Friday, September 12, 2008

Lipinski really among 20 most corrupt?

I’m starting to wonder if Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., is going to become some sort of poster child for political nepotism. No matter what he does with his career as an elective officeholder, he’s going to be singled out as a hack for who his daddy is.

I’m inclined to think that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is engaging in political hyperbole when it releases a list this week declaring 20 members of Congress to be the “Most Corrupt” – and includes Lipinski on the list.

FOR WHAT IT’S worth, Lipinski is the only Chicago-area politico who made the good government group’s list – which includes some political heavy-hitters such as William Jefferson, D-La.; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

By comparison, Lipinski is a fairly anonymous part of the Washington set, although I knew a political science professor who always claimed that the quietest political people were usually the most corrupt – their meekness was an attempt to draw as little attention as possible to themselves.

Yet for Lipinski, he’s going to be the political person who can never truly be anonymous because there are the people who will always be offended at the way in which he gained elective office.

His father, former Chicago alderman and later Rep. William Lipinski, garnered a local reputation in Congress as a mass transportation expert who used his influence to get much federal aid for the Chicago Transit Authority and other mass transit programs.

YET WHEN HE decided to retire from electoral office, he waited until after he had already won a primary election. That allowed him to orchestrate the proceedings so that his son (then a political science professor at a Tennessee college) could move back to the Chicago suburbs (Western Springs, to be exact) and take the seat in Congress.

He got elected, and has managed to win re-election in the past couple of election cycles on his own, which means he likely has built up the kind of seniority (and the perks that go with incumbency) that he can no longer seriously be challenged at the voting booth – unless he does something incredibly stupid.

That is what is behind the activist group’s inclusion of Lipinski on their “most corrupt” list – they’re trying to create the perception of “something stupid” that could be used as an issue in future elections. Not this one – I don’t know of anyone who seriously thinks Republican challenger Art Jones (a one-time would-be Nazi sympathizer who now calls himself a “white racialist”) can win come Nov. 4.

For the record, the good government types are offended by Lipinski’s hiring of Jerry Hurckes to be his chief of staff.

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, Hurckes got the job because he had also worked for the elder Lipinski as the retired member of Congress’ district director. Which means he knew the home district on the Southwest Side and surrounding suburbs, and Dan was likely comfortable with him.

Yet Hurckes is also a member of the village board in southwest suburban Oak Lawn, and he has made statements about how his hometown does not need a lobbyist because he can act as a “de facto lobbyist.”

Kind of a stupid boast for Hurckes to make, and it drags Lipinski into the muck of good government types who would like to believe in an idealized civics textbook approach to government – possibly similar to what Dan Lipinski once taught his students at the University of Tennessee.

In a prepared statement, the activist group implies that Dan Lipinski is deliberately paying Hurckes a salary at a specific level to avoid having to comply with government disclosure rules.

“GIVEN THAT MR. Hurckes is the most highly paid staff member in Rep. Lipinski’s office, that his position is a full-time job and is generally considered a ‘senior staff’ position, the fact that Mr. Hurckes’ salary is just under the figure that would make him ‘senior staff’ suggests that Rep. Lipinski is paying Mr. Hurckes a slary under this limit precisely so that he can earn a substantial outside income,” the group wrote.

They would love it if a House Ethics committee were to investigate the congressman.

What is more likely is that this issue will continue to come up in future campaigns, out of some hope that it will eventually stick.

I don’t know that it will. The Lipinski name seems to carry some clout in those South Side neighborhoods where jet noise from Midway International Airport is a reality of daily life. In fact, anyone who has ever read the Mike Royko book about Richard J. Daley entitled "Boss" remembers the portion of all the "begats" by which dozens of families were multi-generational Chicago politics. So this trend is not limited to the one congressional district.

IT EVEN SEEMS to overcome the fact that Lipinski himself has little influence yet in D.C. circles. One study by the Roll Call newspaper that covers Congress ranks Lipinski as the 227th most significant Democrat in the House of Representatives, and the 359th most significant member overall).

That’s pretty low.

But this also comes at a time when people seem to be thinking more and more about what had become an accepted political practice in Chicago and Illinois – passing along political influence to one’s children, creating many multi-generational families that have been involved in electoral politics.

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and his Republican allies are pushing for a measure in Springfield that would require special primary elections if someone retires or drops off the ballot for other reasons. Currently, party committeemen in the district back home get to pick the replacement, and they have often picked the political child.

COULD DAN LIPINSKI become the guy who takes the ultimate hit from people who are determined to keep the kids of politicos from having any kind of career in public life? It would be ironic if his case gets cited by proponents of this measure (which is a long-shot to go anywhere, since Republicans currently are irrelevant to the Statehouse Scene).

As a federal officeholder, he technically would not be impacted by a law designed for state and municipal officeholders.

But it would be sad if Lipinski, when the day comes that he is finished with electoral politics, never gets any more significant legacy than who his father was.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I don’t know that I consider “corrupt” to be the most appropriate word to describe Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. (, but this deal does raise questions.

How significant a figure ( under the Capitol dome does Lipinski cut? And where ( does he get his campaign finances from?

Although the Illinois General Assembly may consider measures to make it harder for retiring political people ( to pass along their offices to relatives, that would not have impacted Lipinski since he is a federal office holder.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I may be looking at this in a selfish way, but it seems Lipinski is pushing some of the things I believe in. Education, science, more. And I see no evidence that he is stealing from the public coffers.

A recent newspaper article mentioned that he sleeps in his office when in DC to save money. My money.

Compared to the Haliburton crew, I think he gets the benefit of the doubt, at least until there is something specific to pin on him.