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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Have voters had enough to push reform?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now if voters would only stay angry. They were cross enough last week to select a reformer, Mike Quigley, as the Democratic candidate to run for Rahm Emanuel's open seat in the 5th Congressional District. Quigley's victory in the Democratic primary in a field of 12 candidates came as something of a surprise. Chicago voters have a well-honed tradition of sheepish acceptance of whatever bozo is offered up to them for their rubber-stamping.

Quigley's reform credentials were soundly established as a Cook County Board commissioner in his sometimes quixotic but always energetic campaign against the odious practices of Board President Todd Stroger and his cronies. It's possible that the party's dark forces divided and weakened themselves by fighting each other in the primary, leaving only Quigley standing, but there's also the possibility that voters in even this highly organized and heavily Democratic district had enough of the usual thieves and rascals. What's interesting is how the thieves and rascals are so arrogant that they cavalierly keep piling on reasons, at an unbelievable rate, for voters to be enraged.

The incumbent bosses have:

• Gone to extraordinary lengths to tell voters that governance is none of their business. Brazenly, the bosses have killed a special election to fill President Barack Obama's empty Senate seat, scotched voter recall of unworthy officeholders and combined with powerful interests, including Republican power brokers, to block the calling of a constitutional convention to impose reform on dug-in insiders who have too long resided safely in their taxpayer-funded sinecures.

• Worked all kinds of dodges to keep secret information that citizens have a right to possess if they are to fully participate in a democracy. Tribune reporters on Sunday documented how difficult it is for citizens to crack that wall of official and bureaucratic resistance, often to the detriment of the public good. It's such an ingrained part of the status quo that Mayor Richard Daley openly flouts his ability to withhold from public scrutiny critically important details about how he plans to spend taxpayers' stimulus funds.

• Bungled every phase of governance, as demonstrated by the horrid financial shape of Chicago and the state, conditions easily camouflaged in a flood of meaningless or dishonest rhetoric. How many times can Gov. Pat Quinn change his mind about electing Obama's replacement before he becomes as discredited as the governor who preceded him?

• Stood by quietly as members of their own party engage in gross racial politics. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), in particular, unconscionably leveled imputations of racism against those who engaged in a legitimate debate over the suitability and propriety of Roland Burris serving as Obama's replacement in the Senate.

• Engaged in an endless, costly, dishonest and sometimes deadly fight to preserve political patronage. Just two recent examples: A fed-up Julia Nowicki recently resigned as the federally appointed monitor of hiring abuses in Cook County. Details of Chicago political corruption are unfolding in the federal trial of Al Sanchez, the former Streets and Sanitation commissioner and Daley aide.

• Thrived on a system of corruption that enriches the powerful; rewards the dishonest, incompetent and lazy; stacks the deck against ordinary citizens; robs taxpayers of a fair return on their public investments; and burps out the likes of Rod Blagojevich. And so on.

But despite all these reasons for throwing the bums out and the momentary hope that Quigley's election might signal reform, the corrupt political organization that has a grip on this town will need more than that to feel threatened. They'll figure that the reliable return of apathy and self-interest as the dominant factors in state and local politics will keep everyone in line. In fact, some machine pols might even consider Quigley's victory a godsend. Traditionally, the easiest way to dispose of pesky reformers here is to send them to Washington. Which gives party bosses a chance to appoint a compliant hack to replace Quigley on the County Board.

Maybe the voters now should demand an election to replace Quigley.


Anonymous said...

Byrne: you should concentrate on what is going on in your little suburb and leave the heavy lifting in Chicago to us

Dennis Byrne... said...

Yeah, you heavy lifters have done a great job. Never mind that the stink that you've created drifts across the city limits in our direction.