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 Hilarious, until you drink the water…

Previously I have taken a look at the curious tendency of American politics to default to an oligarchical mode.  We looked at the Presidents themselves, with 27 of the 43 incumbents being related by blood marriage or adoption.  We have looked at the great noble families of America, be those Udall, Frelinghuysen or Bush who control large powerful states and entire regions.  We have even looked at smaller states such as Arkansas to examine family politics there.  Everywhere the taint of oligarchy is found.

Today I will take a look at an example of small town oligarchical politics with Crestwood Illinois.  Crestwood is not particularly egregious, indeed where it not for a couple of outstanding incidents it would be typical of a number of south west suburban communities.  The sign pictured above used to advertise Crestwood to the world until it was removed following nationwide ridicule for its flagrant illiteracy.  Good for a laugh certainly but sadly though Crestwood has another claim to infamy.  It is famous for the fact that for over twenty years its drinking water was contaminated by poisonous chemicals whilst (it is alleged) the former Mayor, the current mayor and other officials turned blind eyes.  The Chicago Tribune in April 2009 had an investigation which was published as “Poison in the Well” claiming drinking water was contaminated.  Officials, the Mayor and the former Mayor were accused of secretly using a well they knew to be contaminated and lying to the authorities.  There have been 3 class-actions following this, 2 wrongful death lawsuits and several raids by federal authorities.

Here is an interesting snippet on Youtube by Michael Hawthorn of the Chicago Tribune into the story.

Was the nature of Crestwood’s political structure in part to blame for allowing such illegal practises to flourish?  I only ask because the Mayor’s office there is strikingly oligarchical in nature. The present Mayor, Robert Stranczek is the son of the previous Mayor Chester Stranczek who retired aged 77 in October 2007 after 50 years in public office and 38 years as Mayor.  The father’s role as Mayor passing to the son simply on the nod from the board.

Had there been more democracy, had there been fixed term limits to flush fresh blood through the town hall would the scandal have ever happened?  I suppose we might never know.  But what we do know is that Crestwood is not unique in the South West and oligarchy flourishes everwhere.

Copyright David Macadam 2011