Why is Chicago so corrupt?

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Why is Chicago so corrupt?

[cap­tion id=“attachment_80446” align=“alignright” width=“300”] Chicago’s lakefront[/caption]

By John Ruberry

Decent peo­ple shouldn’t live here. They’d be hap­pier some­place else.“
Jack Napier/​The Joker in Bat­man.

Often, I’m asked, “Why is Chicago so cor­rupt?” The short answer? It’s always been that way.

Now let me expand a bit.

Ear­lier this month the Depart­ment of Jus­tice released a report that exco­ri­ated the Chicago Police Depart­ment for use of exces­sive force, slip­shod train­ing, and soft dis­ci­pline within its ranks. The report was pro­duced because of the shoot­ing in 2014 – with six­teen bul­lets – of an unarmed teen black Laquan McDon­ald by a white Chicago cop.

But the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass noted a sig­nif­i­cant omis­sion in that report: Chicago’s cor­rup­tion culture.

It wasn’t the Chicago cops who shaped the police cul­ture. The polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and cyn­i­cism of politi­cians over decades in a one-​party Demo­c­ra­tic machine town shaped the culture.

Kass adds that it was City Hall that sat on the damn­ing police video of McDon­ald get­ting shot. It was released over a year later–seven months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was releected. Kass, with­out men­tion­ing his name, reminded read­ers that long­time CPD chief of detec­tives, William Han­hardt, was placed in that posi­tion by his polit­i­cal friends. Han­hardt, a mob cop, ran a jew­elry theft ring while he was chas­ing select other bad guys.

But why is Chicago so corrupt?

Chicago, like other Mid­west­ern cities, was set­tled first by New Eng­lan­ders and upstate New York­ers, white Anglo-​Saxon protes­tants mainly. But Irish peo­ple flee­ing the Potato Famine and seek­ing work on such projects as the Illi­nois & Michi­gan Canal, along with Ger­mans, were the first wave of immi­grants to Chicago. My great-​great grand­fa­ther, another John Ruberry, was part of this wave. But the Irish already knew Eng­lish and the arguably more numer­ous Ger­mans ini­tially did not. Which meant that the Irish were able to qual­ify for gov­ern­ment jobs. Then some of them made the log­i­cal next step – run for polit­i­cal office.

The eighteenth-​century Irish were unwill­ing sub­jects of the British Empire – they viewed gov­ern­ment as an alien force and many didn’t see any­thing wrong with steal­ing from that gov­ern­ment. Old habits are hard to break – and many Irish-​Americans saw pub­lic ser­vice as an oppor­tu­nity to stuff their pock­ets with bribes and kick­backs – and to place their friends and rel­a­tives in other gov­ern­ment posi­tions. Or to offer other friends and rel­a­tives gov­ern­ment con­tracts, who might reward their patrons with “gifts.”

So Chicago’s cul­ture of cor­rup­tion was born.

Other immi­grants fol­lowed – many with sim­i­lar back­grounds. Poles didn’t have their own nation for the entire 18th cen­tury, the major­ity of Chicago’s Ital­ian immi­grants came from south­ern Italy, and there was no love between them and the Ital­ian royal house, which emerged from the north­ern half of the penin­sula. The Czechs and the Croa­t­ians were part of Austria-​Hungary.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_86229” align=“alignleft” width=“203”] Aban­doned South Side home[/caption]

Even new­com­ers to Chicago who were Amer­i­cans fit the bill.

Until the mid-​1960s blacks who came to Chicago as part of the Great Migra­tion were sub­ject to Jim Crow laws and could not vote. Clearly local gov­ern­ment was not their gov­ern­ment. Puerto Rican cor­rup­tion is even worse than that of Chicago.

You can make the same argu­ment about Mex­ico, the lat­est source of mass-​immigration to Chicago.

Another Chicago news­pa­per colum­nist, the leg­endary Mike Royko, often quipped that Chicago’s offi­cial slo­gan should be “Where’s mine?”

