Wednesday, March 25, 2009

History Lesson from Former Illinois Governor Touches on Mobsters

Dan Walker sent an e-mail from Mexico because he doesn't like newspaper reporters lumping him in with crooked governors.

Yes, that Dan Walker, governor of Illinois from 1972 to 1976.

The Internet is a magical thing that never ceases to amaze. Sitting in his home down in Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico, Walker, 87, read a column that appeared online March 17 in the SouthtownStar and obviously felt the need to respond.

"Phil, I read and enjoyed your good article about (Gov. Pat) Quinn and (former Gov. Richard) Ogilvie," Walker e-mailed. "I'd like to share with you a few thoughts since I lived through those days about which you wrote."

I wrote about Quinn's plan for an income tax increase and mentioned that Ogilvie had created the first state income tax while governor in 1969. In 1972, I noted, Ogilvie was defeated by Walker.

That election has been cited ever since by Illinois politicians as proof that voters will rebel against any elected leader who backs an income tax increase.

Walker suggested that he didn't win the election because of the tax hike but because of scandals in the Ogilvie administration.

"Perhaps you're unaware that I said publicly both at the time time he did it and during my campaign for governor that Dick Ogilvie deserved to be complimented for having the guts to give Illinois the income tax," Walker wrote. "I've said repeatedly, then and now, that the state could not have continued without it. I went on while campaigning, of course, to criticize Ogilvie for the way he spent the money that came in."

Walker reminded me that Ogilvie was the first governor to welcome William Cellini into his administration. Cellini, a Springfield wheeler-dealer, is under federal indictment in connection with pay-to-play politics in the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but he has been cutting deals with governors and lining his pockets with government dough for decades.

Ogilvie hired Cellini to be the state's first transportation director, and Cellini became embroiled in a scandal involving ties to state highway contractors who made large campaign contributions.

"Cellini cut deals with every governor of Illinois, Republican and Democrat, except me," Walker boasted in his e-mail. "My aide threw him out of his office when he came to make a bad proposition."

Walker proudly claims that during his administration, state support for public education reached its highest levels, financing 48 percent of the cost of a K-12 education, "just short of the 50 percent goal set in the constitution."

That's true, but I e-mailed in response that Walker's administration benefited from the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by the 2.5 percent income tax passed by Ogilvie to fund education.

In my column, I called Ogilvie a governor who built a reputation for honesty by taking on organized crime and the original Mayor Daley's political machine.

That apparently really hit a nerve with Walker.

"Phil, I too had the courage to do what was right when I was governor and tried to change the system, knocking down the excessive power of the rotten Chicago machine," Walker wrote. "And my political career ended because of that.

"Phil, I continue to wish that reporters would recognize what I tried to do. Most folks are entirely unaware of what I did as outlined above on education and fighting guys like Cellini and (in) other good government matters.

"I've made my mistakes (they've been well publicized), but I still get sick inside when I see my name coupled with those guys like Ryan, who went to jail for corruption in office."

Walker has a legitimate complaint on that last point. He served 18 months in a federal prison for bank fraud, but that happened years after he left office.

Yet, whenever anyone lists the Illinois politicians who have gone to prison on charges of corruption, his name appears along with those of Otto Kerner and George Ryan.

I asked Walker what he's doing these days, and he wrote back that despite rumors that he made a fortune from his banking days, he lives with his wife on their Social Security benefits "plus such stipends as my seven kids see fit to send me from time to time." He wrote that he lives a "pleasant life" and continues to love politics.

By the way, while mentioning Ogilvie, Walker also dropped the name of Richard Cain. I had completely forgotten about Cain, one of the most notorious figures in Illinois history.

Cain was recruited by Chicago mob chief Sam Giancana as a young man and eventually became a police officer, organized crime's guy on the inside. He ended up heading the Cook County sheriff's special investigations section when Ogilvie was sheriff.

Cain apparently did bring down some big-time mobsters, but some of them were guys the mob wanted to take out. In the meantime, he provided information to the mob on government investigations.

He eventually was whacked by hit men who entered a neighborhood restaurant, lined the patrons up against the wall and put a shotgun to Cain's head. The blast, according to reports at the time, blew off his face.

Illinois politics: If you don't know the history, you don't know the half of it.

Thanks to Phil Kadner

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