Memories of Bill Cellini Before the Verdict

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has announced that the verdict in Bill Cellini’s corruption trial will be rendered at noon.

There’s no way that someone just reading the newspapers can make a prediction of which way it will go.


  • since Cellini has a Crystal Lake connection and
  • since he supervised my running of the Denny Kelley for Mayor of Springfield campaign in 1971 and
  • since I successfully fought his attempt to have the state buy the Springfield Concordia Lutheran Seminary during the 1970’s and
  • since he’s a friendly guy,

I’m going to make a couple of comments.

The Hotel Expresso in Montreal has a curved Bill Cellini curtain rod.

Every time we go on vacation I am reminded of Bill Cellini.  Not because of anything I have mentioned above, but because of a marvelous invention he put in the state-subsidized hotel he built in Springfield.

It’s the curved shower curtain.

I am certain that his patented idea has been ripped off by others, but in every hotel bathroom, I look to see if Cellini’s curtain rod is installed.  My wife can’t understand why I continue taking photos of showers.

I guess it’s just a tribute to an imaginative guy.

When I was working on the 1971 mayoral campaign in Springfield, I had just finished serving four years as McHenry County Treasurer and a month and a half working for the House Republican Appropriations Committee staff.  I, along with all the other staff had been fired by newly-elected House Speaker Bob Blair.  There were exceptions for the Legislative Research Council’s interns (which received a verbal firing, even though they were not on the Speaker’s payroll) and a mistress or two.

Cellini, who was Richard Ogilvie’s Secretary of Transportation needed someone to be front man in the Downtown Springfield trade association’s attempt to capture the top job in Springfield city government.  I was offered the job and took it.

It was an experience in Springfield politics.   An education one could not get in a classroom.

The back of the statue of former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen has an elephant and a donkey arm-in-arm. One has its fingers crossed. Perhaps this might also symbolize Bill Cellini's mode of operation.

The public relations staff at IDOT cut television commercials.  I guess I was surprised that state employees were using state equipment to help out the campaign, but when I went to view the TV ads, it was after hours and I was the outsider.

Franklin Life’s public relations man did the graphics, which, like the commercials, were very good.

I remember how my eyebrows rose when I was asked to go the the owner of Myers Brothers Department Store and take a $5,000 check to the post office.  It was a company check.  Was it going to be deducted by Federal income taxes?  Beats me, but the thought did occur.

No campaign disclosure laws then, of course.

The campaign paid every Republican and Democratic Party Precinct Committeeman $40 to distribute Kelley’s literature.  I discovered all parts of Springfield as I delivered literature that was not picked up.  We ran a poor second in the primary and paid $40 apiece again in the general election, which the front-runner Coroner Bill Telford won by about the same margin that the first Mayor Richard Daley beat Richard Friedman. in 1971

It was during planning meetings of this campaign that I met future U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who was Lt. Gov. Paul Simon’s Senate Parliamentarian.

After the debacle, I returned to Crystal Lake having learned the limitations of the power of precinct committeemen, even when both parties seemingly agreed on a candidate and a lot about machine politics.

Perhaps relevant to the current trial, I learned that Cellini was not adverse to working with Democrats.  And vice versa.

Later that year, I started my campaign for State Representative, which I won.

Some has been made about how Bill managed to arrange for the selling of vacant Springfield property to state government.  Of course, he was able, over time, to have friends placed in key places in the Department of Central Management Services, as I found out later when I worked there for over four years after losing my 1982 campaign for State Comptroller to Roland Burris.

When Cellini tried to gain legislative approval to sell the abandoned Concordia Seminary to state government to house the Illinois Department of Corrections, I opposed the plan.

Bill asked to speak to me out by the Capitol railing.

He asked in that soft manner he has, “Cal, are we having a fight?”

I told him we weren’t but that when his plans would cost my constituents money that I would oppose them.

I won the battle, but lost the war.

State government didn’t purchase the seminary, for which Bill had obtained exclusive marketing rights.

State government rented the property.

Bill probably made more money that way than he would have by having the state buy the land and buildings.

I watched over the years with fascination as a failed department store became a state office building and IDOT bought a helicopter, both transactions with a Cellini connection, at how he got the franchise for the Alton casino, the loan for the hotel he and his delightful wife Julie poured their hearts into.

And then, Bill showed up in the Crystal Lake City Council Chambers.

That night I was at Cub Scouts and the reporter for the Northwest Herald did not recognize the significance of Bill’s presence.

He and his Chicago development associates were making a pitch to develop Route 14 next to the Vulcan Gravel Pit.  A Tax Increment Financing District was going to finance the deal.

After the NWH figured out who had made the pitch, I got a copy of the video recording.

Here’s the long version an excerpt I posted. 1,459 have viewed it so far.

Here’s the short version:

Then, Bill’s legal troubles started with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Right after Bill’s consortium was selected over a local firm to develop the TIF property, he was referred to as one of those unnamed people in Tony Rezko’s indictment.

Very shortly, thereafter he withdrew from the deal.

Knowing how skilled Bill is, it seemed to me that Crystal Lake would have benefited from his involvement in the deal. Surely, the developement could have gone no worse than the total lack of progress seen so far.

So will Bill receive a guilty or not guilty verdict?

We’ll know soon.

Regardless, I have fond memories of him and he will enter my mind in every hotel bathroom.

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