The question of how disgraced former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will be remembered in the wake of his pleading guilty to evading banking laws in a hush-money scheme is beginning to be answered.
Hastert, a Plano resident, agreed last month to a deal with federal prosecutors that recommends he serve no more than six months in prison. The deal would allow Hastert to avert a trial in the case. A judge, however, could go beyond that recommendation and give Hastert up to five years behind bars, according to The Associated Press.
A sentencing hearing for Hastert has been set for February.
Officials are beginning to remove public displays honoring the long-time politico.
The Yorkville Wrestling Club said it had renamed its annual invitational wrestling tournament in July shortly after Hastert was indicted. The tourney, formerly known as the Denny Hastert Yorkville Invitational, is held in January and February. It will still take place but it is now called the Fighting Foxes Invitational.
Chad Stevens, president of the Yorkville Wrestling Club, said the organization changed the name at a board meeting in July well before Hastert entered his guilty plea.
“We didn't want to have anything detract from the youth program that we run,” Stevens said.
He added that the program is run by parents and local coaches and isn’t connected to Hastert. Stevens said they named the tournament after Hastert because he was a prominent, respected member of the community who had a well-known background as a wrestling coach during his years as a teacher at Yorkville High School.
Stevens said he didn't know Hastert, but said the former coach would occasionally make a quiet appearance at the tournament.
“He didn't really have any affiliation with the club,” Stevens said. “We are going to still continue to have our wrestling tournament for the club but it won't be named after Denny Hastert. It's still one of the premiere wrestling tournaments in Illinois.”
'A black eye on the county'
Another reminder of Hastert's legacy was removed last week. Kendall County Board Chairman John Shaw had the county's facilities management department take down a plaque with Hastert's visage on it from the Historic Kendall County Courthouse in downtown Yorkville.
The plaque was installed in the first floor hallway of the courthouse in 2012 and included a list of Hastert's accomplishments. Hastert helped secure federal funding to preserve and refurbish the courthouse, which has stood since 1864 and was rebuilt within the same walls after a fire in 1887. Until Hastert secured federal funds to help restore the courthouse in the 1990s, county board members were actively considering selling the building.
Shaw, who was close to Hastert, said he didn't want to attract any more attention with the Hastert plaque.
“I knew there was going to be someone who was going to come up and make a big demonstration about it and demand that we take it down and pass a resolution,” Shaw said.
“I took it down a week ago,” Shaw said. “It's in safe keeping. There have been some people on my own board that have asked about it quite some time ago.”
The plaque, paid for with private donations, hung in the doorway to a meeting room on the first floor of the courthouse, next to a similar plaque honoring former Kendall County Republican Party Chairman and longtime State’s Attorney Dallas Ingemunson, a Hastert mentor.
The bronze plaque features a bust of Hastert with his name under it and an inscription that reads, “Longest serving Republican Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.” The plaque also contains a list of his public service accomplishments, including the years he coached and taught at Yorkville High School from 1965 to 1981 as well as his time in the state legislature during the 1980s. It also notes his time in Congress from 1986 to 2007 and his tenure as speaker from 1998 to 2007.
Shaw said he took the plaque down shortly after hearing that current U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan had Hastert's picture removed from the Hall of Speakers at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. D.C.
“Why add to Yorkville's embarrassment? It's a black eye on the county. This is a crushing blow and everywhere I go – when I go down to Grundy County, Kane County, Cook County – it's the first … thing they want to know about,” Shaw said. “It's like finding out that your grandmother has been stealing money … and it's actually worse than that.”
Park sign removed this week
In the village of Oswego, a sign with Hastert’s name that stood in front of the Oswego Village Police Department was removed quietly last week.
“It was my decision, since he [pleaded] guilty, we just felt that we didn't want to draw a lot of attention to it or pomp and circumstance, but we did take it down,” Village President Gail Johnson said.
The sign that read “J. Dennis Hastert Park” was put up in 1986 when the land along Route 34 was given to the Oswegoland Park District. The sign remained even after the village constructed a police station on the site in 1991.
“I didn't know Denny Hastert and I never met him in person,” Johnson said, adding, "I do believe when we are elected officials that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Johnson said that she had gotten a few phone calls from community members and she called the village administrator and told her to take it down.
“He has probably gotten the ire of enough people, and we just tried not to add to that,” she said.
Johnson added that it is hard to know anyone in the public eye.
“We have a false sense of a relationship,” she said. “And with that there is also a family that is devastated. The truth is that in the end you are only accountable to yourself. It's disappointing whenever an elected official or somebody in a leadership position falls from grace.”
Johnson said that the sign has come down but she is not sure where it will end up. She added that the village may ask the Little White School Museum if they want it.
“The man brought a lot of money to Kendall County and a lot to Oswego,” Johnson said. “I hate when the good has to be undone by the bad.”
OHS plaque remains
Elsewhere in Oswego, one reminder of Hastert's past still remains. School District 308 officials have still yet to decide on the future of a plaque that adorns the entranceway of Oswego High School, said Brian Graves, director of communications for the school district.
In 2011, Hastert was honored with the plaque at the high school he graduated from in 1960 as one of the first inductees into the district's Alumni Hall of Fame.
Graves said the school board would have to make the decision to remove the sign and whether to leave Hastert in the hall of fame.