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Lyons: In Illinois, winter is cold, politicians go to jail

“He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. They let a governor out of prison, you send a congressman to take his place! That’s the Chicago way.”

Apologies to Sean Connery’s character Jim Malone from the “Untouchables,” but that was my reaction waking up Wednesday morning and getting confirmation of what was expected – another Illinois politician was about to be convicted.

This kind of corruption doesn’t happen in our fair state, said no Illinois resident ever.

Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s guilty plea to charges of misusing $750,000 in campaign contributions for his own good times shocked no one. Illinois politicians sticking their hands into pots of money they aren’t entitled to use is as common as a brisk February wind off Lake Michigan.

The city of my birth has been one of the most fertile wombs for corrupt politicians that this nation has ever known. A fair assumption growing up was that while I probably could get rich as a politician, I’d never starve as a journalist.

Considering how much influence Chicago has on the rest of Illinois, how surprising can it be that our state is in financial chaos?

One year ago, when Jesse Jackson Jr. was still a free congressman and co-author of “It’s About the Money!: How You Can Get Out of Debt, Build Wealth, and Achieve Your Financial Dreams,” a study of federal corruption cases was released. And, no, I didn’t make up that book title. Check it out on amazon.com.

The study, conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois’s Institute of Public Affairs, examined federal court records of public corruption cases between 1976 and 2010, which revealed 1,531 convictions in the Northern District of Illinois – the most of any federal district in the nation.

In a statewide contest, New York and California edged us out by a few hundred convictions, but they have bigger populations. Unless Rod Blagojevich plans on taking his talents to Miami upon his release from prison, Florida doesn’t stand a chance.

And don’t get too smug in the fact that the study focused on Chicago, either. It just so happened that the 1,531 convictions were in the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court, which has courthouses in both Rockford and Chicago, and includes a large region including Chicago and the suburbs.

So what are those of us who aren’t seeking political office to enrich ourselves and our families supposed to do to reverse this trend that’s been with us as long as we can remember?

No one’s going to build us personal campaign slush funds. We’ll have to go on working, paying taxes and either saving our own money for mink capes and Rolex watches or racking up some serious credit card debt. We’ll also have to bid on eBay for Bruce Lee memorabilia with the rest of the chumps.

All we get is the satisfaction of watching another politician go to prison.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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