Political Junkie: Which State Is Most Corrupt? Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant says that if Illinois isn't the most corrupt state in the U.S., it's "one hell of a competitor." So which other states compete for that title? Also, some unlikely contenders vie for New York's vacant Senate seat.
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Political Junkie: Which State Is Most Corrupt?

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Political Junkie: Which State Is Most Corrupt?

Political Junkie: Which State Is Most Corrupt?

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The Blagojevich bombshell, candidate number 5, the cold-cash election, the FTSE appeal, a Kennedy and the nanny volunteer for the Senate seat in New York, it's almost too much for the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the Beef?"

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)

CONAN: On Wednesdays, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics. And this week, one Senate seat for sale; another very much up for discussion; two House races finally decided; Senator Craig loses his appeal; Joe the Plumber throws John McCain under the Straight Talk Express; the House Ethics Committee expands its look into Charlie Rangel's ways and means. One analysis lists Illinois as the sixth most corrupt state in the union. In a bit, we'll give you the chance to raise your state's ranking. Plus, we'll talk with David Corn of Mother Jones about the president-elect's Cabinet and disillusion on the left. But we begin, as always, with a trivia question. Political Junkie Ken Rudin has managed to tear himself away from his new blog to join us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Neal, not much going on.

CONAN: No. Pretty sure - short this week, yeah.

RUDIN: OK, well, since we're talking about ethics and corruption, what state over the last 20, 30 years has lost - let's see how this works - what state has lost the most governors because of corruption level - the governors who have left office early because of corruption?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to which state over the past 20, 30 years that has had the most governors leave office because of corruption, give us a phone call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And well, we've got to begin in Chicago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: And where do you start? I mean, there's so many things. I mean, obviously everybody knows what's going on with Governor Rod Blagojevich, and of course, now everybody knows how to pronounce his name, which...

CONAN: Even spell it, a few of us.

RUDIN: Even spell it, that's right. Now, there is so many things going on at the same time: There is a move in the state legislature, controlled by the Democrats, to have impeachment hearings, because, of course, Governor Blagojevich still has the power to - this is what it's all about - he still has the power to name a successor to Barack Obama in the Senate, and he has been caught on federal wiretaps talking about how he'd sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. There's talk about Senate candidate number five, Senate candidate number one. Senate candidate number one is - was Obama's choice, and candidate number five was willing to pay, like, half a million dollars or a million dollars, you know, for the right to have the seat. So, there's a lot of speculations, a lot of rumors, a lot of stuff going on. Impeachment is one of the - perhaps - one of the ways out because Blagojevich still has that power.

CONAN: President-elect Obama today called on Governor Blagojevich to resign. Others have said the same thing. That would immediately elevate Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor, to the governor's chair, and then he could appoint a new senator.

RUDIN: Right. But then, the new wrinkle, of course, is yesterday the one remaining senator from Illinois, Dick Durban, also a Democrat, said that what we perhaps should have is a special election. Anybody whom the governor appoints, of course, the Senate would have to confirm, you know, accept the appointment. But appointment could be considered just suspect at this point, and the best way to do it is with an open election, a regular - special election. Now, of course, that would cost the state at least $50 million by some accounts, and that would, you know, in these tough times, that would not be so good. And it could also give the Republicans a shot. I mean, you know, prior to this week, this was a done deal that a Democrat would get the seat by - no matter who Blagojevich appointed and would be the favorite to run for Obama's seat in 2010 when the seat comes up for election.

CONAN: All right. Let's see. We've got some people who think they know the answer to our trivia question. Again, which state has had the most sitting governors leave office early due to scandal over the next - last 20 or 30 years? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Pete, Pete with us from Philadelphia.

PETE (Caller): Hi. How is it going? I think it's got to be New Jersey.

CONAN: Got to be New Jersey, my home state.

