179: Cicero

179: Cicero

Mar 16, 2001
The story in a way of a town that time forgot, or more accurately, a town that tried to forget the times. A special broadcast co-hosted by award-winning journalist Alex Kotlowitz, author of the books There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River.
It's the story of what at one time was one of most notoriously racist and corrupt suburbs in America. In the 1920s, Cicero was reputedly run by Al Capone, and federal indictments against organized crime there continued steadily all the way through the 1990s. In the 1960s, Cicero residents reacted so violently to threats of integration that officials told Martin Luther King, Jr.'s supporters that marching there would be a suicide mission. Today, two-thirds of the population is Mexican-American, but the political machine from decades past still holds power. A parable of racial politics in America, of white Americans not wanting change, not wanting to let in the outside world, and what happens when they have no choice.
  • We hear from Father Jim Kastigar, who got on the wrong side of Town Hall and suffered the kinds of consequences people in Cicero suffer. His parish was denied a permit to hold an outdoor religious ceremony they'd held peacefully for seven years, the youth group's tamale fundraiser was shut down by city inspectors and the parking lot near the church was deemed unfit for Sunday parking. (7 minutes) GovernmentPoliceReligion

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  • To understand how Cicero reacted when Hispanics started flooding into town, you have to understand how it dealt with conflict in the past. For a period the town was run by Al Capone, and the mob was connected to Town Hall for most of the twentieth century. Since the 1950s, the town also had the reputation of being "the Selma of the North," with black people being driven from town by angry mobs while the authorities turned the other cheek; and a police chief who wore a t-shirt that says, "Police Brutality: The Fun Part of Police Work." (7 minutes)CrimeGovernmentPolicePoliticsRace

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  • In the 1970s and 1980s, a wave of non-white migration into Cicero begins, this one primarily Mexican-American. The head of the political machine is named Betty Loren-Maltese, whose husband, now deceased, was convicted for mob-related activity. She responds to the newcomers with some of the intimidation tactics of the past, but also with some new ones that no town anywhere seems to have tried. (13 minutes)CrimeGovernmentLegal SystemPoliceRace

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  • Despite the town's resistance, Hispanics now make up three quarters of the population. And yet the incumbent Town President, Betty Loren-Maltese, seems likely to win the next election. We learn how she's maintaining her hold on power. (10 minutes) GovernmentLegal SystemPolicePoliticsRace

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  • Two stories about daily life in Cicero. First the tale of Dave Boyle, who stumbled into Cicero politics accidentally in the 1980s, suffered the bruises, and left town. But he found he couldn't stay away. Then, the most surprising finding of all: If you walk the neighborhoods of Cicero, you discover that despite all the ways that Town Hall antagonized its own Hispanic citizens, most people are getting along just fine. There are rough moments, sure, but things are way more calm than Cicero's history would lead you to expect. We hear the story of three neighbors: Annie, Loretta and Nancy. (20 minutes)CrimeGovernmentMurderPolicePoliticsRace

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