Sunday, July 17, 2011

Building green

Chicago is still known as the "hog butcher of the world", at least to people above a certain age. The Union Stock Yards were one of the engines that drove this city's economy for over a century. They disappeared back in the 1970s, but there are still vestiges of them in the neighborhood, in a handful of small meatpacking companies that still operate, along with their smell.

While driving past the site of the old stockyards the other day, I came across this unusual sight for the middle of the city:

The wind turbine is part of the new home of Testa Produce INC, a fruit and vegetable distributor that has been around for almost a century. The facility just opened this year although the turbine has not yet been put to use. It will be interesting to see how much noise the thing generates when its blades start to spin, I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of them in the near future.

It may seem a little ironic that a fruit and vegetable company would locate in the heart of what used to be the carnivore capital of the world. Not to mention building a Green plant in the heart of an industry known for its brutal working conditions and horrific environmental record. They used to say that the stockyards were so efficient, they used every part of the animal "except the squeal." That was not true as the effluent runoff from the plants into the South Branch of the Chicago River known not so affectionately as Bubbly Creek, testified.

But there it is, a windmill serving as a beacon proudly advertising the company, and its commitment to building an environmentally friendly facility. The soon to be electric generating wind turbine is just the beginning. Here from the company website is a list of the green features of their building.

There are some who would view this effort with cynicism. They see the Green Movement as nothing more than a bunch of tree huggers standing in the way of development and progress. Global warming caused by human beings emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere they say, is merely a theory, nobody knows for sure what the true cause is for this very real dilemma . That may be true. On the other hand, nobody knew for sure there was a direct link between cigarette smoking and cancer until fairly recently either, but people with any shred of common sense have always known that sucking smoke into your lungs certainly can't be good for you.

In the same way, we don't need scientific proof to understand that polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the ground in which we grow our food, can't be a good thing either, and we need to take steps to protect our environment, pure and simple.

The way I see it, efforts like Testa's, for whatever their actual motives, symbolize something that is extremely positive, that is to say that a profit generating business is willing to take the effort and spend the extra money (even if they do get a tax write-off) to build something that recognizes that our planet is the one and only home we have, and we need to take care of it. Hopefully their message will spread.

Those on the other side should see this positively as well, here is proof positive that there is money to be made in Green Technology.

Everybody wins.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Urban renewal

I'm old enough to remember the 1960s, back when we let our cities run down to the point where to some anyway, it seemed better to knock everything down and start from scratch. Back then, "urban renewal" was universally regarded with glowing tems as a positive force for the future. Well, almost universal. Jane Jacobs in her monumental book; The Death and Life of Great American Cities published in 1961, sharply criticized the slash and burn planning strategies of the 1950s and 60s. She believed that people knew what was best for themselves, at least better than the eggheads from the universities or the mucketymucks downtown. She even successfully took on the mucks who wanted to bulldoze her own Greenwich Village neighborhood to build an expressway through it.

By and large however, Jacobs' was like a voice crying out of the desert. Fifty years later, her words sound prophetic. I didn't catch the name of the commentator on the radio the other day, only his critique of Jacobs' work and how the city that she championed is fine enough, but today it's unaffordable for the average person. Well that's not Jacobs' fault. Ever since WWII, we did everything we could to obliterate the American city as it existed up until that point. It just so happens that today we're tired of all the crap we built since then; buildings with no soul, superhighways that divided neighborhoods, segregated public high rise housing, strip malls, windswept public plazas, suburban sprawl, and all the rest of the things that Jane Jacobs lobbied against.

It's a matter of supply and demand pure and simple. What escaped the wrecker's ball in the second half of the Twentieth Century is now scarce and in demand. Gentrification was not Jane Jacobs' doing. She advocated diverse and economically integrated urban neighborhoods long ago, at a time when people who could afford to were leaving the city as fast as their feet could carry them. When those folks and their descendants later "re-discovered" the city, Jacobs was approaching the twilight of her life. In all that time, she never left the city.

The sociologists, planners and urbanologists told us in the fifties and sixties that cities were too dense, that the chaos that resulted from overcrowding bred all sorts social ills, filth, crime, disease, degenerate behavior and more. What we needed to do was lower the density, and open up space in our cities. One solution was to build vertically. Tall buildings with elevators and air conditioning would mean less density at the ground level. The buildings would be connected to each other not by streets but by parks. Streets that carried vehicular traffic would be set far off, inaccessible to the pedestrian, segregated and hidden either in the form of elevated roadways or underground. No longer would there be mixed use areas, housing would be set apart from commerce, government would have its own contained area, as would cultural facilities, and so forth. Everything would be planned sensibly and rationally. "A place for everything and everything in its place" could have been the motto for architects and planners such as LeCorbusier, whose utopian vision of the Radiant City served as a model for the gigantic urban renewal projects that took place in the mid 20th Century.