RUDIN: Well, actually, the answer is not New Jersey. The only governor to leave office early in the last 20, 30 years is Jim McGreevy, who was involved in that sex scandal. I don't know if that qualifies as corruption. But just McGreevy. William Cahill was a governor elected in '73 for one term, but he did not - and I'm sorry, 1969, for one term, left office in '73. But he did not leave office early, even though he later was convicted of crimes.

CONAN: Generally a good guess on corruption charges, but no. Thanks very much, Pete.

PETE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Tom, Tom with us from Des Moines.

TOM (Caller): Yeah. Louisiana?

CONAN: Oh, also generally another good guess.

RUDIN: Well, it's a great guess, but it's incorrect. Now, when you think of Louisiana corruption, you think of Edwin Edwards, and he later did go to prison for a corruption scandal, and he did famously say that the only reason - the only way I'll be defeated by the voters is if I'm caught in bed with a live girl or a dead - no, a dead...

CONAN: A dead girl or a live boy.

RUDIN: Dead girl or a live boy; either way, that's Louisiana for you. But he served out his term. He did not leave office early because of corruption.

CONAN: Thanks, Tom.

TOM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to Sean, Sean with us from Louisville.

SEAN (Caller): Hey. Is it Kentucky?

RUDIN: Well, no, and...

CONAN: Oh, lot of governors from Kentucky in trouble.

RUDIN: Yes, that's true, but nobody left office early there. You know, not in decades has anybody left office early in Kentucky. There were some impeachment hearings back in the '30s, but nothing recent here.

CONAN: All after they leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: That's right. Yeah.

CONAN: All right. Sean, thanks very much.

SEAN: Mm-hm.

CONAN: Let's go to Kyle, Kyle with us from Chardon - is that right? - in Ohio.

KYLE (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

KYLE: Is it Illinois?

CONAN: The obvious guess.

RUDIN: Well, see, that is a perfect example. You've had three governors of Illinois who have gone to prison: Otto Kerner, who was - got elected, you know, in 1960; you had Dan Walker, who was elected in '72; and you had George Ryan, of course, the last of the previous Republican governors.

CONAN: If things work out, the Blagojevich and him could be cellmates.

RUDIN: That's - exact - except for the fact that all three went to prison after they were governor - they all served out their terms as governor. As a matter of fact, Otto Kerner was a federal judge when he was convicted and left the bench. But again, but he - all three served out their terms as governors. So Illinois, despite all we're talking about, is not the state we're talking about.

CONAN: Kyle, thanks very much.

KYLE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And all right. Let's go now to Ben, and Ben is with us from Flagstaff, Arizona.

RUDIN: Ooh-ooh.

BEN (Caller): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Yeah. Go ahead, please.

BEN: I'm thinking Arizona. Fife Symington.

RUDIN: Well, you have Fife Symington and Evan Mecham, who was impeached.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Congratulations, Ben.

BEN: Thank you.

RUDIN: Two governors. Fife Symington left because of corruption charges. Evan Mecham was impeached and removed from office in 1988. Two governors, in the past 30 years, left because of corruption in that...

CONAN: You don't think of Arizona up there in the state rankings of corruption.

RUDIN: Because they all - you know, everybody there, of course, has a sense of Yuma.

(Soundbite of groan)

CONAN: Ben, I'm sorry about that, but you win the no-prize this week.

BEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We do have some actual decisions having been made in a couple of congressional races, one not unconnected to corruption.

RUDIN: Well, that's interesting. Now, in Louisiana, where anything goes, we once thought, even in 2006 when we already knew about the alleged $90,000 in cold cash in his freezer, William Jefferson was reelected in 2006. But since then, he was indicted, and on Saturday, he was defeated by a completely unknown, unheralded Republican candidate. The thought of a Republican winning that district is just remarkable. But - and he's also the first Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress, Anh "Joseph" Cao. And you know, it's just remarkable, and I guess sometimes voters say enough is enough, and that's probably the case with Bill Jefferson.

CONAN: Any truth to the rumor that you're moving to that district in Louisiana so you can run against him in two years?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Joseph Cao? No, but you know the old expression, let Saigons be Saigons.

CONAN: Oh, my gosh.

RUDIN: Yeah.

CONAN: No more jokes. A nail biter decided in Ohio.

RUDIN: Yes. And that's a pick-up for the Democrats, but it was Mary Jo Kilroy - this is the seat where Deborah Pryce in Columbus, Ohio, is retiring. Mary Jo Kilroy, who barely lost two years ago to Pryce, had a - was trailing on Election Day, but provisional ballots put her over the top, the first Democrat to win that seat in 42 years. But you know what? Republicans will point out that in the news since November 4th, the voting - they've elected Saxby Chambliss; they've defeated Bill Jefferson in Louisiana; they held the Louisiana 4 district that Jim McCurry left off. And of course, they have the - now the corruption in Illinois. Not a bad time to be Republican, given the fact that November 4th was so terrible.

CONAN: And we've been talking a lot about the Senate seat in Illinois. A lot of people also talking about the Senate seat in New York, should Hillary Clinton be confirmed as the next secretary of State.

RUDIN: And of course, there's no reason why she shouldn't be, and of course, she's said she'll stay in office. One name that keeps getting thrown out a lot or thrown around a lot is Caroline Kennedy, the - not only the daughter of the late president, but the niece of the former senator from that exact seat, Robert Kennedy Jr. - I'm sorry, Robert Kennedy. And she has expressed interest, or at least her brother said that she expresses interest in - her cousin, I'm sorry. Robert Kennedy Jr. said that Caroline is interested in the seat.

CONAN: It's so hard to keep them straight..

RUDIN: I know, with all these Kennedys...

CONAN: Look alike.

CONAN: But I've heard a lot of thing - people talking about that Caroline Kennedy may even be a smokescreen, that David Paterson, the governor of New York, a Democrat, would rather not appoint the number-one most mentioned person, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Kennedy - by talking about Caroline Kennedy, it gives him time to vet other candidates. The names I'm hearing most is Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand from around the around the Albany area and Brian Higgins from Buffalo.

CONAN: Not Fran Drescher?

RUDIN: No. She said...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: She mentioned that she should have it, too, because anybody is qualified, and of course, it'll be interesting with - but she doesn't have that - does she have a New York accent?

CONAN: It's something like that. Yeah, anyway. And whoever gets appointed - a Democrat, it's certainly going to be - will have a conceivably tough opponent in two years' time.

RUDIN: In New - if we're talking about New York, absolutely true. Peter King, a congressman from Long Island - you know, there's really nobody left in the Republican Party in New York. But Peter King has talked about running statewide. If it's an unheralded Democratic choice, a dispute, a split party, he could be a viable candidate. Same with this special election in Illinois. Congressman Mark Kirk is from suburban Chicago. He survived 2008, which is not bad for a Republican in Barack Obama's Illinois. Mark Kirk could be a Republican candidate for a special-election seat in Illinois, and he would be formidable as well.

CONAN: And finally, another case coming back, a blast from the past: Senator Larry Craig lost an appeal yesterday before the Minnesota State Court of Appeals. Three-judge panel said he could not withdraw his guilty plea to the sex-sting operation, even though he argued that foot tapping was protected first by the First Amendment.

RUDIN: And that's all I have to say about that.

CONAN: All right. Ken Rudin with us. When we come back, we're going to be talking about -more about the situation in Illinois and the idea that some states just have the reputation of being more corrupt than others. Where does your state stand? We're going to be talking about a survey done by a publication that listed the 35 most populous states in order of corruption value. You'll be able to argue to move your state up in the rankings. Give us your most stained reputations...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: When we come back. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Ken Rudin will stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, and obviously, the big story this week is what the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago describe as a crime spree of corruption in Illinois, which lived down to its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the country - but just one. According to a publication called the Corporate Crime Reporter, its number six among the 35 most populous states. So, what is your state's great stain of honor? Hey, I'm from New Jersey, home to Boss Hague years ago and at the center of the Abscam scandal.

