Paul Greenberg

The headline on the news story read: "Corruption called way of politics in Illinois." This is news? In terms of sheer notoriety, popular legend and just general sleaziness, the Land of (gulp!) Lincoln may yet surpass even Louisiana, which has been called our only Mediterranean state.

The competition for the less than coveted title of Most Corrupt State in the Union is fierce, but if Illinois hasn't taken the lead in light (or in the darkness) of its latest governor's indictment, it's definitely in the running.

If the charges against him hold up, The Hon. Rod Blagojevich, whom a friend of mine described as looking like a malignant Andy Hardy, would be the second governor of Illinois in a row to do a stretch.

I tried to remember how many governors of Illinois have served time in recent decades, and got up to three (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan) before losing count. And that doesn't take into account officials lower down on the ticket, like the legendary secretary of state (Paul Powell) who used shoeboxes to stash his cash instead of a Swiss bank account.

A whole encyclopedia could be devoted to corruption just in Chicago, that toddlin' town, where they do things they don't do on Broadway, although after Eliot Spitzer, the Empire State is definitely a contender in Illinois' rotten league. One mayor of Chicago who wasn't named Daley -- Harold Washington, whose birthday was April 15th -- celebrated every year by not filing an income tax return.

Chicago occasionally makes news in national presidential elections, as when its customarily late returns were given credit for Jack Kennedy's victory in 1960. To bring matters up to date, Barack Obama's political rise was linked to the now notorious Tony Rezko, friend and fixer. The more things change in Chicago, the more they seem to remain the same.

If the wiretaps are correct, this latest governor of Illinois to face charges may have been even more flagrante than usual in his delicto. Maybe the most striking charge against him is that the Hon. Blago threatened at one point to end the state's $8 million grant to the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago if its CEO didn't put together a $50,000 donation for him. A children's hospital.

That would seem to be a new low for even an Illinois pol, a breed that does have its code, however strange. Like making sure the snow is removed. Before now, even the most avaricious pol in that state was never accused of extorting favors from kids, at least not crippled ones. Can this be another tradition this modern age has abandoned? We'll find out at trial.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.