Putting New Perspective on Illinois Corruption





...We’re lucky to have Mr. Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist and former Chicago alderman, who humorlessly chronicles corruption here just as Edward Gibbon, the 18th-century English historian, detailed the Roman Empire’s rise and fall. Mr. Simpson’s latest handiwork is a directory of skulduggery, with the tales of nearly 150 convicted county politicians and officials.

And, yet — as I listened to the presenters talk about documented misdeeds being just the tips of icebergs; the “corruption tax” we pay in more expensive services; and the virtual non-efforts of Cook County’s state attorneys — I couldn’t help recalling a distant night in El Salvador. It was in the late 1980s, during the civil war in which the United States supported an often-odious government. I was at a spaghetti dinner in the capital, San Salvador, with veteran foreign correspondents who debated this: Who’s the biggest crook ever?

There were citations of billion-dollar thefts and whole industries nationalized to enrich a single family. There were many strong candidates, but not one American was mentioned.

It’s partly why one might wonder about the unceasing refrain from Rush Limbaugh and his ideological confreres in Washington about “the Chicago way” of doing business. It’s all tied to bashing President Obama and top aides as being products of a culture of chicanery.

Invoking the phrase is too facile by half, even conceding the convictions of 31 Chicago aldermen since the 1970s and the fact that former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich awaits trial as his predecessor, George Ryan, sits in prison. You can stipulate to the corrosive nature of money in Illinois politics but still argue convincingly that we’re minor players on the world stage of public perfidy....


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