Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 5 Num. 91

("Quid coniuratio est?")

Reynolds Joins Club of Political Pariahs By John Kass and Andrew Fegelman
[Chicago Tribune, 08/27/95]

This is the town that sends crooked judges and aldermen to prison by the busload.

It's where a City Hall ghost payroller was jailed on tax charges before being reborn as a reform mayor, where the school board president admits she's a tax cheat, where the safe-deposit boxes of freshly deceased aldermen are opened on Sundays before the widows can get there.

This is the state that has seen two former governors imprisoned since the 1970s, where a secretary of state was found to have more than $750,000 stuffed in shoe boxes in his Springfield hotel room, where an attorney general was convicted of tax fraud, where a former state treasurer pleaded guilty to a check-kiting scheme.

The list includes former ghost city payroller and Mayor Harold Washington, who did jail time for failing to file income tax returns before his 1983 mayoral election, and former Governors Dan Walker and Otto Kerner.

[Also, don't forget Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (a.k.a. "Rosty"), currently under indictment.]

So where on this list should the name of Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds be entered? Is he up there with crooked former zoning scam artist Alderman Thomas Keane or the late Secretary of State Paul Powell? [a.k.a. Paul "Shoeboxes" Powell, see above] Or is Reynolds merely the Pee-wee Herman of Illinois political scandals?

His conviction last week on felony sex charges for seducing a 16- year-old campaign worker will likely provide a tawdry television movie of the Joey Buttafuoco and the Long Island Lolita variety.

But among the colorful fraternity of our wheeler-dealer pols, those who've been convicted and those who haven't, Reynolds is viewed as less than zero.

There is a hierarchy of crooks. In the prison yard as well as the legislative chambers, bank robbers and multimillion dollar zoning artists sit on the top rocks in the sun. But 40-year-old men who drive around schoolyards in their Cadillacs, looking for high- school girls are dismissed with contempt.

"This has little to do with the great political corruption scandals that have made this town somewhat interesting," said former 20th Ward alderman, prison inmate, [co-host of Skolnick's TV show] and current radio talk show host Clifford Kelley.

He maintains he was wrongfully accused of federal corruption charges stemming from an FBI sting known as Operation Incubator, which involved infamous undercover mole Michael Raymond.

"He might have used his position as a way of influencing some young women, but it's not on the same scale. The feds sent a wired mole into City Hall who was a murderer, and a lot of us were compromised," Kelley said. "This is about seducing young women. This is about being a pervert. But it doesn't speak to the politics of the city or the state."


The connection between gangsters like [Al] Capone and City Hall is based in fact and legend. When former Mayor Big Bill Thompson [not to be confused with former Governor Big Jim Thompson] lost his mayoral election to Pushcart Tony Cermak, Capone moved his operations to Cicero. It offers a chance to tell a little-known story that circulates around City Hall whenever public corruption becomes news.

In 1933, shortly after Cermak was elected mayor, he made a pilgrimage to Miami Beach to meet with then President-elect Franklin Roosevelt. Shots were fired, and the bullets hit Cermak, who later died.

An aide to 45th Ward Boss Charlie Weber made a breathless call back to Chicago to tell his boss that Cermak had been shot.

"Is he dead?" Weber asked. "I dunno," the aide answered.

"Well, put a hunnert [$100] next to the body," Weber said. "If it doesn't twitch, then you know he's gone."

Weber died a millionaire. But even he had his penny ante scams in the tradition of crooked pols. He established a not-for-profit group that brought 30,000 children and their families each year to the old Riverview amusement park for free. Weber got a kickback of 15 cents for each kid who passed through the gates.

Weber's City Council colleague, Southwest Side Alderman Clarence P. Wagner, chairman of the Finance Committee, was killed in an auto accident on a Saturday night on the way back from a Minnesota fishing trip in 1963 [1968(?)]. As City Hall politicians tell the story, his safe-deposit boxes were opened Sunday morning by his political patron, Judge James McDermott, before Wagner's widow was notified of his death.

That laissez-faire tradition continued to the present day, with the jailing of aldermen and the Greylord corruption cases in the Cook County judiciary...


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