And why do we take a kind of perverse pride in our Boss Tweeds and Duke Cunninghams? 800-989-8255, email us, talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And while we await nominees to be phoned and emailed in, Ken, a little bit more about Chicago, because there are other shoes to drop. First of all, we were talking earlier about Senate candidate number five, the one who was allegedly offered half a million or a million dollars for the Senate job. According to ABC News, they name that Senate candidate number five as Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

RUDIN: That's correct. We have not confirmed that, although when asked about it this morning, Jesse Jackson Jr., Congressman Jackson, said that he doesn't know if he's number five, but he said he absolutely had nothing to do - nobody associated with him, nobody on his staff, nobody on his behalf, have ever been in a position to offer any kind of quid pro quo, and that includes the half a million, million dollars that Blagojevich has talked about on tape. So, Jesse Jackson's name has been perhaps linked to this Senate candidate number five, but as far as whether he offered a bribe or money or payments, he said, absolutely not, and Jackson said that he's been told that he is not a subject of the investigation...

CONAN: A target...

RUDIN: A target to the investigation.

CONAN: And of course, all we know is these wiretaps, which, of course, are Blagojevich's version of the story, a story which may change under oath. So, we will find out what happens later. Nevertheless, there is another connection that everybody is concerned about. This was Senator Obama's seat. We had a conversation that David Axelrod, close - well, campaign manager for Senator Obama, then candidate - presidential candidate Obama, said at one point that, well, Senator Obama had talked with Governor Blagojevich about who should succeed him. Here's a tape of that comment.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Senior Advisor to the President, Barack Obama Administration): I know he's talked to the governor, and you know, he's - there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and he's - I think, he has a fondness for a lot of them.

CONAN: And yesterday, David Axelrod had a different story.

RUDIN: Yeah, I know. The tape we just heard, I believe, is Axelrod on Fox News about - right after the election, saying that, I know that Governor - that President-elect Obama has spoken to Governor Blagojevich, and now, he says, no, it's my understanding that there has been no conversation, and Barack Obama himself has said, no conversation. When - you know, it's kind of hard to imagine that conversation in some kind of level did not go on, because obviously, Barack Obama would have strong interest in who succeeds him in the Senate, and of course, he has many allies in Illinois who want that seat. But it's just very interesting how David Axelrod - we're talking about how this is a different open administration, and there was something kind of queasy about listening to Axelrod a month ago and to read his statement yesterday, he said no, I was mistaken.

CONAN: And the other part of it is that, of course, on the tapes, at one point, Blagojevich said, all - that they, meaning - referring to the president-elect using a barnyard term, then said, all they are prepared to offer me is gratitude, thanks. Bleep them, he said. They apparently are not close.

RUDIN: Exactly, well, because we're talking about Senate candidate number one, who apparently was Valerie Jarrett, a close adviser of Barack Obama, who extensively was Obama's choice to succeed him in the Senate. But Blagojevich said, obviously, if they're not going to pay to play, then, you know, blank them. But all these other candidates - Congressman Danny Davis, Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez - they've all met - most of them have all met with Blagojevich. Jesse Jackson Jr. met with him as early as Monday, the day before he was arrested. They all - I wonder if all of them would be tainted if they run in a statewide election or something because the Blagojevich link is just so...

CONAN: Toxic, yeah.

RUDIN: Toxic right now. Tammy Duckworth, who was the state director of Veterans Affair, she's also on the list, too, very close with Blagojevich; Emil Jones, the president of the state senate, very close to Blagojevich; you wonder if their political careers are in serious jeopardy.

CONAN: Anyway, getting back to the rankings of the most corrupt states in the country, this is from an article at Politico.com, and I guess it's not really a trivia question as to which one is number one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: That's true, but actually it's in the South. It's Louisiana, which, you know - it's Louisiana - I think its Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi. Interesting that those are the most corrupt. Illinois, I think, finished sixth on that list.

CONAN: Sixth on that list?

RUDIN: And yet, when you think of corruption, you think of Paul Powell, the former secretary of state of Illinois, who after his death found shoe boxes - you know, they found million of dollars in shoe boxes, and of course, you have the three governors who later went to prison. But you know, Louisiana is known for corruption. In Kentucky, the state legislature had many people arrested. In Alaska, just, you know, the past year that the VECO scandal, where, of course, Ted Stevens did - was indicted and convicted on stuff related to that. But members of the state legislature were convicted as well.

CONAN: Let's get some nominees from listeners. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's start with Steve, Steve with us from Syracuse, New York.

STEVE (Caller): Well, I just wanted to make the comment that I did think that New York might get erroneous (unintelligible) regarding the last governor. I think that was sort of an abomination; it doesn't necessarily show a pattern of our governors. I think we have more local issues. Syracuse had a mayor, Lee Alexander...

CONAN: Right.

STEVE: Who did a lot of good things for the city, but he did it in a way that he committed federal crimes. So, I think that happens in a more local, and even what Charlie Rangel's up to sort of makes me concerned about the congressmen. But as a state, as a whole, I'm not really aware of, like, you know, our big guys going down.

CONAN: I don't think so. Obviously, New York City has a rather ripe reputation going back in history.

RUDIN: Well, of course, they had the Donald Manes scandal in New York, with the deputy who later committed - he was a president of the borough of Queens who later committed suicide; Meade Esposito; a lot of folks in Brooklyn also went to prison. But no, Spitzer should not be on this list. That was personal peccadillo, not personal corruption. But I think, local officials, as you say, have shown to be quite corrupt in New York. New Jersey, too - big city mayors, the mayor of Newark; a bunch of mayors from Jersey City had gone to prison. But as far as governors, you know, it's been pretty clean as well.

STEVE: I think if you look at the place like New York City and you just have to go statistics, you get eight million people, 10 million people together, it's going to happen.

CONAN: Yeah, according to the statistics from the Corporate Crime Reporter, New York and New Jersey, New Jersey in at nine and New York in at 10. So, that's...

STEVE: Well, it's a nice ranking.

CONAN: There you go.

STEVE: Disregard.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. Let's see. Here's an email from Carl in Seward, Alaska. Where is Alaska? The oil companies have bought the state since 2007. Bill Allen, CEO of VECO, indictment; 10 state representatives have been indicted, six of which are in prison now. Ted Stevens seems to be the only one that made national headlines. You just referred to that. This is a ranking of the 35 most populous states, so Alaska does not qualify for that. Let's see if we can go now to David, David with us from Nashville, Tennessee.

DAVID (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, David.

DAVID: Yes, in the '70s, there was clemency-for-cash scandal in Tennessee under the - with Governor Ray Blanton. His aides were selling clemencies out of the - and making recommendations to the governor. And I was a chaplain at that time at Tennessee State Penitentiary, and a number of his aides were indicted and found guilty and ended up doing time in - on federal charges. Blanton was not found guilty of that. He later was found guilty under federal charges for liquor license - basically, having to do with liquor licenses, was found guilty on that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, and...

DAVID: His administration ended prematurely when Governor Lamar Alexander was sworn in prior to the appointed time of the - after Lamar won.

CONAN: Was he wearing a checked shirt at that time?

DAVID: I beg your pardon?

CONAN: I'm just - never mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much, David. Tennessee, by the way, is ranked on this survey as number 11, right after the state of New York.

RUDIN: And they also had people like members of the Ford family in Memphis, also were involved in corruption scandals, a lot of people in the state legislature went to prison.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, David. We mentioned earlier Louisiana, Evan Edwards, the quote, I'll be reelected unless they find a dead girl or a live boy in my bed. He had another very famous quote, this after he was convicted of racketeering.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Former Governor EDWIN EDWARDS (Republican, Louisiana): The Chinese have a saying that if you stood by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river. I suppose the Feds sat by the river long enough, so here comes my body.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Evan Edwards...

