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Corrupt Chicago Aldermen, Their Fiefdoms, Plus an Comprehensive Look at Illinois Corruption in General

If you believe Illinois is not the most corrupt state in the union, then you need to top this list of corruption at the Governor, Mayoral, Aldermanic, and House levels.
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Aldermen Rise

Chicago Aldermen Accept an Undeserved 5.5% Pay Hike 

The Chicago Tribune reports Six Council Members Reject 5.5% Pay Increase, Other 44 Accept Automatic Hike.

Forty-four out of 50 Chicago aldermen have opted to accept a 5.5% pay increase in 2022 that will push the highest paid among them to a salary over $130,000.

That includes the three sitting aldermen who are facing criminal charges in federal court: Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th, was indicted in April on charges of filing false tax returns and lying about bank loans; longtime Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, is separately awaiting trial on sweeping federal racketeering charges; and Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, was indicted on federal bribery charges in July.

Also accepting the raise is Ald. Jim Gardiner, 45th, who apologized on the council floor Tuesday for “offensive” remarks he made about colleagues and constituents — and who, several sources have told the Tribune, is the subject of FBI inquiries about whether he withheld services to political detractor

What Do Alderman Do? 

Our top question of the day for those not familiar with Chicago corruption is What Do Chicago's Aldermen Do?

Functions of the Aldermen

  • Legislating: Aldermen propose and vote on legislation concerning both the whole city and certain wards. They also vote on the annual budget which is submitted by the mayor. 
  • Improving infrastructure: Aldermen are given $1 million every year to spend on their ward’s infrastructure needs. Some aldermen have their constituents vote on what improvements they would like, while others decide on their own. For additional spending, aldermen must request money from City Council.
  • Sitting on committees: Aldermen are assigned by City Council (and most recently have been appointed by the mayor) to 17 committees broken down by policy. Legislation must first be approved by the committee overseeing the policy area the legislation falls under before getting voted on by the whole City Council.
  • Using aldermanic privilege: Aldermen have the final say in any developments and zoning changes that occur in their ward. The privilege is considered to be a check on development firms that have large amounts of sway over City Hall and City Council, but have at times facilitated corruption by aldermen.

Aldermanic Privileges 

The scandals involving 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke and 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis are only the most recent examples of a long history of corruption in City Hall. In the 20th Ward, three out of the last four aldermen have gone to prison, including the incumbent Willie Cochran.

The question of how aldermen are so easily corrupted is something that Chicagoans have been asking for decades. Some policy researchers consider aldermanic privilege to be a reason for this.

Aldermanic privilege is unwritten—the power comes from a precedent of allowing aldermen to have final say over what happens in their ward. Developers often offer the opportunity to build projects in the ward for campaign contributions, resulting in a game of quid pro quo that many aldermen have participated in (and gotten caught for) over the years. This control over development can also result in preventing the creation of necessary affordable housing units and perpetuating segregation in the city.

Of the candidates in the Fourth, Fifth, and 20th wards, Leslie Hairston of the Fifth and Kevin Bailey of the 20th are viewed most skeptically with respect to their political integrity.

Bailey’s family has come under fire by election judges for allegedly telling certain judges that they would not be appointed unless they became petition circulators for Bailey’s campaign. 65 percent of the current election judges in the 20th Ward were appointed by either Bailey or his mother, Maria Bailey.

The above paragraphs constitute just a part of the long answer regarding the question "What do aldermen do?" 

Short Answer Key Points

  • Collect $130,000 every year for doing what would be volunteer or low-paid work in many cities.
  • Distribute $1,000,000 in slush funds annually to their friends and families. That money that is supposed to go to their wards.
  • Take bribes
  • Have a say in appointing corrupt judges 
  • Find a way to shut down the business of anyone who dares run against them
  • Allow business improvements and changes to anyone donating to their election campaigns (denying changes to businesses that don't).

Chicago, the City that Works

Chicago's slogan is "The City that Works." 

If you didn't know it before, now you know "how" it works. And that's just the start of it. 

The mayor (historically every one of them) is in bed with the teachers' unions, the police and fire unions, etc. 

Special Word About Michael Madigan 

Please consider a few notes about former State House Speaker Michael Madigan (Democrat, Chicago).

Madigan was the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in the history of the United States, having held the position for all but two years from 1983 to 2021.

Chicago Magazine named Madigan as the fourth-most-powerful Chicagoan in 2012 and as the second in both 2013 and 2014, earning him the nickname "the Velvet Hammer—a.k.a. the Real Governor of Illinois."

Power of Madigan

Illinois Policy Institute describes the Power of Michael Madigan

His control of campaign cash as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party allowed Madigan to reward loyalty and punish disobedience among his fellow Democrats, but the “Velvet Hammer’s” other power came from the set of parliamentary procedures knows as the House Rules, which he built slowly over time. These rules allowed Madigan to bottle-up bills and even decide who could vote on them.

The fact that Madigan possessed so much power was costly for Illinois taxpayers, as the state’s debt soared under his leadership. During Madigan’s 36 years as speaker, Illinois’ finances deteriorated from a perfect credit rating and just under $6 billion in unfunded pension debt to the lowest credit rating in the nation and over $144 billion in pension debt.

Commonwealth Edison sought to bribe its way into Madigan’s good graces by giving his political cronies over $1.3 million in no-work jobs and contracts, according to a deferred prosecution agreement implicating Madigan. Federal authorities were also investigating similar allegations regarding Madigan’s relationships with AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center.

