The Friday Flashback: Otto Kerner, Jr.

By Prescott Carlson in Miscellaneous on Jan 23, 2009 9:35PM


Photo from the Library of Congress

As Rod Blagojevich's reign of terror is hopefully coming to an end, we thought we would take a look at the man who started this disturbing trend of Illinois Governors taking the perp walk, Otto Kerner, Jr.

Kerner was the son of Otto Kerner, Sr., a Cook County Circuit Court judge who became Illinois Attorney General in 1932 and saved Illinois from three-two beer hell by clarifying liquor sales law after prohibition. Following in his father's footsteps, Kerner himself went on to receive a law degree and became a United States Attorney and a Cook County judge, and also married Helena Cermak, daughter of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, shortly after the mayor was assassinated. In 1960, Kerner ran for Illinois Governor and defeated incumbent William "Billy the Kid" Stratton (sidebar: Stratton was acquitted of charges of tax evasion in 1965), and went on to serve two terms where he most notably chaired the Kerner Commission in 1967 that took a hard look at the racial unrest and riots going on at the time. Kerner declined to run for a third term, and instead became a United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit judge.

In 1969, the manager of the Arlington Park and Washington Park racetracks Marge Lindheimer Everett claimed that she bribed Kerner with racetrack stock while he was in office in order to get expressway exits off IL-53 to Arlington Park, as well as to be granted more favorable race dates. The scheme came to light when Everett deducted the value of the stock on her tax return, thinking what she did was not a bribe but just the way things got done in Illinois. Kerner was prosecuted in 1973 -- interestingly enough by future governor James Thompson, who defended former Gov. George Ryan at his trial -- and was convicted on 17 counts including bribery and perjury, and started a legacy that includes Dan Walker, Ryan, and -- most likely -- Blago.

Source: Political Corruption in America by Mark Grossman