RUDIN: Edwin.

CONAN: Edwin. Well, he's so easily confused.

RUDIN: Come on, you can pronounce Blagojevich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But Edwards I have trouble with. Let's see if we can go to - this is Mason, Mason with us from Flint, Michigan.

MASON (Caller): Hi. Michigan as a state doesn't particularly have gubernatorial corruption, but each of our major cities has had a mayor either be impeached or had to resign because of - well, the mayor of Saginaw resigned because she set her car on fire and was found guilty of insurance fraud, and then obviously everybody knows about Kwame Kilpatrick.

CONAN: Oh, it could never happen in Detroit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MASON: And then the mayor of Flint, they have actually had a succession of mayors who have had to be impeached because of financial indiscretions, and actually Woodrow Stanley, the one who was most recently impeached, is now currently our county supervisor or budget supervisor or something that puts him back in the saddle, to say. So...

CONAN: All right. Michigan listed here on this sheet as number 20.


CONAN: So, you've got some ground to make up.

MASON: Well, we've got - we're really high up there in the crime statistics, too. We're usually between, like, one and three for Flint and Detroit. So, I think that we could really get there.

CONAN: All right. Well, keep trying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MASON: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye. Well, again, we're making fun of this. There is some sort of perverse pride. Ken, is there any reason why some states seem to be more outstandingly corrupt than others?

RUDIN: Well, you know, I actually talked to a professor at Colgate University, Michael Johnston. He talked about - a lot has to do with demographics and homogeneousness(ph) of the...

CONAN: Homogeneity.

RUDIN: Exactly, that's the word. I think that's the word he used. But I thought I'd make up a word because if - but he also talked about that - it's very interesting that states that have more of a nonpartisan makeup to it, like Minnesota, which, of course, a Democratic Party for a long time with the - they have the Nonpartisan League and things like that. They're at the bottom of the list. The Minnesotas, the Oregons, the people who believe in good government, and they - I think they ranked the lowest because the fewest scandals - fewer corruption scandals.

CONAN: Iowa down there on the bottom of the list, too.

RUDIN: Yeah.

CONAN: So, keep working at it guys. Here's Sari in Carson City, Nevada. She writes, here in Nevada, not only is Governor Gibbons involved in a nasty divorce, his wife has kicked him out of the governor's mansion. Now, we taxpayers are paying for two houses - the mansion and the Reno house the governor is living in. We are livid, and many calls have been made to get Mrs. Gibbons out of the official house, but she is staying put.

RUDIN: I should draw a line, though, that the Eliot Spitzers, the Jim McGreevys, the sex scandals, to me that's not what we're talking - I think that the fact that they enriched themselves - but you know, Buddy Cianci in Providence, Rhode Island was elected mayor over and over again even though, you know, he enriched himself. It was part of this corruption scandal. But people there felt like, look, he did a good job. He may have been a crook, but the city worked. That's the view that many people in those kinds of cities have.

CONAN: Buddy Cianci defended himself against charges of conspiracy, extortion, racketeering and mail fraud, among others.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Former Mayor VINCENT "BUDDY" CIANCI (Providence, Rhode Island): It's nothing but lies, and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that I have faith in my own integrity. I assure you I will defend myself in the honor of this office, in the honor of this city, in the honor of me until the day I die.

CONAN: I'm going to defend the honor of me, too, Buddy Cianci. As you suggest, might well get reelected mayor after he gets out of prison.

RUDIN: Extremely popular.

CONAN: We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get Carla on the line, Carla with us from East Chicago in Indiana.

CARLA (Caller): Hello. I love your program.

CONAN: Thank you.

CARLA: But Bob Pastrick - he was the longtime mayor of East Chicago, Indiana - is the one and only time that the RICO statute shave been used against the political subdivision anywhere in the United States.

CONAN: The RICO statute, the Racketeering and Furtherance of Corrupt Activities - that's a That's RECUP(ph).

