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Here's the thing about corruption in Illinois politics: the key words are pay-to-play. Sure, we'll give you state contracts, but you'll have to do something for us in exchange. Kick back a cut of your profits. Get my son-in-law a job in your firm. Raise a ton of money for our war coffers. Something like that.

So follow the bouncing ball: this goes back for decades.

In 1968 a real estate developer named William Cellini became a vital fundraiser for Governor Richard B. Ogilvie, a popular figure because, prior to his run for office, he was known for battling the Mafia as Cook County Sheriff. (For you non-locals, Cook County is made up of Chicago and many of its suburbs.)

In gratitude, Governor Ogilvie made Cellini the state's first transportation secretary. This gave him control over millions of dollars' worth of state contracts, which he farmed out to friends and allies in exchange for kickbacks and other favors. After Ogilvie's run, Cellini stuck around as fundraiser and power broker, and he made hundreds of millions of dollars.

One of Cellini's enablers was Ray LaHood, a US Representative whose district includes Springfield. Through LaHood's influence, Cellini has made a mint off of federal earmarks, and in return, Cellini made sure that LaHood has little in the way of competition in Illinois.

In addition to many properties he leases to the government, Cellini owns the Renaissance Hotel in Springfield, built with big taxpayer-funded subsidies and making tons of money because of its proximity to such tourist attractions as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. There was a quite a bit of infighting over the construction of the library--media sources cite historical concerns, such as the fact that several 1850s-vintage buildings would have to be torn down to build the library, which sprawls over three city blocks--but I have to think that the hotter issues had to do with who held the contract to do the work, and who got kickbacks for it. The taxpayers forked over $50 million for the project.

Senator Peter Fitzgerald saw the back-room politics at work, and he fought the construction of the library in the Illinois legislature, all the way up to a filibuster against it. Then he fought to bring in US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) to weed out the wide-spread corruption and favor-mongering that was going on in Illinois.

For his trouble, he was run out of politics by a coalition of entrenched politicians. His replacement? Barack Obama, who gave the speech dedicating the Lincoln Presidential Library in 2005. (In the middle of this post is a brief description of the odd circumstances of Obama's senatorial run.)

Needless to say, these same people have been trying to get Patrick Fitzgerald sent away, too. Keep an eye on him--I am absolutely positive he'll get yanked before has a chance to expose everything going on here.

The case for building the library was backed by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which is co-chaired by Ray LaHood. (Another co-chair is Senator Dick Durbin, a long-time player who showed his hand recently by asking President Bush to commute the sentence of crooked-Secretary-of-State-turned-crooked-Governor George Ryan.)

Recently, Ray LaHood was confirmed as the Secretary of Transportation, where he will have access to all of Cellini's power mongering abilities, but on a national scale. While I think this bodes well for the construction of the Metra's long-awaited Star Line, which would provide much-needed service among Chicago's western suburbs, we need to be aware that Ray LaHood is a pay-to-play politician with some very shady connections, and President Obama surely knew that when he nominated him for the position.

On a related note, Obama also nominated presidential rival Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce. If you'll recall, Richardson withdrew his bid because he got busted for pay-to-play politics in New Mexico. (Could you imagine a pay-to-play Commerce Secretary? The mind boggles.)

I've said before that you don't get to be a politician anyone has ever heard of in Illinois without playing the game. We know who Barack Obama is because he has powerful friends. By appointing pay-to-play people like Ray LaHood and Bill Richardson, Obama looks an awful lot like he's paying back favors.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 26th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
Another brilliant essay sweetheart - any chance of unlocking it?
Jan. 26th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)
We Shall See...
Hmmm... Interesting. I assume, though, that speculations about the well-timed downfall of rivals that supposedly led to Obama's elections in Illinois are hard to prove, or McCain and his supporters would surely have latched onto them in their campaign commercials.

I agree with you that no one comes out of the Chicago machine without being a bit dirty. But sometimes you do have to know how to play the game, and I doubt any president has come into office without paying back some political "favors." (I am certain, for instance, that Obama paid Hillary's campaign expenses and received her endorsement because he cut the deal with her then to be Speaker of the House.) The question is whether Obama's appointees will screw over the American people--in which case, **** 'em.

I see that one of your tags is "Chicago = Gotham City." I've always felt the same way. Although Gotham is technically supposed to be New York, the Gotham of the Dark Knight in particular has always seemed like Chicago to me.
Jan. 28th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I'm not sure why the McCain/Palin camp didn't make hay out of all of this. They seemed to put all their chips on linking Barack Obama to Bill Ayers, and when most of us didn't bite at that, the Republicans seemed like they were at a loss.

On the one hand, I think this signals an admirable reluctance on the part of McCain/Palin to play Rovian politics, because Rove's playbook never runs out of attacks, ever. On the other hand, crooked Chicago politics is what this observer would call low-hanging fruit.

Also, this isn't the first time Republicans have crafted an attack campaign based on Vietnam-era divisions--remember when George Senior attacked Bill Clinton for being a "draft dodger?" And let's not even get into the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic]. But I think that plan fails every time*, because far more people fall on the side of Vietnam-era protesters than the Republicans imagine. (Even I was surprised by how little people seemed to care about the Bill Ayers connection--the fact that Obama's middle name is Hussein seemed to be a much bigger deal.)

*I don't think John Kerry lost because of the Swifties, but rather because he's spineless. In fact, I think he was set up to fail, to buy time for Hillary Clinton's presidential run.

Speaking of Hillary, I'm not sure what you mean here:

I am certain, for instance, that Obama paid Hillary's campaign expenses and received her endorsement because he cut the deal with her then to be Speaker of the House Secretary of State. (I assume that's what you meant.)

Hillary Clinton's campaign cost $212 million, a little over $11 million of which came from her own pocket. Are you suggesting that the Obama/Biden camp reimbursed her for that?
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )