Otto Kerner Jr.

Otto Kerner Jr.
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
In office
April 22, 1968  July 22, 1974
Appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Winfred George Knoch
Succeeded by William Joseph Bauer
33rd Governor of Illinois
In office
January 9, 1961  May 21, 1968
Lieutenant Samuel H. Shapiro
Preceded by William Stratton
Succeeded by Samuel H. Shapiro
Personal details
Born (1908-08-15)August 15, 1908
Chicago, Illinois
Died May 9, 1976(1976-05-09) (aged 67)
Chicago, Illinois
Resting place

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Helena Cermak
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Illinois Army National Guard
Years of service 1934-1954
Rank Lieutenant Colonel (Army)
Major General (National Guard)
Unit 33rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II

Otto Kerner Jr. (August 15, 1908 – May 9, 1976) was the 33rd 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 a major scandal which led to his imprisonment.

Early life

Kerner was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 15, 1908, the son of Rose Barbara Kerner (née Chmelik) and 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. Kerner was born into the germanophone Czech community of Chicago, hence his Germanic first name being “Otto”.[1]

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 October 20, 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 and because of his time in the National Guard he was quickly granted a commission when the Second World War broke out. 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 in the Illinois Army National Guard that same year and to brigadier general in 1951. He retired from the Army National Guard in 1954 as a major general. During his time in the Army, Kerner deeply impressed his commanding officer at the time, Jacob Arvey, who was also the leader of the Cook Country Democratic party.[1] This friendship proved beneficial to Kerner as it garnered him much support from local politicians, notably Richard Daley, who supported Kerner as a Democratic nominee.

Political career

In 1947, Kerner was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, a post which he held until 1954. He then became a judge in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County from 1954 to 1961. In both of those posts, Kerner was an advocate for reforming adoption laws and procedures. He also prosecuted famed automobile executive Preston Tucker for fraud, but Tucker was acquitted.

Kerner (center) meeting with Roy Wilkins (left) and President Lyndon B. Johnson (right) at the White House in 1967.

He defeated incumbent William G. Stratton in the 1960 Illinois gubernatorial election and was re-elected in 1964, defeating moderate Republican Charles H. Percy. As governor, Kerner promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. Some of his major economic developments were when he won the contract to build the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.[1] In 1965 Kerner submitted an article called “Illinois Opens the Export Doors” in which he explained his goal to initiate the full employment granted by export trade citing a potential 250 000 workers that could be put to work.[2] The primary goal was job creation, which to him was achieved through the improvement of trade. As a result of this, Kerner funded an Illinois Committee for Trade Expansion. His first mission to Europe in 1963 saw an additional $5 million generated for Illinoisan agriculturists. At that time Japan was the state's largest trading partner, with $145 million of annual trade.[2] Kerner saw Japan as a valuable asset and thus funded the Illinois Far Eastern Movement which included many corporate delegates. Relations with Japan remained good; the Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who had been previously invited by Kerner in 1965, gave an impressive speech in 1967 praising the state of Illinois for its continued trade with Japan.[2] Kerner also proved competent in terms of welfare arrangements. Later on his advances in mental health programs were so successful that they became a model for the coming national health reform. He served on the National Governors' Conference Executive Committee from 1967 to 1968, and chaired the Midwestern Governors' Conference that same year. In July 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders and named Kerner its chairman.[3] As chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Kerner sent a number of letters to Lyndon Johnson urging him to increase the number of African American officers in the US army, which was drastically low (Army 1.15%, Airforce 0.6%).[4] He also sent a number of letters to Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Rosel H Hyde, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, pressing them for more effective radio equipment for the police force as well as improved riot training. The letters stressed the need to not overlook the major points of the Commission’s findings but rather to use the lessons learned in the riots to further promote law and order across the nation.[4]

Kerner did not run for a third term, resigning as governor on May 20, 1968, to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Kerner was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on March 11, 1968, to fill the seat vacated by Winfred George Knoch. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 11, 1968, and received his commission on April 22, 1968.

Scandal and conviction

In 1969, Marge Lindheimer Everett, manager of Arlington Park and Washington Park race tracks, who was not charged, was accused of bribing then-Governor Kerner and his Finance Director, Ted Isaacs, to gain choice racing dates for her Arlington Park racetrack. The bribes were in the form of stock. Kerner was granted stock options in 1961 that he exercised in 1968 at a profit. The events came to light because Everett had deducted the value of the stock on her federal income tax returns in the belief that the stock option was an ordinary and necessary business expense in Illinois. Kerner reported the profits in his tax returns. Mrs Everett denied at trial that she intended to bribe Kerner.

Kerner retained Paul Connolly and Thomas Patton of Williams & Connolly 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 mail fraud, conspiracy, perjury, and related charges.[3] The federal bribery counts were dismissed. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison in Chicago and fined $50,000. Faced with almost certain impeachment, he resigned his position on the federal bench on July 22, 1974. Kerner was released early from prison 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.

Kerner was the first of four 20th–21st-century Illinois governors to be convicted on federal criminal charges, the others being Daniel Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich. Many, notably the researchers Narnhart and Schlickman, believe that Kerner’s convictions remained unfair and may well have been overturned had he lived longer.[5]


Otto Kerner was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 1977 in the area of Government.[6]


  1. 1 2 3 Ralph, James (January 1, 2000). "Review of Kerner: The Conflict of Intangible Rights". Indiana Magazine of History. 96 (4): 368–369. JSTOR 27792286.
  2. 1 2 3 "1962-1976". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984). 69 (4): 318–329. January 1, 1976. JSTOR 40191414.
  3. 1 2 Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 29. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
  4. 1 2 Harris, Fred and Wilkins, Roger (1988). Quiet Riots: Race and Poverty in the United States: The Kerner Report twenty years later. (1st Ed) NY: Pantheon Books.
  5. Hansen, Stephen (January 1, 2000). "Review of Kerner: The Conflict of Intangible Rights, , ; Paul Powell of Illinois: A Lifelong Democrat". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-). 93 (1): 120–123. JSTOR 40193320.
  6. "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-04.


This article incorporates facts obtained from: Lawrence Kestenbaum, The Political Graveyard 

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Otto Kerner, Jr..
Political offices
Preceded by
William Stratton
Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Samuel H. Shapiro
Legal offices
Preceded by
Winfred George Knoch
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Succeeded by
William Joseph Bauer
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/9/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.