CARLA: Exactly. So, most of his co-conspirators have taken pleas and made settlements to pay back a lot of money they stole. He's still facing the RICO suit, and the majority of his last city council is in federal prison right now.

CONAN: Well, you have to say, though, Indiana on this listing, number 26.

CARLA: Yeah. But you know, Northwest Indiana is frequently ignored and it's not just East Chicago. It's actually all of Northwest Indiana long had problems.

CONAN: Gary, places like that.

CARLA: Yeah, Gary, Hammond, et cetera. And Bob Pastrick was a major player in the National Democratic Party for the 30-some years he was in office here. So, it goes kind of deep here.

CONAN: All right, Carla. Thanks very much for the call. Ken?

RUDIN: One more thing about what's upsetting the - especially upsetting about Illinois is that after George Ryan went to prison, Blagojevich was elected in 2002 sort of as a reformer, and you'd think that after all the folks of Illinois have gone through and the rumors about George Ryan have been going on since he was secretary of state, and yet, following George Ryan, you have another legend. Of course, he hasn't been convicted of anything. But if the charges are true, you have back-to-back corruption, and that kind of wears you down. In Maryland, years ago, when Spiro Agnew was the corrupt Baltimore county executive, the corrupt governor and then ultimately the corrupt vice president, he was followed by Marvin Mandel, who also went to prison. So, again, it just wears on you.

CONAN: Ted Agnew, he said he never did a thing.

(Soundbite of speech)

Former Vice President THEODORE AGNEW: I will not resign if indicted. I will not resign if indicted.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CONAN: The man who popularized the phrase, nolo contendere. Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Jay, Jay with us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

JAY (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well.

JAY: Good, good. I'm actually a New Yorker. I'm just here in Raleigh. And first, I want to compliment you, Ken, on your comments about Eliot Spitzer. You're absolutely right. It's got nothing to do with corruption. And in fact, one of the reasons that Spitzer fell as hard as he did were the powerful enemies he made undressing corruption and revealing it. So, you're correct about that. But my candidate for the most corrupt place in America is not a state at all; it is a district. What could be more corrupt than the District of Columbia?

CONAN: Well, you're talking locally or federally or both? Certainly on both, you're probably right.

JAY: Absolutely. Since the inception of the city or the district, it's been riddled with corruptions on the federal level, on the municipal level. I think that gets the award.

CONAN: Ken, the District of Columbia?

RUDIN: Well, when you think of the last two mayors, you think of them as completely uncorrupt.

CONAN: Mr. Cleans.

RUDIN: Mr. Cleans, right, of course. When you think of corruption, you think of Marion Barry. But again, that was...

CONAN: Sex and drugs.

RUDIN: Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. But it's not so much of, you know, flaunting your pockets when you think of the mayors of Newark and Jersey City and things like that.

CONAN: Whole scads of school board officials, though, who were involved in raking off money from the local government here in the District of Columbia. And of course, in the federal level, we mentioned that Duke Cunningham earlier; well, where was that famous house boat that he equipped with such fancy antiques?

RUDIN: Well, a lot of members of Congress - Jim Traficant, Mario Biaggi, Duke Cunningham, Bob Nay - they all seemed to be involved in scandal stuff. And that's spread out all over the country.

CONAN: Who could forget Jim Traficant?

(Soundbite of press conference)

Mr. JIM TRAFICANT (Former Director, Mahoning County Drug Program): I have committed no crimes. If I committed crimes, I'd drill myself at the mercy of this judge, try and get three or four years with the help of some friends in Congress. But I am prepared to go to jail for 10 to 12 years because I didn't commit these crimes.

CONAN: Had a terrible, terrible hair piece.

RUDIN: It was donated by Rod Blagojevich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Ken Rudin is with us. When we come back, we're going to be talking with David Corn of Mother Jones Magazine about disillusionment by many on the left with Team Obama thus far already. The firing squad begins to open. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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