Factbox: Blagojevich case fits Illinois’ reputation

(BestGrowthStock) – Illinois, President Barack Obama’s home base and political schoolhouse, calls itself the Land of (Abraham) Lincoln and basks in the glow of the hallowed 16th president as a paragon of moral courage and civic virtue.

In the modern era, the state has had its share of admired statesmen, including U.S. Senators Everett Dirksen and Paul Simon and U.S. Representative and Obama mentor Abner Mikva.

But Illinois and Chicago have also gained infamy for bare-knuckle politics, featuring the Daleys, boss Richard J. and son Richard M. The question of how Obama the reformer emerged from the scandal-plagued state has been a theme since his meteoric rise to the presidency.

Rod Blagojevich, a former two-term Democratic governor from Chicago, goes on trial on June 3, accused of 24 counts of malfeasance, including a charge that he tried to sell Obama’s old Senate seat.

Here are five facts about Illinois’ political history:

– Illinois governors have won unwelcome notoriety, with Blagojevich the fifth to face charges and three convicted so far. William Stratton, governor in the 1950s, was acquitted of tax evasion after he left office. But Otto Kerner, a Democrat who was governor in the 1960s, went to prison for bribery involving the horse racing industry and for tax evasion. Dan Walker, a one-term Democrat in the 1970s, was convicted in 1987 of bank fraud. George Ryan, a Republican and Blagojevich’s predecessor, was convicted while in office and is in prison for having fraudulently enriched himself and others.

– Other notable Illinoisans caught stealing were powerful deal-maker Paul Powell, who had $800,000 stashed in his closet. Dan Rostenkowski, the powerful Democratic congressman whose district Blagojevich later won, was felled in 1994 during a scandal involving congressional finances.

– Chicago’s recent history of corruption and links to mobsters like Al Capone have proven to be fertile ground for “reformers” on which to build careers, They include four-term Republican Governor James Thompson, who made his mark as U.S. Attorney in Chicago. Former political gadfly Patrick Quinn was Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor, and succeeded him.

– Through 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper added up the corruption and found 79 elected officials in Illinois have been convicted of a crime, including three governors, one mayor and 27 Chicago aldermen.

– Identifying the ingredients in the political cesspool is speculative, at best. But Daniel Engber wrote in the online magazine Slate that Chicago’s corrupt history traces to the persistence of the city’s political machine, greased by a steady stream of immigrants who were frequently pitted against each other. Loose campaign finance laws in Illinois allow power-brokers to enlarge their fiefdoms over decades.

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(Reporting by Andrew Stern and Peter Bohan in Chicago; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Factbox: Blagojevich case fits Illinois’ reputation