Why Is Chicago So Corrupt?





City government experts point to a political culture that's been in place for more than 100 years. This culture dates back to the late 19th century, when a gambling-house owner named Michael Cassius McDonald created the city's first political machine. Under machine-style rule, those in power would hand out contracts, jobs, and social services in exchange for political support.

Chicago's large immigrant population made it easier for political machines to grow in power. Poor ethnic communities could be played off against one another and manipulated with petty gifts. In exchange for political support, ethnicities would be given virtual fiefdoms within city government; the Irish, for example, were given police work, and the Italians jobs at the transit authority.

Of course, none of this was unique to Chicago. New York City had large immigrant populations and the notorious political machine at Tammany Hall. But machine politics faded away in New York, due in part to external pressure from former New Yorker Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected president in 1932.

In Chicago, corruption persisted, to some degree because the city never had the benefit of a reformist mayor like New York City's Fiorello LaGuardia, who had political ties to FDR. Instead, Chicago moved towards a one-party system that made it even more vulnerable to corruption: The city's last Republican mayor left office in 1931. Today, not even the Democratic primaries are competitive—for the most part, once you're in office, you stay there. The weak campaign finance laws in Illinois probably helped to stave off competition in recent years.


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Vernon Clayson - 12/11/2008

Chicago Politics works, while governors may tumble, the system selected a man to run for president and they were successful. He rose from the sewer with none of the Chicago stink evident, not that the media would report it anyway.

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