Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the Chicago Democrat who became the leading architect of congressional tax policy in the Reagan era but later went to federal prison for corruption, died Wednesday, a family friend said. He was 82.
Rostenkowski was born and raised in the old "Polish Downtown," a blue-collar neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side. Born to a political family, he was a product of the Chicago machine, serving in the state legislature at age 24. A few short years later, with the support of his close ally Mayor Richard J. Daley, Rostenkowski was elected to the U.S. Congress.
He was present in Chicago for the famously disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention, and his association with that event sidetracked his otherwise meteoric political rise. By 1981, though, he had risen to sufficient prominence to become the Chairman of the influential Ways and Means Committee.
In that role, he oversaw passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, one of the most significant overhauls of the tax code in American history. He also led the way on Medicare, welfare and Social Security reforms.
At the same time, "Mr. Chairman," as he was commonly known, was a reliable supporter of his beloved home town, aggressively securing federal funds for Chicago and aligning himself closely with the city machine. He secured $32 million for construction of the Blue Line, $75 million for the remodeling of Navy Pier, and $150 million for construction of the White Sox's Comiskey Park, now U.S. Cellular Field.
His political career came to an abrupt end in 1994, when a Justice Department investigation led to federal charges against Rostenkowski. He was implicated in the Congressional Post Office scandal, in which he allegedly laundered office money through postage stamps to buy gifts for friends and supporters. He pled guilty to mail fraud, and served 17 months in prison.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and longtime Rosty critic Mike Royko wrote at the time, "Most of the things he was nailed for would have been legal and common or, at worst, nickel-dime offenses when he began his career in Congress."
"The danger," Royko went on, "was that he was a big political fish - the kind of trophy that an ambitious federal prosecutor loves to stuff and hang on his wall."
In 2000, he was pardoned by President Bill Clinton, at the behest of President Gerald Ford and others.
According to the Capitol Fax Blog, Rostenkowski had "been ill for quite a while." The Joe DiMaggio of legislators, as his colleague Thomas Lynch described him, passed away peacefully on Wednesday morning in his Wisconsin home.
CapFax reports that the viewing will be Monday at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago, with the funeral held Tuesday.
WATCH NBC Chicago's video obituary for Rostenkowski: