Los Angeles has tours of the homes of movie stars. London has Jack the Ripper and the Beatles.
Chicago has corruption.
Hey, you go with what you’ve got, right?
That's at least what tour master Paul Dailing is doing as he offers Chicago's Corruption Walking Tour, "a look at the darker side of politics."
“A properly cast ballot used to buy you the biggest, or coldest beer in town,” observes Dailing. “We’re getting better at catching these people, so I can fill a tour with the ones who didn’t get away with it.”
Chicago has certainly had its share: 33 aldermen since 1976, four of the last nine governors, congressmen, cops, you name it. And Dailing’s corruption tour features a veritable who’s who of that sordid lot.
Blago and George Ryan, Rosty and Mel, and rogues like Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin-- they’re all there.
“And word to the wise,” Dailing observes, “if you get a nickname like Hinky Dink or Bathhouse, you are not a beloved servant of the people.”
Dailing’s tour stops include the former Workingmen’s Exchange, the First Ward Alderman Hinky Dink Kenna’s famous saloon on South Clark street, where beers cost a nickel, and Kenna dispensed jobs, permits, and sage political advice.
And of course, solicited and delivered, thousands of votes.
Among other stops, tour patrons also see City Hall, the Thompson Center, and of course, the Dirksen Federal Building, where so many political careers have crashed and burned amid popping flashbulbs and swarms of reporters.
Other tours of Chicago have featured the more frightening aspects of the city’s gangland past—with the haunts of Al Capone, Elliot Ness, and Machine Gun Jack McGurn. Dailing’s criminals are the white collar kind.
You know, the ones who drew taxpayer salaries.
“This is where public trusts were violated,” he says. “It’s not like there’s going to be one end of movie scene where the bad guys are put in jail. They’re just going to keep popping up and up and up.”
The tour tries to educate as well as entertain. Not only does Dailing caution about the evils of corruption, he notes the built-in rules, which allow lawmakers to favorably draw up their own districts to guarantee re-election.
“Every ten years, we let the voted, choose their voters,” he says, noting that there are other which give office-holders a built-in advantage. “The patronage system staffed city services with do-nothing jobs, just because the people were good at bringing in votes on election day.”
But it’s not hopeless, he believes. Even though so many pols have stolen and swindled and scammed, Dailing does emphasize that right thinking people do prevail. That’s why he finishes his tour at a north side tavern which was the site of the Mirage, the famous bar where the Sun Times secretly photographed crooked inspectors. Most of his patrons are locals. And Dailing says as he dismisses his groups, he often sees signs that some are inspired to actually do something about the system.”
“I’ve seen light bulbs to off, which is actually really refreshing,” he says. “And you can’t trade a vote for a beer any more in Chicago. They’ve gotten more clever, but you know what? So have we.”
For information visit Dailing’s corruption tour of Chicago.