LeCorbusier's vision becoming reality in Boston between the 1950s and the 1970, is documented by before and after photographs in this article: Medieval Boston, (you'll have to scroll down a bit to get to the article). Three massive urban renewal projects are highlighted by the piece:
  • The West End of Boston was once a vibrant working class neighborhood of long standing that was deemed a slum by the city government. The neighborhood was wiped out in its entirety, replaced by uninspired blocks of flats.
  • At one time there was natural flow in Boston between the West End, the North End, the Waterfront, and Downtown Boston. The elevated highway known as the Central Artery would put an end to that by cutting off the communities from one another.
  • Scollay Square was a lively (and in its last days tawdry) entertainment center, which was transformed into the massive, universally disliked Government Center.
The before pictures in Medieval Boston evoke a sense of Dickensian London with gaslight lamps, cobblestone alleys, and ghostlike images of people, seen through a smoky haze. Admittedly they're not the kind of images one would see in a tourist brochure of a city. One could argue that the bulldozing of large swaths of Boston, and many other cities at the time including Chicago, provided much needed amenities such as highways, civic institutions, and open space as well as rid the city of blight and decay. The cost was the loss of neighborhoods that were deemed expendable by the powers that be, who fell captive to the then persuasive ideas of the utopian city of the future.

I first visited Boston, in the early 80s. I fell in love, as I'm sure many people did with its history, it's narrow, crooked streets leading every which way, the preponderance of buildings that reflected the styles of their eras, going back all the way back to the 17th Century, streetcars, graveyards that accompanied just about every church, the swan boats, Fenway Park, Union Oyster House, the great H.H.Richardson architecture, the North End, in short, everything that had been around long before I was born. It was the stuff that made Boston, Boston.

The newer stuff all left me cold, back then, as it does now. I'm not alone. The Big Dig project, one of the most expensive public works projects in history, put much of the expressways built back in the fifties, underground and out of sight. Plans have been discussed about dispersing the hideous Government Center, tearing down the Brutalist City Hall, and re-developing the area on a more traditional, human scale. The high rises in the West End however will more than likely remain. They were built to be segregated upper-middle class housing, (unlike LeCorbusier's model where the high rises were intended to be mixed income, with the wealthier tenants closer to the ground). The West End high rises displaced the thousands of West Enders who lived in the neighborhood before it was destroyed, and they remain fairly successful in attracting well to do Bostonians.

There was perhaps no image that came closer to LeCorbusier's vision than the view along the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago between 35th and 55th streets. There you had Radiant City incarnate, housing towers set apart by parks where the residents could indulge in outdoor leisure activities without having to encounter the traffic and other hardships of the streets. For their part, the streets were expressways where motorists could travel to their destination at high speeds, unhindered by cross traffic or pedestrian crosswalks. This utopian Radiant City was better known as Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Homes. The last of the buildings that made up these notorious housing projects was demolished four years ago.

Just as the case with the failed experiment of high rise public housing, we have been coming to terms with the effects of high-minded, well intentioned, but tragically flawed systems of urban planning and design of the mid-Twentieth Century, by reversing them as much as we can. It turns out that cities as they have existed for millennia, aren't so bad after all.

No, Jane Jacobs wasn't wrong, she was very much right, everybody else was wrong.

Dis for dat...'s the Chicago way. The sorry saga our state and our former governor prompted me to write that in politics, rarely is something given without something else given in return. Our new mayor could not have illustrated my point more clearly than with his questionable new appointments to Chicago's Landmarks Commission, as illustrated in this article by Blair Kamin.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Little Flower

I've written in this space before about sense of place in Chicago and how many Chicagoans identified their neighborhoods with the local Catholic parish, even if they were not Catholic themselves. I've also written about my great aunt, Gertrude, who lived for years not in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood as far as she was concerned, but in St. Sabina's. Her older sister Lillian a few blocks away, also lived in the same community on the south side, but in reality she lived in the parish of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus or as everybody called it, Little Flower, after the term of endearment given to the nineteenth century saint for whom the church was named.

