News / USA

Former US Congressman Dan Rostenkowski Dies

Kane Farabaugh

Former U.S. Congressman Dan Rostenkowski died at his home in Wisconsin on Wednesday.  He was 82.  Rostenkowski, from Chicago, chaired the House Ways and Means Committee from 1981 to 1994, making him one of the most influential lawmakers of his era.  That influence faded under the weight of a post office scandal that sent Rostenkowski to federal prison on mail fraud charges.  he was a popular figure in Illinois.

What Northwestern University political science professor Kenneth Janda remembers most about Dan Rostenkowski was his personality.

"Typical Chicago - he was gruff," said Kenneth Janda. "This is not someone you would pick to write an article on the art museum."

Janda says that made him an endearing figure to the working class people Rostenkowski served in the Chicago area for 36 years.

Rostenkowski was as a congressman from Chicago from 1959 to 1995.

In 1981, he was elevated to chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation.  With the position came power, and the ability to influence funding for massive projects in his home state of Illinois.

But the beginning of the end of Rostenkowski's power and influence began in 1992, when a grand jury in Washington D.C. charged him with 17 counts of misusing government funds.

He pled guilty to two counts of mail fraud and served 17 months in federal prison.

He lost his bid for re-election in 1994 and never returned to politics.

In an interview in 1998, Rostenkowski admitted his obituary would read 'Dan Rostenkowski, felon', but Janda says that is not how most people in Chicago will remember him.

"My guess is that most people will have forgotten, or maybe will have - if they remembered - excused his charges of mail fraud and his imprisonment, and they will remember instead a man who, as head of the Ways and Means committee for the United States Congress, was able to deliver some bacon to the city of Chicago," he said.

President Bill Clinton pardoned Rostenkowski in 2000.

In a twist of irony, Rostenkowski's seat in Congress eventually went to Rod Blagojevich in 1996.  Blagojevich went on to win an election as governor of Illinois in 2002 and 2006, only to be removed from office in 2009 amid allegations of corruption.

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