Which slimy Illinois pols didn't make my dishonor roll?


I can't tell you how hard it was for me to narrow down my list of corrupt Illinois politicians for my Sunday piece examining Jesse Jackson Jr.'s guilty plea.

As I wrote in my analysis, Jackson was guilty of a lack of originality when it came to his crimes. The amount of money he stole, and the tschotchkes he spent them on, pale in comparison to many Illinois politicians who were bigger, badder and quite frankly more imaginiative than he was.

Seeing as how I could have filled the entire newspaper with a list of convicted Illinois pols, I had to pick and choose. I ultimately chose Mel Reynolds and Dan Rostenkowski (former congressmen like Jackson), former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, former Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell, former Secretary of State Paul Powell, and Joel Aldrich Matteson, the first of our seven indicted governors.

So who didn't make the cut? Here's a partial list of dishonorable mentions.

• YOU'RE OTTO HERE: One of my favorite stories of Illinois corruption comes from former Democratic Gov. Otto Kerner.

Known as "Mr. Clean" during his governorship from 1961 to 1968, he was descended from Illinois political aristocracy – his father had been attorney general, and he married the daughter of former mayor and Chicago Machine founder Anton Cermak. But "Mr. Clean" turned out to be anything but.

After he left office to accept a federal judge seat, it came to light that he accepted a bribe from the former owner of Arlington Park racetrack in exchange for her securing plum racing dates and exits to the track from the highway. How did it come to light? The racetrack owner deducted the bribe in stock from her income taxes, assuming bribery to be a legitimate business expense in Illinois.

Kerner was sentenced to three years in federal prison, but was released after six months to get treatment for lung cancer. He died in 1976.

Fun fact: The federal prosecutor who convicted Kerner was future Illinois Gov. James Thompson, who later and unsuccessfully defended former Gov. George Ryan from being convicted of corruption as part of Operation Safe Road.

• HODGING HIS BETS: Voters in 1952 elected a Republican up-and-comer named Orville Hodge to the then-office of Auditor of Public Accounts – or in plain English, they guy who watches the state's books. Unfortunately, the voters in electing Hodge elected a fox to watch the chicken coop.

Hodge very quickly figured out ways to cook the books to spend more than $1.5 million in state money on himself, including a luxury home, a hotel, two planes and a fleet of luxury automobiles. Better yet, he convinced the General Assembly that his office was insolvent, and talked them into approving a $525,000 transfer that he, of course, spent on himself.

He was indicted before he finished his first term after the former Chicago Daily News explored the real reasons for Hodge's wealth. The newspaper got a Pulitzer Prize, and Hodge got a 15-year prison term, of which he served 6 1/2 years. He died in 1986 at age 82.

Fun fact: In a political rarity in Illinois, the corruption of an officeholder led to the abolition of his office. The office of state auditor was replaced in the 1970 Illinois Constitution by the expanded office of comptroller.

• THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT, ROD: Rod Blagojevich got convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Now let's meet the Republican  a century ago who actually succeeded in buying one.

In 1909, when state legislatures still appointed U.S. Senators, one William Lorimer decided to buy the seat, given that our representatives were deadlocked about reappointing Republican Sen. Albert Hopkins. Miracle of miracles, a number of state lawmakers switched their votes, and sent Lorimer to Washington.

It did not take the Chicago Tribune long to figure out what happened, given that one lawmaker openly admitted that he took $1,000 to change his vote. The U.S. Senate investigated, but narrowly voted to allow Lorimer to keep his seat. But the Senate reopened its investigation after more witnesses came forward detailing the corruption – the Senate in 1912 sent Lorimer home on a 55-28 vote invalidating his appointment and its "corrupt methods and practices."

Fun fact: While Hodge got the Illinois Constitution amended, Lorimer got the U.S. Constitution amended. His sordid tale was the straw that broke the camel's back for the growing movement of Americans who wanted to directly elect their senators. Lorimer's case wasn't even done when Congress approved the 17th Amendment in 1912. Voters ratified the amendment the following year.

• NO SMALL FEAT: I mentioned former Republican Gov. Lennington Small in my story, but he clearly deserves the dishonor of an expanded entry.

There were few Illinois politicians more bent than Small, a two-termer who governed Illinois from 1921 to 1929. If you notice that the dates of his term happen to coincide with Prohibition and the likes of Al Capone, two points for you. Small, a native of Kankakee like future Gov. Ryan, supplemented his income by selling pardons and paroles to the worst that society had to offer.

He was indicted during his first term on allegations that he embezzled more than $1 million during his term as state treasurer. He was acquitted, but a number of Small's jurors – some say four, others eight – landed state jobs.

Fun fact: Small owned his hometown newspaper, the Kankakee Daily Republican. It is now the Kankakee Daily Journal, and is part of a newspaper group that to this day carries the Small name.

• IN THE NAME OF FULL DISCLOSURE: The first two newspapers I worked at before landing at the Northwest Herald in 2000 were Small newspapers.

• FOR THE RECORD: If I blogged daily about five Illinois public officials convicted of corruption, it would take me a year to list the ones convicted between 1976 and 2012.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at kcraver@shawmedia.com.


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