Illinois bicentennial: The 14 worst leaders from the state

by John Ruberry | March 11th, 2018

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Illinois bicentennial: The 14 worst leaders from the state

[cap­tion id=“attachment_104350” align=“alignright” width=“281”] Illi­nois flag with its bicen­ten­nial counterpart[/caption]

By John Ruberry

In honor of Illi­nois’ bicen­ten­nial, Kerry Lester of the Daily Her­ald com­piled a list of Illi­nois’ best-​known lead­ers. There is some good in it – Ronald Rea­gan and Abra­ham Lin­coln, and some bad. Ethel Kennedy? Robert F. Kennedy’s widow was born in Chicago but grew up in Con­necti­cut. And besides, her con­tri­bu­tions don’t amount to very much.

Illi­nois has a well-​deserved rep­u­ta­tion for cor­rup­tion. So I have put together my own list, the 14 Worst Lead­ers from Illinois.

My “hall of shame” by no means exon­er­ates any­one not named.

Hillary Rod­ham Clinton

She is one of two peo­ple on both lists. Clin­ton is a for­mer first lady, US sen­a­tor, US sec­re­tary of state, and of course, the first major party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. She was born in Chicago and grew up in sub­ur­ban Park Ridge. Smoke, but as of yet, no fire has engulfed HRC’s pub­lic career. Clin­ton was impli­cated, but never charged in the White­wa­ter Scan­dal. Two years after her White­wa­ter billing records from the Rose Law Firm were sub­poe­naed, they mys­te­ri­ously appeared in the White House liv­ing quar­ters. While sec­re­tary of state under Barack Obama, she used a home-​brewed pri­vate email server. Her han­dling of those emails was deemed “extremely care­less” two years ago by FBI direc­tor James Comey. After our con­sulate in Beng­hazi was over­run by ter­ror­ists in 2012, lead­ing to the death of our ambas­sador to Libya as well as three other Amer­i­cans, Clin­ton spread the lie that a YouTube video inspired the barbarians

I could go on and on about Clin­ton, but I have other names on my naughty list.

Richard M. Daley

Chicago’s mayor from 19892011, Daley’s father, Richard J who was mayor for nearly as long., had a strong back­ground in pub­lic finance which allowed Chicago to escape the fis­cal prob­lems cities such as those New York and Cleve­land suf­fered in the 1970s. Richie Daley inher­ited his dad’s name but not his finan­cial acu­men. Chicago’s pub­lic pen­sions are the worst-​funded of any major city in the coun­try. Prop­erty tax increases signed into law to right the ship by his suc­ces­sor, Rahm Emanuel, are prob­a­bly just buy­ing time; besides, the tax hikes are likely a key rea­son why Chicago is the only major city with a declin­ing population.

Len Small

After two Democ­rats it’s time for our first Repub­li­can. Lenning­ton “Len” Small of Kanka­kee was gov­er­nor of Illi­nois from 19211929. While gov­er­nor he was indicted for embez­zling money dur­ing his time as state trea­surer. He was found not guilty, but eight of the jurors on his trial later received state jobs. Just a coin­ci­dence, I’m sure.

George Ryan

Another Kanka­kee GOPer, Ryan got in trou­ble for his scan­dalous eight years as Illi­nois sec­re­tary of state. Under Ryan, who once was speaker of the state House, the SoS office was enmeshed in a driver’s licenses for bribes scan­dal. Elected gov­er­nor in 1998, after his one-​term in that post Ryan was con­victed of cor­rup­tion involv­ing per­jury and bribery. His scan­dal was one of the few polit­i­cal ones that involved fatal­i­ties. On Elec­tion Day in 1994 – Ryan was re-​elected sec­re­tary of state that day – a truck dri­ver who obtained his license by bribery caused an acci­dent where six chil­dren from Chicago were killed.

