While “the betters” on the Sunday talk shows were praising John McCain, who died from brain cancer Saturday, Mrs. Marathon Pundit turned to me and asked, “Why isn’t anyone talking about the number of houses he owned?”
The TV talking heads weren’t.
In his laudatory statement about the Arizona senator’s passing, of course Barack Obama didn’t bring up the houses. But in 2008, when a Politico reporter asked the Arizona senator how many houses he owned, and in a awkward manner, McCain replied that he didn’t know. He suggested that the reporter check with his staff.
The correct number was eight, if you include the homes owned by McCain’s wife.
Obama’s campaign used the McCain houses remark in television ad. Which, in one of the McCain campaign’s better moments, led a spokesperson to retort, “Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?”
Obama still owns that mansion, purchased with guidance from Chicago political fixer Tony Rezko. And he now owns a second mansion, this one with–wait for it–a wall, in Washington.
McCain was tortured by his North Vietnamese jailers during his five years as a prisoner of war. Those injuries made it very difficult for him to type and use a computer. Which led the Obama campaign to run this sneering ad against McCain:
CNN didn’t begin its piling-on against prominent Republicans with the rise of Donald Trump, its Jeanne Moos sardonically reported on the McCain computer kerfuffle during the ’08 campaign.
When asked a town hall in 2008 about a George W. Bush statement that American troops might be serving in Iraq for 50 years, McCain musingly replied that they could there for “maybe 100.”
Let’s add some context here. Over seven decades after the defeat of the Axis powers there still are American troops stationed in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Only extremists from both sides of the political aisle are calling for their removal.
Obama pounced on McCain for the 100-years remark. “Instead of offering an exit strategy for Iraq” Obama said a month later, “he’s offering us a 100-year occupation.”
McCain never spoke of an “occupation.” Obama pulled out our troops from Iraq in late 2011 and bragged about it in during his reelection campaign. Three years later ISIS seized nearly one-third of Iraq. Then Obama dispatched combat troops to Iraq again. About 5,000 of them remain.
Obama, as he is about so many other things, was wrong about Iraq.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
In a speculative Reuters column that was published last week, Keith Koffler mused about the possibility that Michelle Obama could run for the Illinois US Senate seat currently held by Republican Mark Kirk. That same office served as the launching pad for Barack Obama’s presidential run.
Kirk has varnished his bipartisian credentials–much to the chagrin of conservatives–in his four years in the upper chamber. In 2012 Kirk, then 52, suffered a major stroke and spent a year in recovery. Even though Illinois is a blue state, Kirk will be a formidable candidate assuming he runs for a second term in two years.
Michelle has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for her husband’s ObamaCare program, which, as with everywhere else in the nation, is unpopular in Illinois. And her own healthcare legacy is tainted. The then-senator’s wife was an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center and under her leadership the Urban Health Initiative was launched. Surrounded by impoverished South Side neighborhoods, the U of C Med Center was being swamped by emergency room visits by poor and uninsured sick people. David Axelrod’s firm was hired to sell the program. The goal of the Urban Health Initiative was to “educate” South Siders on the other healthcare options nearby, even though the University of Chicago Medical Center is a nationally-renowned hospital. And since the U of C Med Center is a not-for-profit, it has to by law aborb the costs of emergency room visits from the poor and uninsured.
Unless of course those patients are treated elsewhere, which is an underhanded method of providing affordable healthcare.
About a mile northeast of the hospital is the Obama mansion. The media for the most part overlooked the sleazy details behind the purchase of the home, which involved the separate buy of a strip of land that was part of the home’s parcel by Rita Rezko, the wife of political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Rod Blagojevich’s pal is in prison now, but it was widely known that Rezko was under federal investigation in 2005 when Barack and Michelle Obama bought their home, which appears was priced at an amount that was more they could afford–hence the assist from the Rezkos.
That’s right, Michelle was part of the scheme too.
In the 2010, Kirk was persistent in his attacks on his Democratic Senate opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, who the GOPer derided as a “mob banker” because of the many loans to questionable characters at the Giannoulias family’s bank. If Kirk runs for reelection–and if Michelle throws her hat in the ring–I don’t believe he’ll be a gracious loser for what the First Lady may view as her rightful ascension to the Senate.
Governor Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has been mostly on the fringes of Illinois politics since the early 1970s. For most of that time he was a minor-league version of Ralph Nader, part consumer advocate, part self-appointed government reformer. Although Nader never held public office, Quinn was state treasurer for a term in the 1990s, and of course twice he was Rod Blagojevich’s running mate. Quinn succeeded Blago after the hair-brained pol was removed from office five years ago by the state Senate.
Last week was arguably Quinn’s worst as governor. An autumn 2010 anti-violence program, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, was unveiled by Quinn as he faced a tough battle to win a full term as governor, is now being investigated by federal authorities and the Cook County State’s Attorney Office. The $54.5 million program has been exposed by the local media as a massive political slush fund to drive up the African American vote in Chicago and its inner suburbs so Quinn could win his election, which he did, barely. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that the felon husband of Dorothy Brown, another Chicago Democrat, was paid nearly $150,000 in salary and benefits to oversee $2.1 million in NRI grants.
Quinn faces another scandal. A long time patronage-hiring foe, Michael Shakman, asked the federal government in a court motion to investigate hiring decisions at the Illinois Department of Transportation. He claims that Quinn is loading up IDOT with political hires.
Quinn’s former chief-of-staff, Jack Lavin, was once chief financial officer for Tony Rezko, one of Rod Blagojevich’s enablers who is best known in Illinois for being Barack Obama’s first political sponsor. Rezko is serving a prison sentence now.
Lavin also served under Blago.
Pat Quinn is as much of a reformer as I am an astronaut.
Disclosures: I knew Lavin quite well years ago while we were classmates at the University of Illinois. And the husband of Anita Alvarez, the Cook County State’s Attorney, is a friend of mine.