Cities and States and Corruption

by Gord Hume

As I continue my study of American cities and states, let me offer you this absolutely true tidbit...

YOU'VE JUST WON THE LOTTERY! Congratulations. Exciting, huh? What are you going to do with...what? Excuse me? You bought the winning ticket in Chicago? Ahhh, too bad. Because you're not going to get the millions your ticket says you're going to get a few thousand dollars, a warm hand-shake, and a nicely-worded IOU from the State of Illinois.

The reason, as a sprightly woman who lives just outside Chicago told me candidly, "It's because Illinois is broke!" 

The state is no longer instantly paying out large lottery winnings. Presumably it will at some point, but for those lucky ticket holders it is going to be a wait. It could be quite a long wait. Illinois is in very serious financial jeopardy. The lack of a budget passed by the legislature has frozen much state spending as there is no authorization for officials to distribute money.

It isn't just lottery winners that are losing. The budget impasse has led to constraints for education spending, social agencies, 911 call centres and a lot of other worthwhile state agencies. The state and its legislature and its governor are in a battle, and the taxpayers and residents are once again the losers.

State residents, being smarter than your average lottery bureaucrat, are responding by buying lottery tickets from other states, primarily Missouri. Or they simply have stopped buying Illinois tickets. Families who used to routinely buy an Illinois lottery ticket to slip into a birthday card or a Christmas stocking are revolting. In fact, the entire scenario is rather revolting.

The cause is a number of issues. It starts with incompetent politicians, led by a series of Governors who tend to end up in jail. Rather than the government Hall of Fame, it is the Hall of Shame in which they reside. 

I am not kidding about this. FOUR, yes four, Governors of Illinois have gone to prison. Two were in prison at the same time. Astonishing.

Then you have the very unique civic government in Chicago. It has a long and well-earned reputation for corruption and very unusual electioneering practices. 

"Is Chicago really that corrupt?" asked a Chicago Tribune headline last year. Their answer was a resounding "YES".

29 Aldermen have been convicted of crimes related to her or his official duties since 1972. Bribery. Corruption. Shaking down a liquor store. Theft. Stealing from a senior's charity. And don't even get started on the deals with developers.

It is not limited to elected officials, of course. City Clerks, staff members, police officers and so many more have joined the list of corrupt civic officials over the years.

It is a depressing, demoralizing, demonizing and disgusting display of civic malfeasance. It shames every municipal official. And the results live on in infamy.

Interestingly, however, there has never been a Mayor of Chicago (at least in recent decades) convicted.

It is a shocking record of a state and a city that has trouble governing itself, financing its government needs, and doing so in an honest way.

So the next time you visit Chicago, which in many ways is a wonderful city, you'll probably not want to buy lottery tickets as a present for the kids. 

Ain't government wonderful?

Gord Hume


Gord Hume is recognized as one of Canada's leading voices on municipal government and is an articulate and thoughtful commentator on civic government and community issues. He is a very popular public speaker, an advisor to municipal governments, and a respected and provocative author.

Gord was elected to London City Council four times. He has had a distinguished career in Canadian business, managing radio stations and as Publisher of a newspaper. Gord received two “Broadcaster of the Year' awards. He is now President of Hume Communications Inc., a professional independent advisor to municipalities.

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