Paul Pow­ell

Like Ryan, Pow­ell served as speaker of the state House before his elec­tion as sec­re­tary of state. His per­sonal motto was “There’s only one thing worse than a defeated politi­cian, and that’s a broke one.” Illi­noisans who needed their license plates renewed were instructed to make their checks out to “Paul Pow­ell.” What could go wrong? Pow­ell died in office in 1970. The execu­tor of his estate dis­cov­ered over $800,000 in cash in the Spring­field hotel suite where the south­ern Illi­nois self-​servant lived, includ­ing some stuffed in a shoe­box. His tomb­stone reads “Here lies a life­long Democrat.”

[cap­tion id=“attachment_105853” align=“alignright” width=“175”] Offi­cial House por­trait of Hastert[/caption]

Den­nis Hastert

Before his elec­tion to Con­gress in 1986, Hastert, a Repub­li­can, was a teacher and a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. He later became speaker of that House. But at Yorkville he was a ser­ial child moles­ter. He was sent to prison not over those assaults, but for lying to fed­eral offi­cials about bank­ing activ­ity involv­ing pay­ments to one of his victims.

Jesse Jack­son

He’s on that other list too. Jesse Jack­son, the “poverty pimp” civil rights leader, has done lit­tle if any­thing to alle­vi­ate the prob­lems of the peo­ple he claims to rep­re­sent, Chicago’s minor­ity poor. His half-​brother, Noah Robin­son, is serv­ing a life sen­tence for rack­e­teer­ing and murder-​for-​hire. Jack­son uti­lized his then-​powerful Rainbow/​PUSH orga­ni­za­tion to elect his son, Jesse Jr, to Con­gress and his daughter-​in-​law, Junior’s wife, as a Chicago alder­man. Both went to prison over mis­use of cam­paign funds.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_105852” align=“alignright” width=“300”] Illi­nois & Michi­gan Canal at LaSalle, IL[/caption]

Joel Mat­te­son

We have to go to the pre-​Civil War era for Mat­te­son. The Illi­nois & Michi­gan Canal is the rea­son Chicago is the Midwest’s great city, not Mil­wau­kee or St. Louis. But the canal faced enor­mous finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties before its com­ple­tion in 1848. Scrip was uti­lized by Illi­nois to fund the canal but in 1859 it was dis­cov­ered that Mat­te­son, a Demo­c­rat who was gov­er­nor from 18531857, con­verted some of that scrip for per­sonal use. Mat­te­son was inves­ti­gated but never charged in the case.

Antoin “Tony” Rezko

An immi­grant from Syria, Rezko essen­tially was a col­lec­tor of Demo­c­ra­tic politi­cians, includ­ing Barack Obama and Gov­er­nor Rod Blago­je­vich. Rezko engi­neered the mys­te­ri­ous land deal that made Obama’s pur­chase of his South Side Chicago man­sion afford­able. But his role as a fixer for Gov­er­nor Rod Blago­je­vich earned him a trip to prison.

Rod Blago­je­vich

The most recent Illi­nois gov­er­nor to be sen­tenced to prison, the Chicago Demo­c­rat attempted to sell the Sen­ate seat of Barack Obama to the high­est bid­der. He essen­tially trans­formed the governor’s office into a vast pay-​to-​play oper­a­tion. He’s still a fed­eral inmate. Out­side of the cor­rup­tion, Blago was a still ter­ri­ble gov­er­nor. Illi­nois’ pre­car­i­ous finan­cial sit­u­a­tion grew much worse dur­ing his six years in Spring­field, low­lighted by a two-​year long pen­sion pay­ment hol­i­day. State House Speaker Michael Madi­gan – another speaker! – played a large role in that deba­cle. We’ll be learn­ing more about Madi­gan a lit­tle later. As for Blago­je­vich, amaz­ingly he is the only Illi­nois gov­er­nor to be impeached and removed from office.

