By Glenn Rifkin
Published Jan. 6, 2021
Updated Jan. 15, 2021
The Chicago political machine became the catalyst for Richard Means's legal career.
His start did not come from a job with the machine's boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley. It came from his anger at the machine's patronage system, which kept insurgent candidates out of races. In a 50-year career, Mr. Means became one of the top election lawyers in Illinois, committed to guiding local, state and national candidates onto the ballot and keeping them on the straight and narrow election-law path.
Mr. Means died on Dec. 17 at a hospital in Oak Park, Ill. He was 78. The cause was Covid-19, his wife, Anne Rooney, said.
A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Means represented candidates for mayor, judge, alderman, state representative and senator from all parties, including Republican, Libertarian and Green.
He consulted with presidential candidates, including Ross Perot in 1992 and Joseph R. Biden in 2008, regarding ballot access in Illinois. He served as the election lawyer for Harold Washington's successful run for mayor of Chicago in 1983, which Mr. Means considered his biggest triumph.
Mr. Means was determined to give minority voters a voice in government, and he worked pro bono for community organizations. In 2004, he organized a political action committee for the American Middle East Voters Alliance, which worked to strengthen the Arab-American vote.
William J. Haddad, a retired judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County and chairman of that committee, called Mr. Means "the pre-eminent election lawyer in Illinois." In a posting on its website, he recalled asking Mr. Means what he would charge to handle the committee's legal work.
"He inquired of me,'Bill, what is your fee?' To which I replied, 'None,'" Mr. Haddad recounted. "Rich said,'Well, I'll take half of what you're getting.'"
Richard Kenneth Means was born on Oct. 11, 1942, in Champaign, Ill., the oldest of four children of Josephine (Miller) Means, a homemaker and civic activist, and Kenneth Means, an insurance agent.
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
With his beloved wife Anne at his side, Richard (Rich) Kenneth Means, age 78, of Oak Park died peacefully of complications of COVID-19 after a short illness, and despite superb clinical care provided by the staff of Rush Oak Park Hospital. Rich was a well-known election attorney and a fixture in progressive politics and local, state, and national elections for more than 50 years.
Rich was born in Champaign, Illinois in 1942 to the late Kenneth and Josephine Miller Means. After the war, the young Means family settled in Western Springs, then a growing suburb experiencing a post-war housing boom. The Means Family became active citizens of that community for decades. Rich, his father, two brothers, and four nephews all achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. Rich graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1960. To this day he remained friends with many of his former LT-60 classmates, even facilitating a monthly Zoom call with a stalwart group of them throughout this pandemic year. Rich, an enthusiastic gymnast while in high school, considered winning a meet against Indiana Jones, aka Maine East trampoline opponent Harrison "Harry" Ford, to be his greatest athletic accomplishment.
Rich attended colleges at the University of Illinois, Shimer College, and the University of Stockholm, eventually graduating from Eastern New Mexico University with degrees in political science, sociology, and psychology. His university year abroad in Stockholm had a major impact on his life, exposing him to liberal ideas about the proactive role of government in fostering a civil society that serves all. He remained a lifelong lover of Swedish culture, food, and the arts - from the films of Ingmar Bergman to Swedish glassware to Princess Tortes from the Andersonville neighborhood. He and his wife traveled to Sweden many times, and Rich considered it his secondary home.
He graduated from the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in 1968. After graduation from law school, Rich received a Ford Foundation Fellowship in post-graduate studies in criminal and civil rights law. He remained committed to the "rule of law" his entire life, even practicing it from his hospital room. He was recently honored as a 50-year member of the Chicago Bar Association, in which he was active for decades. Rich was twice past chairman of the Chicago Bar Association's Election Law Committee and the past executive director of the Chicago Council of Lawyers. He regularly contributed chapters on election ethics and recount law to the Illinois Bar Associations Election Law Manual, and was viewed by many colleagues as one of the pre-eminent experts and election attorneys in Illinois. In 1968, Rich began his long and storied journey through progressive politics, serving on the campaign staff of presidential candidate of Sen. Eugene McCarthy at the time of the infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago. During the campaign, Rich was a volunteer driver for such liberal luminaries as Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith and writer Gore Vidal. He was also tear-gassed by the CPD in Grant Park and lived to tell the tale.
In 1969, he became Staff Counsel for Governor Richard Ogilvie's Office of Human Resources for the State of Illinois, where he was responsible for the development of legislation as well as policy administration of legal aid and anti-poverty programs. In the early '70s, Rich established a private practice representing candidates and political organizations in election law matters, civil rights, and civil liberties litigation, especially representing conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War.
