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MARX: R.I. native Shallman pens best seller
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MARX: R.I. native Shallman pens best seller

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You can take the award-winning advertising and campaign professional out of Rock Island, but you cannot take the Rock Island out of the ...

"We always experience the Big 3 when we are home: Harris Pizza, Whitey's Ice Cream and Jim's Rib Haven,'' said John Shallman, one of the nation's top — if not the top — political consultant/campaign strategist, who cut his political teeth in 1982 — in Rock Island — when he was elected president of the student senate at Rock Island High School.

"It's a must to have all three,'' continued Shallman, a brilliant yet modest-to-a-fault sort, who has led winning charges for political hopefuls at the local, state and national levels for over three decades.

Shallman's first major victory was his role in one of California senator Alan Cranston's four winning runs at re-election. Cranston, it should be noted, chased unsuccessfully a bid for the Democratic presidential nod in 1984.

A "go-to'' crisis management expert for a variety of A-list celebrities, corporate executives and athletes, Shallman even has a Midwest sports Big 3. While he loves life on the West Coast, he maintains a tight bond with his hometown and all that comes with it.

"Here's another one,'' said the married (Lani) father of four.

"It's Friday night lights at Rock Island High School, the greatest (high school) stadium out there,'' Shallman said in a recent phone conversation. "A Big Ten game at Iowa (Shallman is an Iowa grad and has a son currently at Iowa) on Saturday and then a Chicago Bears game on Sunday. Yes, sadly, I remain a Chicago Bears fan.''

In addition to his countless wins in the political and business arena, you may now count Shallman as a best-selling author.

His first foray into the ink-stained world, "Return from Siberia,'' is a hit, reaching the best-seller list for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Publisher's Weekly.

A three-run homer in his first at-bat.

The book is an account of Shallman finding an 100-year-old manuscript penned by his own grandfather, that chronicled his hard-charging revolutionary ways and — after being imprisoned — his exile to Siberia by the last czar of Russia.

The book, described as an "extraordinary tale of survival, romance, and revolution,'' also sheds light on the family's relationship to each other and the past, as well as the remarkable story of a young man who sacrificed everything for his political ideals.

"It is a unique journey,'' Shallman said of his grandfather's life and of penning the book. "We're talking about the many twists taken of a young man who began all of this at age 15.''

The book also shares the bitter rivalry between two brothers, whose competing visions of the American Dream are played out on the campaign trail and in their lives.

Sharing the trials and tribulations of his grandfather — whom Shallman never met — tied him to his own days growing up in Rock Island, and a job working at the First National Bank. It was there he received grandfatherly advice from a Rock Island legend.

"Both my parents worked,'' Shallman said. "They were fabulous, but I needed to work and one of my first jobs was at the bank. I can remember nervously stopping at (bank CEO/President) Lewis B. Wilson's office and asking if I could take his trash can.

"He was so gracious,'' Shallman said of Wilson. "When he motioned me in to get it, he began to ask me questions. There were at least four occasions through my tenure that Mr. Wilson asked me to sit and we talked about life. He truly wanted to know about me and what I wanted to do.

"He was full of advice and such an amazing man,'' Shallman added. "I share this because I didn't have a grandfather who could impart all the things he had learned. Mr. Wilson — without him knowing — stepped into that role for me. I'm grateful for what he did and what he shared.''

Though success has found Shallman in his first publishing venture, his writing future is on hold for the moment. It is an election year and there are projects at every turn. 

"We will see,'' Shallman said of a second book and making "Return From Siberia'' a motion picture. "I am, though, happy at the way this has turned out.''

There is, however, one thing outside of elections and book-writing on the Shallman agenda, watching his beloved Los Angeles Clippers — yes, Clippers — battle through in the NBA playoffs.

"That's right,'' Shallman said defiantly. "Picture the guy from Illinois, from the University of Iowa, in Los Angeles and Michael Jordan is making his mark on the NBA. I'm a fish out of water, but I'm a Bulls fan and there is no way I can afford to see Jordan play against the Lakers. That was a different stratosphere, a ticket to the (Los Angeles) Forum.

"So I buy Clippers' tickets and I get my Jordan fix that way. And now I'm a season-ticket holder and the Clippers are a success.''

And success is something Shallman knows a little something about.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

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