Illinois may be the Land of Lincoln, but it is also the land of the corrupt George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, and Jesse Jackson Jr.
In Chicago, thirty-one alderman have been convicted of crimes since 1972.
From “Honest Abe” to a national joke: What went wrong?
The root of the problem is ethnicity and Chicago. While the Irish were never the predominant group of immigrants in what has been the most populous city in the state since the 1840s, unlike the Germans–who were more numerous–the Irish spoke English and quickly inserted themselves into politics and government work. But in the old country they were reluctant subjects of Great Britain–government to them was an alien and often hostile force. So what’s the harm in stealing from it? That attitude crossed the Atlantic. Polish and Italians who came later had similar grievances. Poland was carved up by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in the 18th century–it didn’t regain its independence until 1918. Until sometime around 1980, there were more Poles living in Chicago than any city in the world–including Warsaw. The Italian immigrants who came to Chicago were mostly from the southern part of the peninsula or from Sicily–parts of Italy that didn’t care much for its royal family, the monarchy was abolished in 1946.
Blacks from the Deep South began migrating to Chicago in large numbers during World War I and the flow didn’t end until 1970. Victims of Jim Crow laws and worse, some African-Americans fell to the temptation of Chicago corruption too.
What about the rest of the state? Well, like an honest kid taking a test in a room full of cheaters–who gets a “B” while the cheaters get “A” grades, some downstaters threw up their hands and joined in the thievery. When he died in 1970, Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, who was from small town just north of the Ohio River, over $800,000 in cash was found in shoe boxes in his hotel suite near the state capitol.
In short, corruption has become a habit in my home state. In a small way, I’ve benefited from it. A great uncle of mine worked for the Cook County Forest Preserve District. He had dinner with my parents at our home–and he had such a wonderful time–he promised my parents a gift. The very next day Forest Preserve workers delivered a picnic table–with county markings on it, to our home. Many times I’ve eaten on that table.