Changing our corrupt city's course

02/15/2012 5:20 PM


5 Comments - Add Your Comment

For many years, Chicago has been known as the most segregated city in North America. It is a source of shame.

For just as many years, but more intently since the colorful Blagojevich trials, we have also been known the most corrupt city. Now based on a study by political scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, we have the statistics to confirm our dishonorable and notorious reputation.

Since 1976, Chicago and its suburbs in the federal court systemís Northern District of Illinois lead all other districts in the country with 1,485 federal convictions of corrupt public officials and businessmen. Others have been convicted in lower courts, resigned in disgrace, or gone undetected.

On a per capita basis, there are more federal public corruption convictions in Illinois than in large states New York, California and Florida. Only the District of Columbia and Louisiana can top Illinoisí ratio; though they have fewer total convictions than Illinois, their much smaller populations give them a higher per capita rate of convictions.

By some measures, Illinois is only the third-most corrupt of the 50 states and District of Columbia. We win over our main competitors in corruption such as Louisiana and New Jersey ó you have to go a long way to be worse than Louisiana with its rich gumbo corruption legacy of the famous Huey Long family of crooked governors. But we in Illinois are more crooked than our rivals.

For instance, of the last seven Illinois governors, four have been convicted of corruption ó getting a secret deal on race track stock, manipulating savings and loans, selling driver licenses to unqualified drivers who killed children in car wrecks, and negotiating to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Chicago City Hall qualifies as an equally famous crime scene. Since 1973, 31 Chicago aldermen have been convicted and gone to jail.

The truth is that the governorís mansion and the city council chambers have a far worse crime rate than the worst ghetto in Chicago.

As I testified before Mayor Rahm Emanuelís Ethics Reform Task Force, we can change all this. There is no one silver bullet, but we donít have to stay this slimy. Other cities in the world like Hong Kong and Sydney have gone from corrupt to clean. Even New York City became cleaner than Chicago when they got rid of the Tammany Hall gang of political crooks. We can too.

Some big changes needed. Get rid of the political machine which has been choking this city since the Chicago Fire. Some changes are long term. Reinstitute civics in the public schools to teach government ethics and the cost of corruption. Let eighth graders know that we are the most corrupt city in the country, that more than 1,800 public officials have gone to federal prison in Illinois between 1973 and 2010, and that that corruption costs the taxpayers more than $500 million a year. When they grow up they will not put up with being the most corrupt city in one of the most corrupt states like their parents have.

There are really simple fixes that could be done right now if a corrupt city council and state legislature didnít block them. Allow aldermen and their staffs to be investigated by the cityís inspector general if accused of corruption. Donít allow double-dipping on multiple government payrolls. Allow citizens to sue to recover damages if public officials steal public funds. And pass the constitutional amendment supported by Gov. Pat Quinn to let voters enact ethics reforms at the ballot box.

We know how to end most of the corruption and to clear our cityís besmirched name. But as Mayor Richard J. Daley taught me when I fought for reform in the City Council in the 1970s, we canít win if you donít have the votes. Unless Chicagoans give a damn, we will never have the votes at the ballot box or in the city council to end the endemic cultural of corruption which has plagued this city since the first public corruption convictions in 1869.

If you care, we can lose our addiction to corruption and leave the hall of shame.

Dick Simpsonís full report Corrupt Chicago: Anti-Corruption Report Number 5 can be downloaded here.

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By YJ Draiman for Mayor from West Rogers Park
Posted: 05/02/2012 10:39 AM

Are LA voters angry enough to change the current administration at Los Angeles City Hall??? LA voters in the March 2011 Elections voted for incumbents - People do not care, why??? Why do we think LA city election on March 5, 2013 will be any different??? I would think with the poor performance and dismal track record by the current administration, the voters would demand to change the current administration at LA City Hall. YJ Draiman

By Anonymous
Posted: 02/19/2012 4:22 PM

Here is something that many other cities use to make changes. It's very successful and I've witnessed it's results first hand from citizens in Detroit. Not sure why Chicago is always behind other cities...even Detroit.

By mike
Posted: 02/19/2012 4:17 PM

I think your article was in good faith but why didn't you offer your contact information for people who want to join with you to build a coalition to fight corruption? We all know power is in numbers. I also don't think it's our kids responsibility to clean up corruption. We as adults should be held accountable. Please leave your info and let's fight corruption.

By nancy from fulton market
Posted: 02/18/2012 6:40 PM

I would bet that if Mr. Simpson lived and was intimately familiar with another big city, he would have named THAT one the most corrupt. Though Chicago IS corrupt, I bet there are MANY other cities that could vie for the title of MOST Corrupt. Every time I travel, that is all the news talks about in cities like Philadelphia and others.

By Anonymous
Posted: 02/16/2012 11:56 AM

The fact the you\'ve compared Huey Long to politicians who have been convicted of corruption, even your own Rod Blagojevich, is ridiculous. You clearly haven\'t taken the time to learn anything about Huey Long, who was never indicted nor convicted of ANYTHING. In fact, there have been 13 Long family members to hold public office, and no indictments. The legacy of the Longs is one of education, roads, bridges, school books and racial tolerance. You should be ashamed of your ignorance.