Dixon may have reached the final stage of grief – acceptance – if the questions at the recent Stupor Bowl were any indication.
Like it or not, Dixon will be known for a long time as the home of Rita Crundwell, competing with hometown hero Ronald Reagan for attention. While City Hall politicos would like to move on, it’ll be hard to shake the scandalous former city official, who single-handedly stole $54 million from city coffers.
At the Stupor Bowl, the annual trivia competition supporting the Dixon Public Schools Foundation, organizers asked plenty of questions about Crundwell, more than about Reagan, the previous favorite.
The questions about Crundwell were about the price of her motor home ($2.1 million), the name of her ranch (Rita’s Ranch), the name of the bank account that Crundwell used to steal the money (RSCDA), the city employee who discovered the account (City Clerk Kathe Swanson), Crundwell’s maiden name (Humphrey) and the date of her arrest (April 17, 2012).
With those kinds of questions, you knew the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t running the show. One of the categories was current events, and the organizers deserve credit for fighting any temptation to sugarcoat Dixon’s recent history.
Here’s another local effect of the Crundwell scandal: Politicians no longer can credibly point to Chicago as the source of all political evil in Illinois. Before, when measures to clean up government surfaced, we sometimes heard the argument that the rest of the state shouldn’t have to suffer for Chicago’s corruption.
In November 2011, when the Lee County Board rejected a ban on nepotism, Lee County Board member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, spoke out against it.
“The majority of nepotism is in Cook County and the collar counties,” he said. “We’re bringing up something we shouldn’t be looking at. It hasn’t occurred here.”
The implication: Folks outside the metro area are inherently more virtuous. Ironically, Witzleb made his comments during a year in which Dixon native Crundwell made off with nearly $4.7 million in taxpayers’ money.
To be clear, Witzleb has nothing to do with city government. But it’s worth pointing out that he and others are mistaken when they make “it-doesn’t-happen-here” arguments.
Of course, it can happen here. Crundwell proved that putting our guard down is no solution.
A political distancing act?
The other day, I called our local lawmakers to get their opinions on Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address.
All of them criticized the speech, but the two Democrats, both of whom represent Whiteside County, lashed out with particular intensity against their party’s standard bearer.
Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, called the speech “an election kickoff.”
“Let’s quit the politics,” he said.
Freshman Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, took exception to the governor’s rosy portrayal of the state.
“I don’t know who he is trying to convince that he has done a good job as governor,” Smiddy said. “He has talked about a lot of accomplishments that, for the most part, are benefiting Chicago and not downstate.”
So what gives in Springfield?
The short answer: Chicago Democratic politics.
On March 18, 2014, Quinn is up for election in the Democratic primary. His most likely opponent is Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan. In one poll, Lisa Madigan is at 64 percent to Quinn’s 20 percent.
Her father rules the House with an iron fist. With his daughter riding high, Michael Madigan likely will do nothing that would bring Quinn credit.
Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is another possible candidate, but he is trailing the other two. All three hail from Chicago.
Nobody wants to get close to an unpopular governor. So it appears as if lawmakers such as Jacobs and Smiddy are trying to put some distance between themselves and Quinn, said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.
“It’s as good a time as any to say, ‘I’m not the governor’s man,’” Gaines said.
During his speech, Quinn said little about the state’s near bankruptcy and the mounting pension liability. Rather, he took much of his time to speak about his accomplishments and his proposals for gun control and same-sex marriage.
“I don’t dismiss guns and same-sex marriage. Those are big issues, but they aren’t breaking the state,” Gaines said. “What I thought he had to do was prove himself, that he had some new ideas about state finances, but he put finances on the back burner. [The speech] struck me as a lost opportunity.”
Lawmakers wanted Quinn to provide some leadership, Gaines said.
“They are stumped, too,” Gaines said. “The fact that [Quinn] has taken a pass has frustrated them.”
Illinois voters, particularly in Chicago, don’t pay attention to state politics, he said.
“That’s a blessing for Illinois politicians,” Gaines said. “They can mis[manage] the state and not get caught at it.”
David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.