library on Sept. 26.
Schneider, who is now publisher and editor of Screen magazine, covered Niles for about six years for a local newspaper.
“When I knew him, he was still mayor and I thought he was a very interesting character,” Schneider said of Blase.
Early in 2006, Schneider discussed the possibility of his writing a biography with Blase, but the mayor wasn’t interested.
“He felt a biography was something that would happen when he was ready to retire,” Schneider related. “He said, ‘I’m not ready to retire just yet.’ ”
After Blase’s arrest later that year — on his 78th birthday — he reconsidered and gave Schneider the go-ahead to write the biography.
“He cooperated with me extensively on the book,” the author noted. “We had 23 hours of recorded interviews and he was very forthcoming with me, especially about things that happened in the past.”
Schneider believes the reason Blase was so cooperative was because he had approached the mayor about a biography prior to his arrest which likely “indicated to him that I was interested in his life beyond the fact that he had been arrested.”
Because Schneider was working a full-time job throughout the process, the book became a four-year project. That included about a year each on research, writing, finding a publisher and preparing the manuscript for publication.
The result is a thoroughly researched, highly readable history of not just one man but political life in a Chicago suburb. Blase dominated that suburb for 47 years.
“He was a political animal and he was a titanic figure,” Schneider said. “He was able to really hold sway over the town politically.”
In the preface to the biography, the author reveals that he took his inspiration from The Prince by Machiavelli — even borrowing some chapter titles from the work. That was partly because Schneider saw in the history of Niles “a passing resemblance to the Renaissance Italian city-states.” In addition, Blase frequently read the The Prince, a copy of which was prominently displayed in his office.
Schneider said that he received cooperation from everyone he approached for interviews about Blase.
“Everybody had advice,” he added. “They wanted to make sure you were fair and talked about the good things he did.”
Blase’s biggest accomplishment, Schneider said, was “true mastery of the political environment in Niles. He essentially had a free hand all the years I covered Niles. He was able to execute a vision that he had for the town.”
The mayor was sometimes criticized for his lack of attention to aesthetics, Schneider indicated, but that was a low priority for him.
When businesses tried to open in nearby suburbs, they were required to contribute by putting in new lighting or fixing a road, Schneider reported.
“Nick Blase’s general attitude toward any business was, ‘Welcome,’ ” Schneider said. “On the one hand, that’s why Niles lacks a coherent effect. On the other hand, that’s why Niles taxpayers pay probably the lowest tax rate for the level of services they have of any town around Chicago.”