Roughly once every 18 months a Chicago alder­man is sen­tenced to prison. One of Chicago’s dirt­i­est secrets is the cozi­ness between politi­cians and street gangs.

My point is not to demo­nize any group but to explain how Chicago got to the unhappy place where it is. For instance, my father, another John Ruberry – he went by Jack – once told my mother, “I’d like to work in pol­i­tics.” She replied, “That will never work out – you are too hon­est.” My dad was 100-​percent Irish-​American. And yes, my mother was right – and my father never ran for pub­lic office. This decent man moved his fam­ily out of Chicago in 1968.

Mean­while, Chicago, and yes, the rest of Illi­nois is a cesspool of crony­ism and corruption.

Oh, you WASPs, par­tic­u­larly Repub­li­can ones read­ing this post – I’m com­ing for you.

Much is made of Chicago not hav­ing a Repub­li­can mayor since 1931. But that mayor was William Hale Thomp­son, a Boston-​born Protes­tant who was prob­a­bly Chicago’s most cor­rupt mayor. Thomp­son was a pro­tec­tor and spon­sor of Al Capone. Thomp­son, a crook, was able to reap dis­hon­est ben­e­fits from a crooked bureau­cracy that was already in place. After his death two safe deposit boxes con­tain­ing nearly $2 mil­lion were dis­cov­ered. Although Thompson’s suc­ces­sor, Czech immi­grant Anton Cer­mak, founded the mod­ern Chicago Demo­c­ra­tic machine, he was a bet­ter mayor than Thompson.

I began with a quote from one Bat­man movie and I’ll end this post with a quote from another, this time from Bat­man Begins.

The League of Shad­ows has been a check against human cor­rup­tion for thou­sands of years. We sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burned Lon­don to the ground. Every time a civ­i­liza­tion reaches the pin­na­cle of its deca­dence, we return to restore the balance.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_54680” align=“alignright” width=“206”] John “Lee” Ruberry of the Mag­nif­i­cent Seven[/caption]

Chicago is clearly in decline. Pay­offs to public-​sector union mem­bers, pen­sions that weren’t prop­erly funded, gave Chicagoans – includ­ing of course the decent ones – their largest prop­erty tax hike ever two years ago, fol­lowed by more tax increases last year. No seri­ous per­son believes there won’t be more soon. Last year more Chicagoans were mur­dered than those killed in New York City and Los Ange­les – combined.

Chicago is at its low­est pop­u­la­tion in one hun­dred years, coin­ci­den­tally, that was when Chicago was still a boom town and William Hale Thomp­son was mayor.

While there is no League of Shad­ows, Chicago is long over­due for a check against human corruption.

Where is Chicago’s Bruce Wayne?

Or its Bruce Waynes?

And no, I’m not call­ing for bubonic plague in Chicago. The city is emp­ty­ing out just fine on its own.

John Ruberry, a decent man who moved his fam­ily out of Chicago in 1999, reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

Chicago’s lakefront

By John Ruberry

“Decent people shouldn’t live here. They’d be happier someplace else.”
Jack Napier/The Joker in Batman.

Often, I’m asked, “Why is Chicago so corrupt?” The short answer? It’s always been that way.

Now let me expand a bit.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice released a report that excoriated the Chicago Police Department for use of excessive force, slipshod training, and soft discipline within its ranks. The report was produced because of the shooting in 2014–with sixteen bullets–of an unarmed teen black Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago cop.

But the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass noted a significant omission in that report: Chicago’s corruption culture.

It wasn’t the Chicago cops who shaped the police culture. The political corruption and cynicism of politicians over decades in a one-party Democratic machine town shaped the culture.

Kass adds that it was City Hall that sat on the damning police video of McDonald getting shot. It was released over a year later–seven months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was releected. Kass, without mentioning his name, reminded readers that longtime CPD chief of detectives, William Hanhardt, was placed in that position by his political friends. Hanhardt, a mob cop, ran a jewelry theft ring while he was chasing select other bad guys.

