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Chicago skyline 1970Dick Simpson, a political science professor at University of Illinois Circle Campus in Chicago, called Chicago “the most corrupt city in the country, and Illinois the third most corrupt state” in a February 2012 report for the Chicago Journal. “The truth is that the governor’s mansion and the city council chambers have a far worse crime rate than the worst ghetto in Chicago.” http://chicagoist.com/2012/02/17/dick_simpson_study_says_chicago_is.php

I met Professor Simpson in January of 1969, when he was instrumental in organizing the Independent Precinct Organization, and I was a student at Chicago Theological Seminary. The seminary encouraged students to get involved in churches , community and political organizations, and to engage in cycles of action and reflection (theological and ethical) with other students. I had worked, successively but not successfully, with the Eugene McCarthy and the Hubert Humphrey campaigns in 1968. The Chicago democratic machine held no attraction for me, but independent community-based politics was a different matter. Many local churches were involved in our own 5th Ward and in the 43rd Ward on Chicago’s North side, and it was easy to volunteer.

The first campaign for the IPO backed Bill Singer for Chicago Alderman for the 43rd Ward against the democratic machine. Singer had been a protege of Senator Paul Douglas and a friend of 5th Ward Alderman Leon Despres. I admired both of them, so I signed up to help with the Singer campaign, door to door canvassing and poll watching. Against odds, Singer was successful. The most inspiration, however, came from Dick Simpson, and his encouragement of young people and community residents to take part in the political process, in spite of the cynicism and despair that had gripped most reform efforts during those years. When other organizations gave up (the University Christian Movement among them), and others went underground (Students for a Democratic Society), the IPO offered hope to those of us who were inclined to believe that change would eventually come if we just kept working, even if it was only on a small local scale. Where else would it begin?

Change came, and it didn’t. Dick Simpson ran for alderman and joined the City Council for several years. Other independent candidates for mayor succeeded after Mayor Richard J. Daley’s death, and positive results followed, but corruption has continued to dog Chicago and Illinois politics. I and many others can take inspiration from the dogged determination of people like Dick Simpson, who are still involved and working.

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