William Hale Thompson

[cap­tion id=“attachment_103734” align=“alignright” width=“225”] Blog­ger where the 1967 Detroit riot began[/caption]

Chicago’s last Repub­li­can mayor, Thomp­son served two stints in office – from 19151923 and from 19271931. Thomp­son let Al Capone and other gang­sters run wild dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion. After the death of “Big Bill” in 1944, nearly $2 mil­lion in cash was found not in a shoe­box, nor in Al Capone’s vault, but in a safe deposit box.

Otto Kerner

You might have heard his name in the news lately as Kerner, a Demo­c­ra­tic gov­er­nor from 19611968, served as the chair­man of the National Advi­sory Com­mis­sion on Civil Dis­or­ders, bet­ter known as the Kerner Com­mis­sion, which explored the causes of the 1967 urban riots. It was released 50 years ago last month. But in 1961 Kerner received a bribe of race track stock, which only came to light after the woman who paid him off him listed that expen­di­ture on her fed­eral income tax return because she viewed it as a legit­i­mate busi­ness expense. Who can blame her for that opin­ion of Illi­nois? By the time the bribe was revealed Kerner was serv­ing as a fed­eral appeals judge. Fac­ing cer­tain impeach­ment, he resigned. Kerner was released from prison early for health rea­sons and died in dis­grace shortly afterwards.

Carol Mose­ley Braun

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on anger over the tes­ti­mony of Anita Hill against Judge Clarence Thomas over reputed sex­ual harass­ment dur­ing his US Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, Braun went from being Cook County Recorder of Deeds to the US Sen­ate in 1992, becom­ing the first African-​American woman to serve in the upper cham­ber. Even before her elec­tion, scan­dal per­co­lated for Braun over alle­ga­tions that she and her cam­paign man­ager, Kgosie Matthews, who was also her fiancée, diverted cam­paign funds for per­sonal use. The Chicago Demo­c­rat blew off her Sen­ate ori­en­ta­tion meet­ings and instead took a nearly month-​long vaca­tion in South Africa with Matthews. What fol­lowed was a mind-​bogging and eth­i­cally chal­lenged six years in the Sen­ate. Matthews was a cit­i­zen of South Africa – for­eign med­dling any­one? – and he was also at one time a paid lob­by­ist for Nige­ria, which was then run by a mur­der­ous dic­ta­tor, Sani Abacha. Over the objec­tions of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, Braun vis­ited Abacha while she was a senator.

Dur­ing the ’92 cam­paign, it came to light three years ear­lier that inher­i­tance money belong­ing to her mother, a nurs­ing home patient, was split between Braun and two sib­lings, instead of being used to reim­burse Med­ic­aid. Once the scam became pub­lic Braun promptly paid Med­ic­aid $15,000.

Matthews was later accused of sex­ual harass­ment of female cam­paign work­ers. Braun was elected dur­ing what was then called “the Year of the Woman.”

Braun and Matthews – he later left the coun­try – were never charged with crimes.

Michael Madi­gan

Like Richard M. Daley, Madi­gan has mod­eled his pub­lic life on that of Richie’s dad, the first Mayor Daley. But like the son, Madi­gan, who has been speaker of the state House for 33 of the last 35 years, the Boss of Illi­nois is inept in regards to gov­ern­ment finance, which is why last year Reuters declared him “the man behind the fis­cal fiasco in Illi­nois.” Madi­gan, yet another Chicagoan, is also the chair­man of the state Demo­c­ra­tic Party. The “speaker for life” runs the House with an iron fist and his ger­ry­man­der­ing abuse is an insult to democ­racy. He’s the poster child for the admo­ni­tion, “Power tends to cor­rupt, and absolute power cor­rupts absolutely.”

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs from Illi­nois at Marathon Pun­dit.

Illinois flag with its bicentennial counterpart

By John Ruberry

In honor of Illinois’ bicentennial, Kerry Lester of the Daily Herald compiled a list of Illinois’ best-known leaders. There is some good in it–Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, and some bad. Ethel Kennedy? Robert F. Kennedy’s widow was born in Chicago but grew up in Connecticut. And besides, her contributions don’t amount to very much.

