Former lawmaker recalls Hastert as 'Mr. Clean'
Just before former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's scheduled arraignment, many who know him are still surprised the man who built his career on honesty is facing criminal charges.
Former state Rep. Doris Karpiel, a longtime suburban Republican, sat near Hastert in the Illinois House in the early 1980s along with former state Rep. Tom Ewing, who also went on to serve in Congress. She says there were never any signs suggesting Hastert, of Plano, participated in any misconduct.
"There was never even a breath of any kind of scandal about Denny," she said.
"We used to go out for dinner often, and we had a good time," Karpiel said. "They loved picking on me and that sort of progressed to them playing tricks on me."
Karpiel later became a state senator and lobbied then-congressmen Hastert and Ewing on funding for public television.
The letter Karpiel wrote the two congressmen, she says, asked them to "leave Big Bird alone."
In Hastert's autobiography "Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics," he recalls his and Ewing's response to Karpiel.
"Ewing and I knew Dick Miller, a lobbyist for the telephone company in Springfield," Hastert wrote. "So we called him and asked, 'Can you find someone who can rent you a Big Bird suit?'"
And Miller was able to answer their call.
"I was sitting in committee, and soon Big Bird walked in with a sign saying 'thank you for saving my job,'" Karpiel said. "Denny and Tom had put that together."
Hastert is accused of lying to the FBI about payments to conceal wrongdoing from decades ago. The Associated Press said federal sources described the wrongdoing as sexual contact with someone when Hastert taught at Yorkville High School 1965-81. Hastert has not commented publicly on the indictment or the allegations.
Karpiel recalls Hastert as a "very serious legislator and very knowledgeable about the budget."
"That's what makes this whole thing going on so ironic," Karpiel said. "If Denny was anything, he was Mr. Clean."
• Daily Herald staff writer Erin Hegarty contributed to this story.