Illinois saw 1,978 public corruption convictions since Madigan first became speaker, averaging over one per week. That is the most convictions per capita among the top 10 most populous states between 1983 and 2018, according to U.S. Department of Justice data.

For three years Madigan and the General Assembly left vacant the Legislative Inspector General’s post, creating a backlog of 27 ethics complaints including serious sexual harassment allegations that led to more than 130 signatures on an open letter about Springfield’s open season on women. The inaction was compounded when a campaign worker complained to Madigan about sexual harassment by one of his lieutenants and went public in 2018 after the speaker did nothing. That campaign staffer, Alaina Hampton, sued, and Madigan’s campaign eventually paid nearly $900,000 to end the case.

Grand Jury Probing Corruption

CBS Local reports Former Chief of Staff to Michael Madigan, Indicted on Charges of Lying to Grand Jury Probing Corruption.

Timothy Mapes, former chief of staff to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, was indicted Wednesday on charges of making false statements to a grand jury investigating public corruption allegations.

Mapes, 66, of Springfield, is charged with one count of making false declarations to a grand jury and one count of attempted obstruction of justice.

The indictment claims a federal grand jury was investigating efforts by Madigan and someone working on his behalf – who was not named in the indictment, but was suggested to be longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain – to obtain private jobs, contracts, and payments for others from ComEd and to influence and reward Madigan.

A Word About Illinois Governors

Madigan finally resigned amidst all this sleaze. What about Illinois governors? 

Here is a table of who's who.

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Illinois Governors Who Went to Prison

No other state can top 4 governors going to prison. 

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

14 years behind bars for 17 counts of corruption charges, including trying to auction off President Barack Obama's Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash.

Illinois Gov. George Ryan text: Sentence: 6.5 years

In 2006 Ryan was convicted on 22 counts of fraud, racketeering, bribery, extortion and money laundering for, among other things, accepting bribes in exchange for state licenses. He was also charged with lying to investigators and accepting gifts in return for actions once he took office.

Illinois Gov. Dan Walker text: Sentence: 7 years

Dan Walker served as Illinois governor between 1973 and 1977, and unlike his fellow Illinois governors-turned-convicts, Walker served time for crimes he committed after leaving the governor's mansion.

In 1987, Walker was convicted of bank fraud and corruption after pleading guilty in a savings-and-loan fraud case for crimes he committed as a businessman after leaving public office.

Walker was sentenced to seven years in federal prison and served 18 months. In January 2001, President Bill Clinton denied his request for a pardon.

Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner text: Sentence: 3 years

Otto Kerner served two terms as governor of Illinois from 1960 to 1968 and later became a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

After leaving office, Kerner was indicted in 1971 on bribery charges after a discovery that he received steep discounts on race track stock in exchange for political favors. Two years later he was convicted of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and perjury, the first sitting appellate judge in history to be convicted of felony charges, according the Chicago Tribune.

While he was sentenced to three years in federal prison, Kerner only served for seven months before he was released on parole. The former governor died of lung cancer a year after his release and in the midst of seeking a presidential pardon to clear his name.

What About Gerrymandering?

Once again, no state can top Illinois. 

"The new map is so brazen that progressive elections analyst Drew Savicki found it would create up to 85 districts to be Democratic in the 118-seat state House, even though only 69 Democrats would be elected in a map that fairly reflected the proportional strength of each party."

What About Dan Rostenkowski?

Does anyone remember Dan Rostenkowski?

Daniel David Rostenkowski (January 2, 1928 – August 11, 2010) was a United States Representative from Chicago, serving from 1959 to 1995. He became one of the most powerful legislators in Washington, especially in matters of taxation, until he went to prison. A Democrat and son of a Chicago alderman, Rostenkowski was for many years Democratic Committeeman of Chicago's 32nd Ward, retaining this position even while serving in Congress.

Rostenkowski closed legislative deals between the toughest power brokers in the U.S., from union chiefs to corporate titans to the president himself. The book Chicago and the American Century credited Rostenkowski with securing billions of dollars for projects in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Overall, it is projected that Rostenkowski brought $5 million to the city of Chicago. The book named him the sixth most significant politician to come from Chicago in the twentieth century.

Rostenkowski's political career ended abruptly in 1994 when he was indicted on corruption charges relating to his role in the Congressional Post Office Scandal, and was then narrowly defeated for reelection by Republican Michael Patrick Flanagan. He subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud in 1996 and was fined and sentenced to 17 months in prison.

What About Governor Pritzker?

Please note Federal Investigators Digging Deeper Into Pritzker's $331K Property Tax Break

Federal prosecutors have been requesting records from the Cook County assessor’s office about a $331,000 tax break the governor got after removing the toilets during remodeling of a mansion he owns next to his own home. Authorities sought the name of every employee who was involved in the tax break, along with associated communications.

The improper tax breaks took place during Joe Berrios’ tenure as assessor. Current Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi has been complying with the feds’ record requests.

In April 2019, it was revealed Pritzker and his wife, M.K., were under federal investigation for the tax breaks. M.K. Pritzker had directed workers to remove the toilets from the home during renovations so the mansion would be deemed uninhabitable, resulting in a property tax break. After an inspection was complete, she had them reinstall one toilet in J.B.’s “hangout/meeting area.” J.B. Pritzker said he would pay the taxes when the tax dodge was revealed during his campaign for governor, but that has not cooled the interest of investigators.

Corruption in Illinois Has No Bounds 

No other state can boast as much corruption at every level: Governor, mayors, aldermen, House reps, State House reps, and judges. 

Illinois is #1 in the nation and it's not even close. 

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