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Would Illinois be better off without Chicago?
March 25, 2010

Dear Cecil:

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago — I'm sick of hearing about Chicago! Chicago problems, Chicago politicians, Chicago in the White House, and it just goes on and on. I think Chicago should secede from Illinois. Sure, us downstaters would lose Chicago's tax revenue, but we'd also be far less likely to have people like Blagojevich for governor, besmirching Illinois' good name. With Chicagoans ineligible to run for Illinois state office, we'd have nice clean honest hardworking downstaters to choose from instead. And all those conservative downstaters would suddenly have their votes counted for something in national elections, instead of being overwhelmed by Chicago's blue streak. Can you crunch some numbers, Cecil, and figure out if Illinois would be better off without Chicago?

— Angel B. in Quincy

Cecil replies:

You'll excuse my being Chicago-centric about this, Angel, but it seems to me an equally valid question is whether Chicago would be better off without Illinois. Also, I have to question your assumption that downstaters are beacons of virtue. In what I continue to think is the most trenchant analysis of the Blago train wreck yet, I pointed out that downstate has produced such saintly beings as George Ryan of Kankakee, the imprisoned former governor, and the late secretary of state Paul Powell, the southern Illinois native with the shoeboxes full of money. And what about Lennington Small, the Illinois governor indicted for embezzlement and money laundering but not convicted, possibly because four jurors later got state jobs? He too was from Kankakee. Sure, Chicago has more total wickedness, but Chicago has more total everything (except corn). Seems to me on a per capita basis, Kankakee is the real hothouse of vice. 

Nonetheless, there's something to be said for cutting you downstate ingrates loose. Let's see how this sorts out:

So I think it'd work out for both sides. We'd get most of the people, material possessions, and things that make life worth living. You'd get a state free of us.

OK, I'd miss Lincoln, not to mention the Garden of the Gods. Nonetheless, I think there's potential here. I'd take it further, though. One doesn't want to have a state consisting solely of one town, a la Vatican City. It's claustrophobic. What's more, the proposed reorganization doesn't address what I've identified as the fundamental problem with Illinois, namely that nobody cares about the parts outside Chicago, with the consequence that we elect governors who are complete mopes. (And yes, I know Scott Lee Cohen is from Chicago. Just proves what I'm saying.)

My plan is to carve out a new state consisting of Chicago plus all the interesting stuff in proximity thereto. This will inspire visionaries to run for statewide office rather than the knuckleheads we get now. Subject to negotiation with existing states plus a few bucks as required, I propose that the new state consist of metro Chicago plus selected parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. The resulting commonwealth will combine the names of the current jurisdictions and be known as Chilliwindimi, pronounced "chilly-windy-me," which this time of year has a certain bitter relevance. Geographically it'll consist of the following:

 One anticipates certain objections:

On the plus side:

Think we'd have a hard time finding qualified persons to govern this choice assemblage? On the contrary, we'd have our pick of Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, and Mahatma Gandhi. Meanwhile, Angel, down in Quincy, you could revel in redness all you want.

Hear Ed Zotti, Cecil's editor, confidante, and personal trainer, discuss the above wisdom with Mike Stephen, host of "Outside the Loop" on WLUW-FM 88.7. 

— Cecil Adams
Photo by Pat O'Neil

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