Cicero, a working-class Chicago suburb of narrow streets and small brick bungalows, has the feel of a town stuck in the 1950s, which is not entirely unintentional. Indeed, Betty Loren-Maltese, the town's president since 1993, said recently, "I want things how they used to be." Cicero, which was until this past decade an enclave for Lithuanians, Italians, and Czechs, has for a long time lived in a kind of bubble, wary of outsiders, protective of what it has—or, more precisely, what it had.
Most associate the town with Al Capone, who ran his operations from here and who in 1924 commandeered the local election with a brutal show of force. It's an association that irritates townspeople, especially because it's always the first thing the media have to say about the place (this dispatch further proving that dictum). In 1952 Cicero considered changing its name, because, according to the town's lawyer, "People everywhere think we're just a bunch of hoods. A kid from Cicero can't get into a college fraternity." As recently as 1993 the town, still hoping to divert reporters from the Capone link, raised banners calling itself the "Original birthplace of Ernest Hemingway." (Hemingway actually hailed from nearby Oak Park—which in 1899 was technically a part of Cicero.) Defensiveness about Capone is understandable, and yet over the years town leaders have retained connections to the mob—or at least to what's left of it. Betty Loren-Maltese was married to a bookmaker for the syndicate. Her husband, Frank Maltese, who was also the town assessor, died before he could be sent to prison. So the anti-Capone sentiment seems misplaced, not least because the other reason for Cicero's notoriety is, by most measures, even more embarrassing.