There's little doubt that the state of Illinois holds a special rank when it comes to public corruption.
But the state's noxious politics pales in comparison to that of Chicago, the city of big shoulders and even bigger crooks.
For decades, the city has hosted rotten politics, ranging from big-time mobsters allowed to do their business by virtue of their connections to money-hungry pols accepting envelopes stuffed with cash in exchange for services rendered.
It is, by any standard, appalling. Even more appalling is that the voters of Chicago apparently feel helpless to effect change through the ballot box. They just keep voting for the same kind of politicians — ones who embrace good government in public, but not in private.
The whole sickening mess is dispiriting — with one major exception.
It sure is fun to watch the politicians run for cover when the federal bloodhounds hit the trail.
That's why the best show in Illinois right now is the ongoing investigation of those selfless public servants on the Chicago City Council. Or, as the Chicago Tribune put it in an editorial headline, "Squirm time for Chicago politicians."
The FBI first dropped the news of a major investigation Nov. 29, when agents raided, among other places, the offices of powerful Alderman Edward Burke, husband of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.
They followed that up with another search on Dec. 13 of Burke's office and then charged him with attempting to extort the owners of a Burger King who operate a restaurant in Burke's ward.
According to the charge, Burke threatened to — and, in fact, did — gum up the construction project until the company promised to give its legal work to his law firm. Further, he solicited/strong armed a $10,000 donation from the owners to Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.
That was hot stuff. But circumstances got even hotter after it was revealed that the feds stumbled on to Burke's alleged extortion plan as they were eavesdropping on his cell phone conversations.
In other words, they didn't eavesdrop on Burke's phone as part of the Burger King probe. They already were listening — 9,475 phone calls over eight months — when they heard Burke discuss ad nauseam his shakedown.
Whoa — that's enough to make the hair on the back of the average alderman's neck permanently stand up.
The disclosure raised serious questions: What — or more importantly, who — are the feds after and why?
There's more. This week, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Alderman Daniel Solis, at the behest of the FBI, wore a wire to tape-record his conversations with Burke and maybe others.
Chicago aldermen are not the most public-spirited citizens. So Solis was probably not motivated by a desire to clean up politics in Chicago.
The much better theory is that Solis was caught with his hands in the cookie jar and then persuaded by the feds to help himself by ensnaring more serious wrongdoers, like Burke.
That theory got strong support when Chicago television news reported that Solis agreed in 2014 to wear a wire on Burke after one of Solis' associates wore a wire to implicate him in the alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Honor among thieves? Don't count on it — at least not in Chicago.
The news about Solis hit city hall like a ton of bricks. Shocked aldermen expressed outrage. But in pure Chicago style, they were not outraged by possible public corruption — they were outraged that Solis would wear a wire to help catch an alderman.
Alderwoman Carrie Austin was described as "suddenly speechless" when asked about Solis.
"You don't do that. You just don't," she reportedly said.
Alderwoman Michelle Harris suggested Solis betrayed the aldermanic "family."
"I try to think that we're a family down here, and we all work together. So, I got to say it's probably a little disheartening for me," Harris said.
Speculation runs amok, fed by a steady diet of news reports about what FBI agents found when they searched Burke's offices.
"Two folders taken by agents concerned Brian Hynes — an apparent reference to the longtime lobbyist and lawyer with deep connections to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Hynes grew up near Madigan on the Southwest Side and later worked on Madigan's staff, according to a profile of him in Crain's 40 Under 40 list," one story reported.
Further enriching the discussion is that the investigation is taking place in the middle of a mayoral race — Feb. 26 is primary day — in which Burke's support once was widely solicited.
Now mayoral candidates, like Preckwinkle and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, are trying to separate themselves from Burke. Or, as Tribune columnist John Kass put it, they're trying to "wipe the Burke off their shoes."
It's pretty good stuff, and there's more coming courtesy of our self-interested political criminal class.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 217-351-5369.