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Monday, May 22, 2006

Chicago and its corrupt leanings

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The sideshow put on by the Chicago aldermen during the City Hall corruption trial is almost as entertaining as the main attraction.

Who but a bunch of Chicago aldermen would throw dirt on the idea of prosecuting people accused of fraudulently ripping off taxpayers by denying them the right to have their money spent on qualified city workers? Yet, here they come whining about how U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald supposedly is stepping over some imaginary line by prosecuting city administrators who participated in an alleged scheme to ladle out jobs and promotions to political toilers for City Hall and other Democratic organization candidates.

People are afraid to talk to them, the aldermen complained to Tribune reporters last week. What the defendants are accused of doing is just politics, not really a crime, some suggest. It's merely a violation of a civil agreement sanctioned by a federal court to limit patronage hiring. No one should have to go to jail for that! The agreement and the prosecution amount to federal micromanaging of city affairs, they say, as if left to their own devices the aldermen wouldn't sell every job in sight.

"You guys decide: Is it a crime or is it politics?" U.S. prosecutor Patrick Collins asked the jury in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

The jurors decided it was a crime. And the fraud charges faced by Robert Sorich and three "co-schemers," as the indictment called them, in the current corruption trial? As the indictment explains: "the defendants were full-time salaried employees at the city. Each ... had a role in administering the hiring and promotion process at the city, and each owed a duty of honest services to the city and the people of the city in performing that duty, as well as various duties under state law."

Only aldermen would have to be reminded of such basics. To illustrate: Incredibly, they have exempted themselves from investigations by the city inspector general, David Hoffman. He said he knows of no other "major" city that provides such an exemption for its city council. No fooling.

The aldermen's reasons for this self-granted exemption are good for a laugh: They said they would be harassed by opponents who file anonymous and false charges. And this: Allowing the inspector general--a part of the executive branch of government--to investigate the august council would intrude on legislative powers. As if they've been studying political philosopher Montesquieu's theory on the separation of powers.

It's beyond me how the aldercreatures can keep a straight face about the need to fight off "intrusions by the executive branch" when the genuflecting council allows the city's chief executive--Richard M. Daley--to tell them when to breathe.

Inevitably, some will say that because I live in the suburbs, I should just shut up (even though my Chicago roots go deeper than most such critics).

- First, it is my business, because some of my taxes go to Chicago.

- Second, Chicago is a legal creation of the State of Illinois, my state.

- Third, we all should uphold the rule of law.

- Fourth, if Daley and his minions would leave the suburbs alone, maybe we would be glad to leave Chicago alone.

Chicago's patronage system provides an army of political workers that Daley and his machine sent into Will County and other suburbs to do his bidding. This army of stooges helped elect Rahm Emanuel to Congress representing Chicago's North Side, and now is invading the west suburban 6th Congressional District, to foist Emanuel's handpicked, carpetbagging candidate, Tammy Duckworth, onto voters.

The aldermen apparently think that Chicago works better when served by the kind of incompetents and sloths that sprout from the patronage compost pile. Or when unqualified safety inspectors are sent into the field. Or when the system shafts qualified applicants who play by the rules.

To some, this is what Chicago is; it's what gives the toddlin' town character, and it makes for lots of fun copy. They tell us that patronage is why Chicago is "The City That Works" because the politically beholden, unlike entrenched civil servants, can be fired if they don't do a good job.

Maybe someone can tell me the last time that happened.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


JPZingher said...

The same criticism is just as true of the members of the Fourth Estate who have ignored the blatant corruption themselves. I've had the bitter experience of trying to blow the whistle to the Chicago Tribune and the Sun Times about corruption at the Office of Banks and Real Estate. Even though there's a paper trail, they pay no attention because an important advertiser's interest is at stake. If it didn't involve people being murdered, it wouldn't mean that much. The day will never come when a newspaper can be held to account for such "malpractice" but if they could be, they'd simply defend themselves as Erskine Bowles defended Clinton White House during the "Filegate Hearings" I quote, "We'd rather have you think we're incompetent than corrupt."

JPZingher said...

Dennis, perhaps the reason that the aldermen are so sure that they’re not doing anything wrong is that the media doesn’t tell them they are. Between the Army, college and law school, I’ve lived in 5 different states and four cities in Germany. I can tell you that the things that the media here ignores are never ignored elsewhere. A couple tickets to a local sports team gets you booted out of office in El Paso or Denver, but here, it seems like the Fourth Estate has lost its gag reflex. IF I personally hadn’t tried bringing the attention of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times to the corruption at the Illinois Office of Banks and Real Estate, I wouldn’t have believed that they were as bad as they are. I found myself remembering the Erskine Bowles defense when Congress looked into Filegate. “We’d rather have you think we’re incompetent than corrupt.” The biggest lie is “Chicago, the city that works.” It doesn’t. And anyone who has seen the world knows that. As to my own agenda, to bring attention to a problem, I have to take it outside the state because the story offends the advertisers.

JPZingher said...

Whoops. I didn't mean to make two posts. I thought my first one had been lost in the ether.

Anonymous said...

Dennis - Since you feel so good about offending people, I will make your day by saying I was deeply offended by your references to Rahm Emanuel and Tammy Duckworth.

Regarding Duckworth - I believe the law allows a newly-elected representative 2 years to move into the district. Many of your favorite right-wing loonies have taken advantage of this after decennial redistricting. I am sure if Duckworth was a conservative Republican, you would be lauding her patriotism and courage.

Regarding Emanuel - Your conservative Republicans have patronage armies also, and are masters at dirty tricks - think Tom DeLay and Karl Rove - and I have never seen you write anything bad about them, or any other conservative Republican for that matter. I need say no more. Your reference to him spewing from a compost pile borders on anti-semetic.

You have sunk to a new low here. I am surprised, because you were so low to begin with, there was so little room to sink further.