My Kind of Town

Although I have lived in Washington, D.C., for 18 years, I will always consider Chicago my hometown. I was born on the south side of Chicago, and my family moved to the south suburbs when I was about 7.

Chicago is a great city. It has world-class architecture, great restaurants, a beautiful lakefront, one of the world’s best orchestras, fascinating museums, great sports teams and nice people.

It also has a colorful political history. Chronicled by intrepid reporters like Mike Royko, John Drummond and, currently, John Kass, this history has been widely acknowledged to be as full of corruption as any city in America.

Since 1972, an average two Chicago politicians per year have been convicted of felonies. In 1991, when not one Chicago alderman was convicted or even indicted, the Sun-Times ran that aberrational event as a front-page story.

Starting with Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s massacre, and stretching to present day, it has been hard to separate the mobsters from the politicians.

From Operation Greylord to Operation Safe Road, the FBI has spent a great deal of time investigating Chicago politicians. In fact, last year, the Chicago FBI ran more undercover investigations and ordered more secret "Title III" wiretaps than any other FBI bureau in the nation — including L.A. and New York.

The last governor of Illinois, George Ryan, is currently spending time in prison for corruption charges. The current governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is expected to be indicted any day now.

The City of Big Shoulders became The City that Works largely through the grease of bribes. And while the current Mayor Daley has done a great job of cleaning up the city of its actual garbage, he has been somewhat less successful in getting rid of the political garbage that has come too close to his office.

It is from this atmosphere that Barack Obama sprang forth as a politician. He has developed a reputation as a political reformer chiefly because he took on Bobby Rush in an ill-timed and ill-executed primary challenge. But Rush, a former Black Panther, can hardly be called a stooge for the Daley machine. Obama’s challenge of Rush says more about his quest to get to the top of the political pyramid in a hurry than it does anything about his reform pedigree.

It is true that Obama has built alliances with anti-machine revolutionaries like Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dorn. But he also smoked the peace-pipe with Emil Jones, an African-American power broker in the Daley machine and legislative leader in the State Assembly, and with Mayor Daley, who strongly supports his presidential aspirations.

Obama showed little in the way of real results in reforming Illinois politics when he was in the Assembly. The state is every bit as corrupt now as it ever was then. In fact, his relationship with convicted felon Tony Rezko shows that Obama is not the knight in shining armor that he likes to show himself to be. Rezko — who was found guilty of six counts of wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud, two counts of corrupt solicitation, and two counts of money laundering earlier this year — was Obama’s first financial benefactor and fundraiser. Rezko also arranged for the Obama family to get a parcel of land at no cost.

And there are plenty of other stories about Obama’s time with Chicago politicians that are just waiting to get uncovered. Michelle’s work with University of Chicago. State Sen. Obama’s work to reduce the size of the hospital board, as a favor to Rezko. Obama’s initial work to help Rezko get apartment buildings that later became a slum.

Of Illinois’s past nine governors, back to Republican William G. Stratton in the 1950s, four have been indicted and three convicted. Ryan is in federal prison now for racketeering and fraud; the current governor, Blagojevich, is reportedly under investigation in relation to the Rezko case.



That is a pretty big history for Obama to escape from scot-free. The last product of a big-city machine to get elected to the White House was Harry Truman, a product of the Pendergrass machine of Kansas City, Mo, and he only became president because his boss died.



It is rare for any representative from a big city to be a serious political candidate for president. Tom Dewey was from New York, but he was a well-known crime fighter. Truman ran as an incumbent because of the vagaries of history.



Obama has done pretty much nothing to fight crime or even really talk about it. His reform résumé is pretty thin. He is a product of the Chicago Machine, not a reform of it.



It is unclear if any of this will be important in the fall election. But the McCain campaign would be stupid not to at least raise the issue a couple thousand times.





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