Little Flower, like St. Sabina's, was one of the major parishes for the South Side Irish community. Unlike its neighbor about a mile to the east which would become a tremendously successful African American parish under the guidance of the Reverend Michael Pfleger, Little Flower struggled as the neighborhood changed, and closed its doors in 1993, a part of the major purge of struggling Catholic churches in the Chicago Archdiocese under the administration of Joseph Cardinal Bernadin. Here is a Tribune article from November 22, 1993 which contrasts the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Archdiocese of Chicago with the final mass at Little Flower.

The article notes that for the first time in a long time, Little Flower was filled to capacity as several former parishioners came back for one last look at their old church, while current parishioners wondered where they would be worshiping in the future. I imagine it was one of the few times in the church's history when the sanctuary was truly integrated. One of the current parishioners noted that if the people who came back that day never left in the first place, the church wouldn't have needed to close.

I was in fact a little surprised to read that folks actually came back to Little Flower from the suburbs, so great is the fear of many whites to return to the old neighborhood which had become predominantly black, even for just a visit. There was an incident a while back involving St. Sabina's that illustrates the situation. Fr. Pfleger wanted his school to join a predominantly white south side Catholic sports league. Many white folks, parents of children in the league, were aghast, no way were they going to risk driving themselves and their children back into the city, to "that neighborhood." The league originally voted 11-9 against admitting St. Sabina's. It was an embarrassing moment for Catholic Chicago, especially coming as it did on the heels of a letter from Cardinal Francis George on the need to close the racial divide. The league later voted a second time and overturned their original vote but the damage was done. Here is an impassioned view on the subject from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and here is a much more scathing attack from the site Please note in the latter link, a very insightful letter from former Chicago Bear and St. Sabina member, Chris Zorich.

The phenomenon of neighborhoods radically changing population almost overnight, has been going on in this town since the beginning. According to U. S. Census data, the population shift in the community of Auburn-Gresham was especially dramatic. In 1960, the community's population was 100 percent white. By 1970, the population was 31 percent white, 69 percent black, and by 1980, the population was 99 percent black.

The changeover usually begins when a black family moves into a neighborhood. The first to go are the virulent racists who are so filled with fear and hatred that not in a million years would they consider living on the same block as a black family. They pass their venom on to anyone willing to listen. Panic sets in and the situation snowballs. Here in Chicago, other nefarious factors play into the mix. Unscrupulous realtors played on these fears. They approached home owners unawares by phone or even a knock on the door, offering the friendly and helpful advice to get the hell out.

"I've got a nice house for you in neighborhood X or suburb Y where it's safe for you and your kids. Get out now before you lose any more value on your house."

This was not an idle threat. Adding to the problem were the lending institutions who literally drew red lines on maps around neighborhoods they deemed undesirable, and green lines around the desirable ones. Desirability was always based on income and more often than not, on race. It was the green-lined neighborhoods, namely newer, suburban, and predominantly white, that received the lion's share of loans and other financial services, while the red-lined, poorer and predominantly black urban neighborhoods were pretty much left out in the desert. Without help from the banks for new investment, there was little hope for the communities within those red lines to maintain themselves and develop, and not surprisingly many of them deteriorated quickly. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago, here is an article on the practice of redlining in Chicago.

It would be easy to make a blanket condemnation of white people picking up stakes and leaving their neighborhood based on the threat of change. We'd like to think, as that parishioner sitting in Little Flower during its last mass: "If only those people had stayed..."

Yet, next to our children, the biggest investment most of us have is our home. As much as we all would like to be community minded, the bottom line is that most of us need to look out for ourselves and our families first. "Get out before it's too late and you lose your investment..." may not be the most altruistic or public-spirited advice, but one certainly cannot say that it is not prudent.

In the case of Auburn-Gresham however, contrary to a common misconception, census data also shows that while the population shifted almost 100 percent in 20 years, other factors such as income levels, average years of education, and age breakdown indicate that Auburn-Gresham has remained as it has been since its beginnings, a solidly middle class community. As you can see in the photograph, Little Flower has been successfully transformed into a church of another denomination.

Still we cannot force people where to live or with whom to associate. I'm reminded of my own church's now defunct alternative mass in the school lunchroom whose attendance did not reflect in any way the demographics of our parish. The whole community was invited to join the mass but its attendance was virtually all white. For their part, for whatever reason the lunchroom crowd is very unhappy about the termination of their mass, and their being brought back into the church proper. You can draw your own conclusions.

