In the heyday of undercover reporting in Chicago, Bill Recktenwald was a master of disguise.

For a probe of election fraud in the late 1960s, he went undercover as an indigent drifter. Registering multiple times to vote, he signed with names such as James Joyce, Jay Gatsby and Henry David Thoreau. He worked incognito as a prison guard and as a private ambulance worker.

In perhaps the most flamboyant investigation in Chicago journalism history, Recktenwald posed as a bartender in a watering hole — the Mirage Tavern. It was purchased by the Chicago Sun-Times, working in partnership with Recktenwald’s employer (and now mine), the Better Government Association. Their 25-part series in 1978 exposed pervasive bribery and led to changes to state inspection codes.

Unassuming but groundbreaking. Hiding in plain sight, but with the power to change government. That was Bill Recktenwald.

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David Greising

David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative...