Friday, January 17, 2014

I'm just a product of my environment

The newspapers are filled with stories about Gov. Chris Christie and Bridgegate. It looks as though the Gov. may have closed the George Washington Bridge to mess with a local mayor who had messed with him. Apparently this is shocking.

To some people. Not to me.

For I live in Illinois. Of our four most recent governors, two are convicted felons. (One Republican,
one Democrat. We're very even handed here.) While Rod Blagojevich garnered the most national news because ... well ... he went batshit crazy, I have always found George Ryan more complex, interesting, and sinister.

When Ryan was Secretary of State, he found an interesting way to fund his upcoming gubernatorial run. He sold truck driving licenses to those who would prefer not to take the test. Naturally the result was unqualified drivers behind the wheel of big rigs all over the country. This was in the 1990s, before the dark consequences of an Al-Queda operative driving hazardous materials on an expressway could even be imagined. But what actually did happen was more than horrible …

In 1994, the Willis family -- Mom, Dad and six children -- were driving through Milwaukee in their mini-van. They were on I94 when a large piece of metal came flying off a flatbed truck. It hit their rear gas tank and the minivan exploded. All six children burned to death.

The driver had purchased his license with a bribe. He did not know that the law required him to conduct a pre-trip inspection of his truck. He did not understand the frenzied hand signals of other drivers as the piece of metal began to slide off. It came out in court that he could not speak or read English well enough to converse with the general public,  a requirement for earning one of those licenses. He never should have been allowed behind the wheel of that truck.

George Ryan won't accept responsibility for the License for Bribes scandal that gave him his start toward the Governor's Mansion and ended his career. But as governor, he did empty Illinois' death row and work with Nelson Mandela toward ending the state's barbaric death penalty. This is only my opinion -- the former Governor does not have me on speed dial -- but I think those were the actions of an old man trying to get right with God.

Then there's Mayor Daley -- or King Richard II as many call him. Now I adore the man. But he was always the kind of bare knuckle brawler that Gov. Christie seems to aspire to be. For example, Meigs Field. In 2003, Mayor Daley wanted to close the airport and make it into a park. The aforementioned Gov. George Ryan put some pesky ordinance in place that would keep the airport open until 2025.

That pissed Mayor Daley off. So he did what seemed completely logical around here. During the middle of the night he sent bulldozers into the airport to carve gigantic X's on the runway. He said it was to protect us from rogue terrorist planes in the wake of 9/11. No one believed it. The Mayor paid a fine and built his park.

Then there's Mayor Daley's nephew, involved in a one-punch homicide. And of course, Blago. And Mel Reynolds. And Dan Walker and Otto Kerner and .... The list is endless and it exhausts me.
So you'll have to excuse me if Chris Christie and GWB scandal invoke little more in me than a yawn.


  1. Aha! This is really true. I've lived near enough to Chicago long enough now that I have the same reaction as you.

    You might enjoy the subtitle on this book.

  2. Anonymous7:04 PM

    What a great concise summary of Illinois politics! I remember when the Meigs Field incident happened--so unbelievable, and yet . . . not unbelievable at all for those of us who live here!

    I'm sure you've read the book BOSS by Mike Royko about the first Mayor Daley--one of my favorite nonfiction books ever!

  3. Anonymous11:11 AM

    I really dislike Christie as I lived in NJ during much of his first term and I did not agree with anything he did. I liked him briefly after Hurricane Sandy, but now I've heard bad reports on that as well. I do think that this bridge thing is being blown out of proportion a little.


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