I've written that coverage of the corruption in Bell, California under-emphasizes the Hispanic players—his kind of theft is routine in Mexico—but this was a surprise.
Mayor Oscar Hernandez can't read or write:
The Bell corruption verdicts expose small-minded politicians.27 March 2013
Last week’s convictions, on public-corruption charges, of five former city council members in the small Los Angeles County town of Bell suggest that mediocrity, ignorance, and incompetence are sufficient qualities for holding office in Southern California. Ex-mayor Oscar Hernandez, for instance, claimed to be too stupid to have understood the crimes that he committed. His lawyer, Stanley Friedman, argued that the former mayor, who is illiterate, could not have known that his $100,000 annual salary was larger than the $673 per month ($8,076 per year) legal maximum for the part-time position. Thus, Hernandez’s financial advisers must have misled him. “We elect people who have a good heart, someone who can listen to your problems and look you in the eye,” Friedman told jurors. “There are a lot of elected officials who may not be the most scholarly. We had a vice president of the United States who didn’t know how to spell potato.” [More]
In an earlier generation, Democratic political boss Hyman Schorenstein, an immigrant from Poland, also couldn't read and write:
When Mr. Schorenstein was Brooklyn’s commissioner of records, a political rival’s challenge to his literacy in 1933 produced this famous exchange:
“Can you read or write English?” Mr. Schorenstein was asked.
“That’s my own personal business,” he replied.
“Don’t you think a commissioner of records should be able to read and write?”
“What difference does it make?”
Years later, Milton S. Gould, a prominent lawyer who helped organize Mr. Schorenstein’s defense against his rival, acknowledged, “There was one tragic flaw in the effulgent personality of this municipal monarch: He was illiterate.”
An Old-Time Kingmaker and His Political Legacy, By Sam Roberts, NYT, August 24, 2008
Schorenstein, who was not exactly corrupt—though much of what a political boss did in the 1930s would now be illegal—managed to get a judge to state that there was no law requiring Brooklyn's Commissioner of Records to read and write.
Milton S. Gould (1909-1999) when a young lawyer defending Schorenstein had a theory that perhaps Schorenstein was literate in Polish, or Yiddish, or Hebrew, or even all three.
He called Schorenstein at his political club to ask him if this was true, and received this advice, which, according to Gould, he pronounced "Ed Weiss:"
The Witness Who Spoke With God And Other Tales From The Courthouse, 1979, pp 13-14
Oscar Hernandez, who may be an American-born representative of the Hispanic high-school dropout phenomenon, is probably not literate in Spanish, either.