In 1974 he joined the office of Cook County State's Attorney Bernard Carey as an Assistant State's Attorney, responsible for election law administration, including overseeing a unit that investigated and prosecuted election fraud. His proudest professional accomplishment was serving as election lawyer for Harold Washington's successful Chicago mayoral campaign in 1983, after which he served as a Senior Attorney and Supervisor in the Department of Law for the City of Chicago.
In 1990, Rich left government law to again establish a private law practice focused on his first love in the field of law - supporting free and fair elections in a healthy democracy. He abhorred corruption in local and state politics and worked to expose it whenever he uncovered it, sometimes through filing Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits. He represented political candidates of all persuasions - including several presidential candidates − regarding ballot access, political campaign strategy, recounts and election contests.
Throughout his long career, Rich was active in other civic organizations as well, including serving for ten years on the Board of Directors of the Community Renewal Society, an agency of the United Church of Christ concerned with issues of urban policy and, particularly, equity for minorities and the poor. He was Past President of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association and past officer of several of its neighborhood associations.
Rich was a fierce member of the liberal advocacy group Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) for more than 50 years, serving most recently on the National Board and as Illinois Chapter Chair of ADA, as well as a past state chairman of Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI). He proudly picketed the White House as a member of the ADA national board on the night of the Kent State Massacre in 1970. Rich served for over 30 years as a member of the Advisory Board and a founder of Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts). He was involved in the campaigns of many progressive candidates for decades, both as an election attorney and as a volunteer advisor. Rich was dedicated to the cause of voting rights. A singular highlight of this dedication was participating in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights for African-American citizens in 2015.
Besides his active political and legal life, Rich thoroughly enjoyed an abundant personal life as a resident of Oak Park for the past sixteen years, where he and Anne are members of Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UTUUC). Rich was an avid fan of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture since his high school days, an enthusiastic lover of jazz and folk music, a gourmet cook, and a connoisseur of films. He and his wife hosted the Wednesday Evening Film Society at their home, now in its 15th year, where many stellar dinners, conversations, and films were savored by their wide circle of friends. Rich and Anne traveled the world together, from road trips on Route 66 to home exchanges in Sweden and Provence.
Rich's network of family and friends meant the world to him. He was an adoring grandfather of Logan, Eve, and Soren, and never tired of going to baseball games, school performances, swimming, Family Game Nights, or making special blueberry pancake breakfasts for overnight guests. Besides his wife Anne, Rich is survived by his son Chris (Michele) of Chicago, daughter Annika (Andrew) Rothbaum of Oak Park, and son Alex Means of Rolling Meadows, Illinois. He was the much loved older brother of James (Linda) and Dexter (Lynne) Means as well as Margaret "Peggy" (James) Newman. Rich was an admired brother-in-law, fond uncle, and cherished friend and colleague to many. His was a rich, impactful, full-throated life - he tried to live out his values every day in the work he did for his clients and the community.
A virtual Celebration of Life service through Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation will be scheduled for late January. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the UTUUC Abundance Fund @ www.unitytemple.org, Beyond Hunger @ https://www.gobeyondhunger.org/ or Americans for Democratic Action @ https://adaction.org/
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Richard (Rich) Kenneth Means, age 78, of Oak Park; beloved husband of Anne L. Rooney; father of Chris (Michele), Annika (Andrew) Rothbaum, and Alex Means; grandfather of Logan Means, and Eve and Soren Rothbaum; dear brother of James (Linda) and Dexter (Lynne) Means and Margaret "Peggy" (James) Newman; beloved brother-in-law, fond uncle, and cherished friend and colleague to many.
Rich was born in Champaign, IL and raised in Western Springs, IL. He graduated from Lyons Township High and attended college at Eastern New Mexico University and the University of Stockholm. He graduated from Northwestern University Law School in 1968. Rich practiced election and public service law for more than 50 years, up until the time of his death.
Long involved in civic activities and progressive politics, he was most recently Illinois Chapter Chair of the liberal advocacy group Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and a past state chairman of Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI). Rich was twice past chairman of the Chicago Bar Association's Election Law Committee and the past executive director of the Chicago Council of Lawyers.
His proudest professional accomplishment was serving as election lawyer for Harold Washington's successful Chicago mayoral campaign in 1983.
Rich and his wife Anne are long-time members of Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UTUUC) in Oak Park. A virtual Celebration of Life service will be scheduled for late January. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to Americans for Democratic Action @ https://adaction.org/, Beyond Hunger @ https://www.gobeyondhunger.org/ or the UTUUC Abundance Fund @ www.unitytemple.org Sign Guest Book at legacy.suntimes.com