The question is, how can we live together in our communities if we cannot even integrate a church, where we all have a common interest and theoretically all of us are equal?

All I can say is this: St. Theresa the Little Flower, pray for us.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

For transit geeks only...

My mother often told me about trips she would make as a child from her home in Humboldt Park to the Loop on an L line that ran somewhere in the vicinity of North Avenue. Now I knew that area like the back of my hand and for the longest time I thought she was mistaken, there was absolutely no trace of an L line anywhere near North Avenue. Even in a couple of books I had devoted to the L there was no mention of such a line. Surely she must have meant the same Logan Square line that I took so many times in my childhood.

It wasn't until years later when the internet came along that I leaned that she was not mistaken at all, there was indeed at one time an elevated line that ran parallel to North Avenue, above an alley just to the north of the street. It was called the Humboldt Park Line.

Sure enough, on closer inspection, I discovered that all of the buildings on the north side of that alley from Damen Avenue to the west, had been constructed within the last fifty years or so, after the demolition of the line, and that where there was no recent construction, the alley was wide enough to accommodate an L structure.

The Humboldt Park Line was a branch of the Logan Square Line, today's Blue Line. It broke off from the main line just north of the Damen Avenue stop, then continued about two miles west to Lawndale Avenue. The line was originally intended to go all the way to the city limits at Harlem Avenue, some four miles beyond Lawndale, but economic conditions were never right for the extension. Had the line extended only a few blocks more, to Pulaski Avenue, its fate may have been different as it would have generated greater ridership from passengers headed to and from a burgeoning business district. It was not meant to be however as the line never made the crossing over the already existing Milwaukee Road tracks just west of Lawndale. The line's location steps from the North Avenue streetcar line didn't help either as the greater frequency of the streetcars made them more attractive to riders than the more infrequent trains. If you're interested in more facts about the Humboldt Park Line as I know you are, click on this link to the ultimate L geek site, Chicago "L".org. It gives a fascinating account about the CTA's plans for the discontinuation of the line by intentionally running it into the ground.

Here is an interesting article (please keep in mind the title of this post), from a site called Forgotten Chicago, that gives a detailed look at what remains of seven defunct Chicago El lines. All of the lines were abandoned and demolished in the 1950s, a decade after the Chicago Transit Authority was established to consolidate Chicago's public transportation system. Today for the most part there is, as is the case with the Humboldt Park Line, scant evidence remaining that they ever existed at all. The article is a nice mix of history and urban archeology, documenting some of the few artifacts that remain, including the curious bridge with both approaches removed that once served the Logan Square Line before the construction of the subway. It also contains several wonderful historic photographs of those long gone rapid transit lines.

A little more on the history of those defunct lines and the rest of Chicago transit is coming up, geeks stay tuned...

Friday, July 1, 2011

The sorry state of our state

Rod Blagojevich's conviction last week on several counts of crimes committed while he was the governor of the State of Illinois is just the latest sad chapter in the litany of our former governors going on to become convicted felons. Thanks to Blago, our state has been the joke de jour for the late night comics, and why not, we've become easy fodder as four of our last seven elected governors have ended up, or are about to end up in prison.

Which means, in the words of the Daily Show's John Stewart: "...if you take the current governor of Illinois and sit him between two former governors, chances are, he's in jail."


Is our state indeed the most corrupt in the nation? True, it's hard to beat our current streak of gubernatorial convictions, but I'd say that question is more difficult than meets the eye.

Policing elected officials is a little like refereeing a football game in that it is possible to call an infraction on virtually every play. A football penalty's being called depends on a number of factors, how blatant the foul, its effect on the outcome of the play, the position of the refs in relation to the foul, etc.

In politics, like football, there is a fine line between legitimacy and infraction. As I stated in my previous post, in the game of politics, quid pro quo is the name of the game, seldom is anything given by a politician that is not answered with something in return. What that something is, how it is gotten, and how it is used, define which side of the line a politician stands on.

In football, a referee is judged not only by his ability to make just and accurate calls at the appropriate time, but also his ability to remain perfectly neutral throughout a game. Unlike football, in politics the officials are not neutral, often it is the opposition that gets to throw the yellow flag. Now I'm not saying that Illinois politicians are not corrupt, far from it, but the cut throat nature of politics in this state plays just as big a role in the prosecution of elected officials, as the corruption itself.

