The arrest of the Illinois Senate President’s son for DUI is being treated by some (like the well-regarded Capitol Fax blog) as a purely family matter. But the story has lots of people asking legitimate questions about the way government runs in the state.
The Tribune asks why state legislative leaders get wheels at taxpayer expense, in this time of budgetary calamity. The car Garritt Cullerton got busted in was apparently usually parked at the Cullerton home. Garritt’s father, Sen. John, tells the Trib he might park it at his office at the Thompson Center, from now on, and the policy of vehicles for lawmakers is being revisited.
Garritt’s employment history is also being scrutinized. The Senator’s son, according to CBS2,
had a job “analyzing legislation” for House Speaker Michael Madigan for a couple of years, a job Garritt got right out of college.
CBS 2 quotes a Madigan spokesman as denying clout was a factor: “He just applied.” Still, Cullerton is reportedly the godfather of Madigan’s only son, Andrew, so one suspects Garritt Cullerton got a little extra consideration. When asked just what Garritt did, a Madigan spokesman was quoted as answering “he kept a low profile.”
Even before the Cullerton affair hit the front pages, I’d been pondering the place of fathers and sons (and, to a lesser extent, fathers and daughters) in local political history.
The biggest names are obvious, and known well beyond Illinois’ borders — Stevenson and Daley.
But to read “Rogues, Rebels, and Rubber Stamps”, a history of the Chicago City Council written by ex-Alderman Dick Simpson is to encounter the same names, over and over — politics as family affair. “It occurs wherever there is machine politics,” Simpson says.
In Chicago, the Machine and attendant nepotism revved up in the 1870’s. Carter Harrison I was mayor from 1879-1893, while his son Carter Harrison II served from 1897-1905 and 1911-1915. They held the record for father-son mayoral service until the Richard Daleys came along.
Mostly, it’s the Machine pols handing off their political legacies, though reformers Charles and Robert Merriam — Machine critics —both served in the city council, representing Hyde Park.
Traditionally, sons have followed fathers into political office, though daughters are starting to emerge — Speaker Madigan’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa, being the most prominent example.
Unfortunately but not surprisingly, father-son corruption has been far more common than familial statesmanship. “As a rule, political families provide worse leadership because the son or daughter or nephew isn’t as strong and effective as the original leader,” Prof. Simpson responded to my inquiry.
Hardball Machine Alderman Joe Rostenkowski’s son Dan became a power in Congress before pleading guilty to corruption charges, and serving time. Father-son aldermen William and Isaac Carothers both were caught getting kickbacks from developers. Thomas E. Keane followed his father, Thomas P., into the city council, and was replaced by his wife Adeline after he went to prison for corruption.
Sometimes, the actions of the father come back to haunt the son. In this year’s governor’s race, Comptroller Dan Hynes ran ads highlighting Harold Washington’s beyond-the-grave criticisms of Pat Quinn. Pundits then spent lots of time focused on the efforts of Hynes’ father, Tom, to derail Washington’s bid to be Chicago’s first-ever African-American mayor, perhaps costing Hynes the Younger black votes.
Not all nepotistic succession is a downward spiral. “For example, many people rate Richard M. Daley more effective for our time than Richard J. Daley would have been,” opines Simpson.
Indeed, as Senate President, John Cullerton has arguably risen higher than anyone in his family tree, which has deep political roots. There was a Cullerton serving in the Chicago City Council from 1871 until two years ago. Given the state’s history, don’t be surprised if there are more Cullertons to come.
After all, in current speculation as to who might run for mayor of Chicago in the unlikely event Richard M. steps down, the names Lisa Madigan, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and the current mayor’s brother, William, are high on the list.