CHICAGO: Former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, who spent four tumultuous years in the governor’s office and nearly 18 painful months as an inmate in federal prison, died Wednesday. He was 92.
His son Dan Walker Jr., an attorney in suburban Chicago, said his father died at his home in Chula Vista, California, early in the morning.
“He had a long life,” Walker Jr. said. “He did many great things and many accomplishments in his life ... He was just a wonderful, passionate man.”
Walker was an early example of a new breed of Illinois politician — someone who disdained traditional political organization — and he won office in 1972 on the strength of his personality. As governor, however, he alienated Republicans and his fellow Democrats, managing to accomplish little.
After leaving office, Walker became the head of a suburban Chicago savings and loan, where he cut corners and used the business to support a lavish lifestyle. Walker pleaded guilty to fraud and perjury and was sentenced to federal prison in 1987.
He later wrote eloquently about the trauma of life behind bars.
“The only spot of color out in the prison yard looms before me: a tall water tower painted red and white,” Walker wrote in “The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story.”
“It offers an alternative to my misery,” he wrote. “I could, if things get any worse, climb it and jump before anyone could stop me.”
A little-known corporate attorney, he grabbed voters’ attention in 1971 by walking across Illinois for 116 days, sleeping in farmhouses along the way.
“Government is out of touch with the people,” Walker would proclaim in his speeches that featured promises to hold down taxes and increase education spending.
Walker captured the Democratic nomination for governor over the establishment candidate, then-Lt. Gov. Paul Simon. He went on to beat the Republican incumbent who had established Illinois’ first income tax.
Once in office, Walker alienated leaders of both parties, particularly Democratic powerhouse Richard J. Daley, the mayor of Chicago.
Walker later maintained that he tried to work with the political establishment but was rejected from the outset.
“I was disliked by the professionals in both parties holding leadership positions as well as by the lower-echelon party regulars from Chicago,” he wrote. “Daley and the Chicago machine certainly did not want to see me succeed. The legislative leaders of both parties made no secret of their desire to ‘get Dan Walker,’ as they openly put it.”
Walker is survived by his wife and seven children. Funeral services are pending.
Former Associated Press writer Chris Wills contributed to this report.