As everyone knows, Illinois politics, like football, is a no holds barred, full contact sport. The stakes are high and competition is intense. Many successful careers in Illinois have been made out of the prosecution and conviction of politicians, and prosecutors have a huge motivation for going after them, especially the big ones. It is not unreasonable to suspect that criminal prosecutions of politicians in Illinois are based on believe it or not, politics. Here is what U.S. Attorney General (and later Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson had to say on the role of the prosecutor and the dangers that lie therein back in 1940:

If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.

A more complete excerpt with a link to Jackson's entire warning to United States attorneys can be found here.

The four former governors who were prosecuted and convicted for their crimes will forever be linked together as an unfortunate lonely hearts club. But the four could not have been more different both as individuals and as leaders.

Out of fairness, I think it only reasonable to look into the actions of the four, as well as some of the governors who did not end up behind bars, and compare their legacies.

Otto Kerner had a distinguished military career and a legal career that extended beyond his role as governor. During his two terms in office, Kerner pushed through legislation dealing with progressive issues such as mental health, equal access to jobs and housing and education. He is probably best known nationally for the commission that bears his name. It was formed by President Lyndon Johnson to study the causes of unrest that led to the devastating race riots that took place in several large industrial cities throughout the United States during the sixties, and its findings were released in 1968. The commission's findings, the Kerner Report, was an indictment of segregation and racism in the U.S. Its most salient quote was:

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black and one white - separate and unequal.

Otto Kerner resigned from office in 1968 after he was appointed appellate court judge. Kerner it turns out was in particular disfavor with the Nixon administration. In a recording between Richard Nixon and then U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell made in May of 1971, Nixon asks Micthell, if he is "going to do anything" about Kerner, then goes on to say: "I'd like to see you get him." Seven months later, U.S. Attorney and Nixon appointee James R. Thompson, prosecuted Kerner for accepting bribes while governor (in the form of discounted race track stock from the manager of a local track) and for violating a nebulous statute called honest services fraud. Later the bribery charges were dismissed and in 1987, 11 years after Kerner's death, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the honest services fraud law. Congress, using different wording quickly revived the law but last year the Supreme Court reviewed it again, and severely limited the law by a unanimous decision. Kerner's son Anton has for years been trying to clear his father's name, so far unsuccessfully.

Samuel Shapiro, Lieutenant Governor under Kerner, served out the remainder of Kerner's term but lost in the general election to Cook County Sheriff Richard Ogilvie. Shapiro was not in office long enough to get into trouble while Ogilvie was by most accounts a very competent governor who left behind a very unpopular but necessary legacy. He established the Illinois State Income Tax.

Because of that, Ogilvie lost the following general election to a then relatively unknown Dan Walker. Walker was a bit of a renegade who, unlike his fellow Democrat Otto Kerner, was constantly at odds with the political establishment, most of all the Richard J. Daley Machine. As a result, little was accomplished during his administration. Walker the incumbent governor lost in his own party's primary (something virtually unheard of), to a Daley man, Michael Howlett. Dan Walker returned to private life where as the head of a savings and loan institution, he violated banking regulations by using his sons' names to take out personal loans in order to exceed the allowed amount. He was convicted and sent up the river. Unlike the other three convicted governors, Walker's crimes were not related to his time in public service.

The aforementioned James R. (Big Jim) Thompson, built his career upon the prosecution of Kerner and higher ups in the Daley administration, mostly by using the discredited honest services fraud statute. By the mid-seventies, the public had become fed up with the shenanigans of elected officials and during Thompson's reign as U.S. Attorney, he became something of a local folk hero. In the gubernatorial election of 1976 Thompson defeated Howlett in a landslide and served for an unprecedented four terms as governor. His greatest legacy besides the prosecution of Kerner, was the construction of the state office building Chicago's Loop, the Helmut Jahn monstrosity known appropriately enough as the James R. Thompson Center.

Thompson's successor was fellow Republican, Jim Edgar. Edgar had the benefit of a Republican controlled State Assembly resulting in administrative success in pushing through his agenda. In addition he was a moderate who enjoyed popularity on both sides of the aisle. His administration was largely free of controversy and scandal and to this day he is considered favorably as an elder statesman of his party, and his name continues to be brought up as a possible future candidate.

His successor George Ryan by contrast, began his administration under a cloud of suspicion from his days as Illinois Secretary of State. There had been rumors afloat that there were members of that office under Ryan's watch who had accepted bribes in exchange for driver's licenses. Ryan for the most part during his early administration remained unscathed as no one could finger him in any of the misdeeds. George Ryan was the very picture of the well connected old time politician, a party apparatchik who would have fit right in with the Democratic Machine of Richard J. Daley, had he not been from Downstate Illinois where everybody is Republican. Gradually the license for bribes scandal caught up with Ryan and he did not seek a second term. He was eventually charged with numerous counts of fraud related to the scandal, and other misdeeds involving the personal misuse of campaign funds for his and his family's personal use. He was convicted on all counts and currently resides in the federal penitentiary. Ironically, Ryan's defense was conducted pro bono by the firm headed by none other than Big Jim Thompson.

If one were to measure the gravity of Illinois gubernatorial misdeeds in terms of the direct effects they had on the state and its citizens, Ryan's would win hands down. The most notorious example, the incident that started the investigations in the first place, was a tragedy that occurred in 1994 on Interstate 94 in Wisconsin. Six children from one family were killed when the van in which they were traveling struck debris that came off a truck, then crashed and burned. It turned out the driver of the truck received his license through a bribe to an employee of the Secretary of State's office. While it's a stretch to blame Ryan personally for the children's deaths, the enormity of the tragedy that occurred thirteen years earlier, certainly had a huge impact in his trial.

However, just as his crimes touched Illinois residents most directly, so did some of his accomplishments as governor, perhaps more than any of those mentioned above, and certainly far more than the one yet to be mentioned. The Ryan administration committed record funding to education, as well as to public transportation and highway infrastructure. Of his accomplishments, he will be most remembered as the man who imposed the moratorium of the Illinois death penalty. It was known for a long time that our penal system was terribly flawed and several prisoners on death row had been proven innocent through the new technology of DNA profiling. While Ryan himself was by no means an opponent of the death penalty, he understood that it was better to not execute murderers than to take the life of a single innocent person. Just before leaving office, Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life in prison.

For this action, Ryan received worldwide notoriety, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Those who opposed the moratorium, mostly Ryan's former supporters, claimed that Ryan was merely trying to bolster up his legacy in light of the impending charges against him. I find this to be unlikely. The moratorium was an unpopular act, as most Illinois citizens are in favor of capital punishment. If he truly wanted to gain the public's favor there were far easier issues he could have advocated, say, free bus rides for senior citizens.

Popular or not, George Ryan's action on capital punishment was the correct one in my opinion, and I applaud him for that. It was one of the boldest and bravest moves by any Illinois governor, ever. Adding to his legacy whether he wants it or not, this past week the state of Illinois formally abolished its death penalty.

Then came Rod Blagojevich. He was as different from George Ryan as Ryan was from Jim Edgar except in one respect; Blago and Ryan will likely both be in prison at the same time. Brash, cocky, self assured Blago always went his own way, much to the detriment of the people of Illinois. He couldn't get along with anyone that mattered, not because of ideological differences as was the case with Dan Walker, but just because he was well, Rod Blagojevich. If George Ryan's actions had a real effect on the people of this state, both positive and negative, Blagojevich's had none. He billed himself as the voice of the little guy, but most of the legislation he did manage to get through the legislature was window dressing at best, popular but of little substance or consequence. Even before his corruption investigations, Blagojevich's approval ratings were historically low.

The expletive filled tapes obtained by court ordered FBI wiretaps that were presented in his two trials, portray a man who was obsessed with his own power and personal gain. They show utter contempt for the concept of "public service." In the several counts against him, what really nailed Blagojevich was his attempt to sell the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president in 2008. Blago's words recorded on tape: "I've got this thing, and it's fucking golden. I'm just not giving it up for fucking nothing," will no doubt follow him to his grave, and beyond.

Yet for all the sleaze, the Feds did not prove that Blago actually received anything in return for all his dubious efforts. This was in fact the basis behind his defense, and it may still add him some points in his appeal. His solicitations for bribes, like the entirety of his administration, added up to nothing.

So to add it all up, we have in our convict club one good governor, Kerner, who made a dumb mistake while in office, and was likely brought down by a vindictive, thoroughly corrupt administration in Washington, one ineffective governor, Walker, who did not betray the public trust while in office, and one old school governor, Ryan, whose accomplishments will forever be overshadowed because he forgot that times had changed and the public didn't look kindly anymore on an elected official dipping into the till.

Then we have Rod Blagojevich, who without his crimes, probably would have gone down in history as the worst governor in Illinois history.

With last week's convictions, he's a sure thing.

And we voters of Illinois elected him, not once, but twice, so I guess we got what we deserved.