Graham, Otto (Everett, Jr.)

Otto Kerner, Jr.

Otto Kerner, Jr. (August 15, 1908May 9, 1976) was Democratic governor of Illinois from 1961 to 1968. He is best known for chairing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) and for accepting bribes.

Personal life and education

Kerner was born in Chicago, Illinois on 15 August 1908, son of Otto Kerner, Sr. (1884–1952) who served as Illinois Attorney General and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

After graduating from Brown University in 1930, Kerner attended Trinity College at Cambridge University in England from 1930 to 1931. In 1934 he received a law degree from Northwestern University in Chicago and was admitted to the Illinois bar. On 20 October 1934, he married Helena Cermak, daughter of the late Anton Cermak, who had been mayor of Chicago before he was shot and mortally wounded in Miami, Florida in 1933 by Giuseppe Zangara in what may have been an attempt on the life of president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Kerner joined the 33rd Division of the Illinois National Guard in 1934. In 1942, he entered active duty in World War II, serving as a field artillery officer in the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army in North Africa and Italy and in 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for merit and the Soldier's Medal for rescuing a drowning soldier off the coast of Sicily. He was released from active duty in 1946 as a Lieutenant Colonel and rejoined the Illinois National Guard. In the 33rd Division, Kerner was promoted to the rank of Colonel that same year and to Brigadier General in 1951. He retired in 1954 as a Major General.

Political career

In 1947, Kerner was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, a post which he held until 1954. In 1954, he became a county judge in Cook County, Illinois. In both of those posts, Kerner was an advocate of reform of adoption laws and procedures. He also prosecuted famed automobile executive Preston Tucker for alleged fraud.

He defeated incumbent Governor William G. Stratton in the 1960 election and was re-elected in 1964, defeating moderate Republican Charles H. Percy, who was later elected to the U.S. Senate. As governor, Kerner promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. He served on the National Governors' Conference Executive Committee from 1967 to 1968, and he chaired the Midwestern Governors' Conference that same year. In July 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders and named Kerner its chairman.

Kerner resigned as governor on May 20, 1968 to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Scandal and conviction

In 1969, Marge Lindheimer Everett, manager of Arlington Park and Washington Park race tracks admitted bribing then Governor Otto Kerner and his Finance Director, Ted Isaacs, to gain choice racing dates and to get two expressway exits for her Arlington Park racetrack. The bribes were in the form of stock. Amazingly, the scandal came to light because Everett had deducted the value of the stock on her federal income tax returns under her own theory that bribery was an ordinary and necessary business expense in Illinois.

Kerner retained famed attorney Neil Papiano to represent him. Following a 1973 trial in which his prosecutor was future Illinois governor James R. Thompson, Kerner was convicted on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and related charges. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison and fined $50,000. Faced with almost certain impeachment, he resigned his position on the federal bench on July 22, 1974. During the early 1970s a Chicago disc jockey began doing segments known as "Blotto Otto" in which a Kerner impersonator would call pretending to be the inebriated governor. The station pulled the segment after four weeks because they felt it was in poor taste. Kerner was released from prison early when it was determined that he was suffering from terminal cancer.

Kerner died in Chicago on May 9, 1976. As a result of his military service, he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.


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