Illinois has a well-deserved reputation for corruption. So I have put together my own list, the 14 Worst Leaders from Illinois.

My “hall of shame” by no means exonerates anyone not named.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

She is one of two people on both lists. Clinton is a former first lady, US senator, US secretary of state, and of course, the first major party presidential nominee. She was born in Chicago and grew up in suburban Park Ridge. Smoke, but as of yet, no fire has engulfed HRC’s public career. Clinton was implicated, but never charged in the Whitewater Scandal. Two years after her Whitewater billing records from the Rose Law Firm were subpoenaed, they mysteriously appeared in the White House living quarters. While secretary of state under Barack Obama, she used a home-brewed private email server. Her handling of those emails was deemed “extremely careless” two years ago by FBI director James Comey. After our consulate in Benghazi was overrun by terrorists in 2012, leading to the death of our ambassador to Libya as well as three other Americans, Clinton spread the lie that a YouTube video inspired the barbarians

I could go on and on about Clinton, but I have other names on my naughty list.

Richard M. Daley

Chicago’s mayor from 1989-2011, Daley’s father, Richard J who was mayor for nearly as long., had a strong background in public finance which allowed Chicago to escape the fiscal problems cities such as those New York and Cleveland suffered in the 1970s. Richie Daley inherited his dad’s name but not his financial acumen. Chicago’s public pensions are the worst-funded of any major city in the country. Property tax increases signed into law to right the ship by his successor, Rahm Emanuel, are probably just buying time; besides, the tax hikes are likely a key reason why Chicago is the only major city with a declining population.

Len Small

After two Democrats it’s time for our first Republican. Lennington “Len” Small of Kankakee was governor of Illinois from 1921-1929. While governor he was indicted for embezzling money during his time as state treasurer. He was found not guilty, but eight of the jurors on his trial later received state jobs. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

George Ryan

Another Kankakee GOPer, Ryan got in trouble for his scandalous eight years as Illinois secretary of state. Under Ryan, who once was speaker of the state House, the SoS office was enmeshed in a driver’s licenses for bribes scandal. Elected governor in 1998, after his one-term in that post Ryan was convicted of corruption involving perjury and bribery. His scandal was one of the few political ones that involved fatalities. On Election Day in 1994–Ryan was re-elected secretary of state that day–a truck driver who obtained his license by bribery caused an accident where six children from Chicago were killed.

Paul Powell

Like Ryan, Powell served as speaker of the state House before his election as secretary of state. His personal motto was “There’s only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that’s a broke one.” Illinoisans who needed their license plates renewed were instructed to make their checks out to “Paul Powell.” What could go wrong? Powell died in office in 1970. The executor of his estate discovered over $800,000 in cash in the Springfield hotel suite where the southern Illinois self-servant lived, including some stuffed in a shoebox. His tombstone reads “Here lies a lifelong Democrat.”

Official House portrait of Hastert

Dennis Hastert

Before his election to Congress in 1986, Hastert, a Republican, was a teacher and a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. He later became speaker of that House. But at Yorkville he was a serial child molester. He was sent to prison not over those assaults, but for lying to federal officials about banking activity involving payments to one of his victims.

Jesse Jackson

He’s on that other list too. Jesse Jackson, the “poverty pimp” civil rights leader, has done little if anything to alleviate the problems of the people he claims to represent, Chicago’s minority poor. His half-brother, Noah Robinson, is serving a life sentence for racketeering and murder-for-hire. Jackson utilized his then-powerful Rainbow/PUSH organization to elect his son, Jesse Jr, to Congress and his daughter-in-law, Junior’s wife, as a Chicago alderman. Both went to prison over misuse of campaign funds.

Illinois & Michigan Canal at LaSalle, IL

Joel Matteson

We have to go to the pre-Civil War era for Matteson. The Illinois & Michigan Canal is the reason Chicago is the Midwest’s great city, not Milwaukee or St. Louis. But the canal faced enormous financial difficulties before its completion in 1848. Scrip was utilized by Illinois to fund the canal but in 1859 it was discovered that Matteson, a Democrat who was governor from 1853-1857, converted some of that scrip for personal use. Matteson was investigated but never charged in the case.

