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It’s official: Chicago is nation’s corruption capital

Former alderman UIC Prof. Dick SimpsCity Hall where he released results study showing Chicago Illinois lead natipublic corrupticonvictions  Wednesday

Former alderman and UIC Prof. Dick Simpson at City Hall where he released results of a study showing Chicago and Illinois lead the nation in public corruption convictions Wednesday, February 15, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: March 17, 2012 10:18AM

A University of Illinois study has found what many probably already suspected: Chicago is the corruption capital of the nation.

The study — published Wednesday as the details of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Colorado prison assignment emerged — showed that the federal court district that includes Chicago has had 1,531 public corruption convictions since 1976, more than any other district in the nation.

And the 1,828 corruption convictions in Illinois in that period put the state behind only the far more populous states of California and New York, according to former Ald. Dick Simpson, now head of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s political science department.

Per capita, only Washington, D.C., and Louisiana had more convictions than Illinois, according to the report.

“For a long time — going back to at least the Al Capone era — Chicago and Illinois have been known for high levels of public corruption,” Simpson said. “But now we have the statistics that confirm their dishonorable and notorious reputations.”

Standing in front of pictures of Blagojevich and other disgraced and convicted Illinois governors such as George Ryan, Otto Kerner and Dan Walker at City Hall Wednesday morning, Simpson said public disgust at political corruption was now finally at a point where meaningful change could be made.

He praised steps taken against corruption by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but said “far more has to be done,” urging Emanuel’s ethic task force to make six changes to how city government operates.

The city’s ethics ordinance should be amended to include aldermen and their staff; the city’s inspector general should have access to all city documents; gifts to elected officials and public employees should be banned, except from family members; elected officials and city employees should be banned from lobbying other governmental bodies; “double dipping,” patronage and nepotism should be punished with real penalties; and ethics training should be improved, Simpson said.

Noting the 31 Chicago aldermen who have been convicted since 1973, Simpson said the City Council chambers and the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield were the two worst crime zones. “No other state can match us,” he said.

But he added that laws alone will not end corruption in Illinois. Only “a change of will” can do that, he said.

Emanuel said later Wednesday that he doesn’t need a study to convince him to get moving on ethics reform.

From day one, he’s pledged to make it a cornerstone of his new administration, as if to draw the curtain on the scandal-scarred Daley years.

“Before I was 24 hours at my desk, we signed six executive orders all dealing with revolving doors and other steps to change the ethics rules of the road here in the city,” the mayor said.

“We brought a level of transparency that had not existed to date to no-bid contracts, where there was also a level of corruption. We also took action putting 261 databases on line — 30 million lines of data. We put online for the first time, if you’re a lobbyist, who you meet with, who pays you, have you contributed.”

Emanuel also swore off campaign contributions from city lobbyists and insulated city employees from pressure they had felt to give gifts or make political contributions to the mayor, department heads or city supervisors. He also is revising city ethics laws.

“I don’t need a report to prod me into acting,” he said. “I did not need a UIC study to say we have some work to do as it relates to ethical standards around here and I didn’t need that study to say I’m gonna take steps.”

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