But why is Chicago so corrupt?

Chicago, like other Midwestern cities, was settled first by New Englanders and upstate New Yorkers, white Anglo-Saxon protestants mainly. But Irish people fleeing the Potato Famine and seeking work on such projects as the Illinois & Michigan Canal, along with Germans, were the first wave of immigrants to Chicago. My great-great grandfather, another John Ruberry, was part of this wave. But the Irish already knew English and the arguably more numerous Germans initially did not. Which meant that the Irish were able to qualify for government jobs. Then some of them made the logical next step–run for political office.

The eighteenth-century Irish were unwilling subjects of the British Empire–they viewed government as an alien force and many didn’t see anything wrong with stealing from that government. Old habits are hard to break–and many Irish-Americans saw public service as an opportunity to stuff their pockets with bribes and kickbacks–and to place their friends and relatives in other government positions. Or to offer other friends and relatives government contracts, who might reward their patrons with “gifts.”

So Chicago’s culture of corruption was born.

Other immigrants followed–many with similar backgrounds. Poles didn’t have their own nation for the entire 18th century, the majority of Chicago’s Italian immigrants came from southern Italy, and there was no love between them and the Italian royal house, which emerged from the northern half of the peninsula. The Czechs and the Croatians were part of Austria-Hungary.

Abandoned South Side home

Even newcomers to Chicago who were Americans fit the bill.

Until the mid-1960s blacks who came to Chicago as part of the Great Migration were subject to Jim Crow laws and could not vote. Clearly local government was not their government. Puerto Rican corruption is even worse than that of Chicago.

You can make the same argument about Mexico, the latest source of mass-immigration to Chicago.

Another Chicago newspaper columnist, the legendary Mike Royko, often quipped that Chicago’s official slogan should be “Where’s mine?”

Roughly once every 18 months a Chicago alderman is sentenced to prison. One of Chicago’s dirtiest secrets is the coziness between politicians and street gangs.

My point is not to demonize any group but to explain how Chicago got to the unhappy place where it is. For instance, my father, another John Ruberry–he went by Jack–once told my mother, “I’d like to work in politics.” She replied, “That will never work out–you are too honest.” My dad was 100-percent Irish-American. And yes, my mother was right–and my father never ran for public office. This decent man moved his family out of Chicago in 1968.

Meanwhile, Chicago, and yes, the rest of Illinois is a cesspool of cronyism and corruption.

Oh, you WASPs, particularly Republican ones reading this post–I’m coming for you.

Much is made of Chicago not having a Republican mayor since 1931. But that mayor was William Hale Thompson, a Boston-born Protestant who was probably Chicago’s most corrupt mayor. Thompson was a protector and sponsor of Al Capone. Thompson, a crook, was able to reap dishonest benefits from a crooked bureaucracy that was already in place. After his death two safe deposit boxes containing nearly $2 million were discovered. Although Thompson’s successor, Czech immigrant Anton Cermak, founded the modern Chicago Democratic machine, he was a better mayor than Thompson.

I began with a quote from one Batman movie and I’ll end this post with a quote from another, this time from Batman Begins.

The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Chicago is clearly in decline. Payoffs to public-sector union members, pensions that weren’t properly funded, gave Chicagoans–including of course the decent ones–their largest property tax hike ever two years ago, followed by more tax increases last year. No serious person believes there won’t be more soon. Last year more Chicagoans were murdered than those killed in New York City and Los Angeles–combined.

Chicago is at its lowest population in one hundred years, coincidentally, that was when Chicago was still a boom town and William Hale Thompson was mayor.

While there is no League of Shadows, Chicago is long overdue for a check against human corruption.

Where is Chicago’s Bruce Wayne?

Or its Bruce Waynes?

And no, I’m not calling for bubonic plague in Chicago. The city is emptying out just fine on its own.

John Ruberry, a decent man who moved his family out of Chicago in 1999, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.