Antoin “Tony” Rezko

An immigrant from Syria, Rezko essentially was a collector of Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama and Governor Rod Blagojevich. Rezko engineered the mysterious land deal that made Obama’s purchase of his South Side Chicago mansion affordable. But his role as a fixer for Governor Rod Blagojevich earned him a trip to prison.

Rod Blagojevich

The most recent Illinois governor to be sentenced to prison, the Chicago Democrat attempted to sell the Senate seat of Barack Obama to the highest bidder. He essentially transformed the governor’s office into a vast pay-to-play operation. He’s still a federal inmate. Outside of the corruption, Blago was a still terrible governor. Illinois’ precarious financial situation grew much worse during his six years in Springfield, lowlighted by a two-year long pension payment holiday. State House Speaker Michael Madigan–another speaker!–played a large role in that debacle. We’ll be learning more about Madigan a little later. As for Blagojevich, amazingly he is the only Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office.

William Hale Thompson

Blogger where the 1967 Detroit riot began

Chicago’s last Republican mayor, Thompson served two stints in office–from 1915-1923 and from 1927-1931. Thompson let Al Capone and other gangsters run wild during Prohibition. After the death of “Big Bill” in 1944, nearly $2 million in cash was found not in a shoebox, nor in Al Capone’s vault,  but in a safe deposit box.

Otto Kerner

You might have heard his name in the news lately as Kerner, a Democratic governor from 1961-1968, served as the chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, which explored the causes of the 1967 urban riots. It was released 50 years ago last month. But in 1961 Kerner received a bribe of race track stock, which only came to light after the woman who paid him off him listed that expenditure on her federal income tax return because she viewed it as a legitimate business expense. Who can blame her for that opinion of Illinois? By the time the bribe was revealed Kerner was serving as a federal appeals judge. Facing certain impeachment, he resigned. Kerner was released from prison early for health reasons and died in disgrace shortly afterwards.

Carol Moseley Braun

Capitalizing on anger over the testimony of Anita Hill against Judge Clarence Thomas over reputed sexual harassment during his US Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Braun went from being Cook County Recorder of Deeds to the US Senate in 1992, becoming the first African-American woman to serve in the upper chamber. Even before her election, scandal percolated for Braun over allegations that she and her campaign manager, Kgosie Matthews, who was also her fiancée, diverted campaign funds for personal use. The Chicago Democrat blew off her Senate orientation meetings and instead took a nearly month-long vacation in South Africa with Matthews. What followed was a mind-bogging and ethically challenged six years in the Senate. Matthews was a citizen of South Africa–foreign meddling anyone?–and he was also at one time a paid lobbyist for Nigeria, which was then run by a murderous dictator, Sani Abacha. Over the objections of the Congressional Black Caucus, Braun visited Abacha while she was a senator.

During the ’92 campaign, it came to light three years earlier that inheritance money belonging to her mother, a nursing home patient, was split between Braun and two siblings, instead of being used to reimburse Medicaid. Once the scam became public Braun promptly paid Medicaid $15,000.

Matthews was later accused of sexual harassment of female campaign workers. Braun was elected during what was then called “the Year of the Woman.”

Braun and Matthews–he later left the country–were never charged with crimes.

Michael Madigan

Like Richard M. Daley, Madigan has modeled his public life on that of Richie’s dad, the first Mayor Daley. But like the son, Madigan, who has been speaker of the state House for 33 of the last 35 years, the Boss of Illinois is inept in regards to government finance, which is why last year Reuters declared him “the man behind the fiscal fiasco in Illinois.”  Madigan, yet another Chicagoan, is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party. The “speaker for life” runs the House with an iron fist and his gerrymandering abuse is an insult to democracy. He’s the poster child for the admonition, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

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