August 11th, 2010
02:39 PM ET
10 years ago

'Rosty' Dies After Historic Political Career

 Former Illinois congressman Dan Rostenkowski has died.

Former Illinois congressman Dan Rostenkowski has died.

(CNN) - Former House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski has died at the age of 82, CNN confirmed.

"Rosty" was a fixture in Chicago politics and a dominant force on Capitol Hill for decades, representing Chicago's Northwest Side from 1959 to 1995 in a storied career that saw incredible highs and lows.

As chairman of the powerful tax-writing committee, the New Deal Democrat worked hand-in-hand with a Republican President, Ronald Reagan, to cut an historic tax reform deal in 1986 that lowered taxes and simplified the tax code.

But Rostenkowski's old-style Chicago ways caught up with him in 1994, when federal prosecutors accused him of charging tens of thousands of dollars in personal gifts to his personal account at the Congressional store and padding his payroll with phantom employees.

Rostenkowski always maintained that he had never engaged in illegal or unethical conduct, but he was swept out of office in the 1994 Republican Revolution.

"They walked around with this Contract With America," Rostenkowski recalled in an extensive 2006 interview with CNN. "But it was more, 'Get the rascals out.' And we were the rascals. And I remember [House Speaker] Tom Foley saying, 'Danny, we're in trouble.' I said: 'Oh, no. Republicans are lazy. They're not going to - they're not going to beat us.' And, of course, I was wrong."

Besides losing re-election to his beloved seat in Chicago, Rostenkowski ended up serving time in federal prison. He received a full pardon, however, from President Clinton in 2000.

In his final days, Rostenkowski lamented what he saw as a diminished work ethic on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers too focused on partisanship and political fundraising instead of the hard work of crafting legislation.

"It isn't a legislative process anymore," he said in the 2006 interview with CNN. "Work one day a week? Work a day-and-a- half a week? I mean, it's crazy. It's just crazy."

Rostenkowski was also frustrated that compromise had become a dirty word on Capitol Hill, recalling that back in his heyday he and Reagan and President George H.W. Bush understood that divided government gave them a special responsibility to try and come together on the great issues of the day.

"The secret of my success, I think, is that, the 14 years that I was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, 12 of them were under Republicans," said Rostenkowski.

He also maintained his innocence in the corruption case until the end, insisting that he had simply "mismanaged the funds" in his office, and contending that was small potatoes compared to bribes that he could have taken at the height of his power.

"I remember a lobbyist coming and [he] says, 'If we thought you took money, oh my God, we would have been here with a satchel,'" Rostenkowski told CNN.

Rostenkowski also took great pride in the fact that even after his long tenure in Congress and his time in prison, he still lived in the same Polish neighborhood in Chicago where he grew up, in the very house his grandfather built in the late 1800's.

"Well, you know, what the hell, my kids will sell this in a minute," Rostenkowski said standing outside the house four years before his death.

Filed under: Dan Rostenkowski • Illinois
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. sara

    A good man!!! Always tried to help others!! My heart goes out to his family and specially Gail.

    August 11, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  2. Hugo

    Not to speak ill of the dead but they had to screw him into the ground, Chicago, go figure...

    August 11, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |