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Chicago Mayor Daley Feels The Heat, On Corruption

August 14, 2005

Chicago's political corruption has reached a new peak - or would that be nadir? - under current Democratic mayor Richard M. Daley.

The famous line in Chicago politics, carved in stone during the reign of his father, the famous Mayor Richard J. Daley, was always, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."

Tony Soprano would unnerstan'.

Connections, clout are all. Growing up in Chicago, and working for a good government group investigating municipal corruption, then as as a student intern GOTV organizer for an independent 48th Ward (Edgewater) aldermanic candidate who defeated a Chicago Democratic Machine opponent, and later as a community organizer, policy researcher and media relations specialist on airport issues in nearby suburbs and Chicago, I've had more than a small taste of the Chicago Democratic power imperative.

That helped lay the groundwork for my shift in political sensibilities, although certainly global politics figured in, as well.

Now, Chicago, under Daley I's son since 1989, seems more hopelessly corrupt than ever - as the last week's, month's and half-year's news stories illustrate. The ceaseless black arts of politics were one reason I was happy to leave Chicago for Seattle in 1994, but it just keeps getting worse.

True, under Daley II the city has developed a more progressive veneer. Lots of flowers, bike and walking paths, attention to troubled public schools, and so forth. But, old habits die hard. Daley II is teetering, as corruption scandals mount.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

A once mundane, now quickly growing, investigation into Chicago City Hall hiring and contracting practices has become a relentless drumbeat of indictments, convictions, and front-page headlines that threatens to topple one of America's most monarchical mayors. It's not that Chicagoans are at all surprised about the idea that patronage, money, and political connections influenced who got jobs. No, what's new this time around, they say, is that people are going to jail for it.

...Even amid Chicago's storied reputation for corruption, this has been an unusually significant and far-reaching investigation involving 30 indictments and 23 convictions. Those charged have included a top official at the mayor's office of intergovernmental affairs and the former deputy water commissioner, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes, shaking down companies for political contributions, and rigging hiring. With a number of cooperating witnesses, including the water czar, the investigation is far from over.

What's remarkable is that for the first time, Mayor Richard M. Daley seems politically vulnerable. His approval ratings are the lowest since he was elected in 1989. Beneath the apparent cynicism over corruption, many Chicagoans seem genuinely to care about the finding and don't accept his repeated statements that he has nothing to do with hiring. One Republican official even offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who could provide information leading to Mr. Daley's conviction. The next election is two years away, but the notion of a legitimate challenger and potential Daley defeat - once a laughable premise - is now an open discussion.

"It is a serious problem, and it's sort of at a tipping point," says Dick Simpson, a former city alderman and political science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Even the ultra-liberal pro-U.S. Democratic Party British paper The Guardian weighs in with this: "Pressure Grows On Chicago's Teflon Mayor:"

Aaron Wortman aced his interview for the post of truck driver with Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation. There was only one problem: he was serving with the United States Army in Iraq when the interview was supposed to have taken place. Another candidate also performed well in an interview for the post of equipment dispatcher in the city. Once again there was a snag. On the day of the interview he was dead.

A judicial inquiry into the hiring practices of Chicago city council has unearthed several examples of fictitious interviews leading to dubious appointments made solely on the basis of political patronage. The scandal, which suggests corruption in city hall, has gradually inched its way towards the door of the Democrat mayor, Richard Daley. Already 30 people have been charged in the investigation and 22 have pleaded guilty and are cooperating. The outcome threatens to bury Mr Daley's 16-year reign over America's third largest city in a pit of ignominy and remove his once unshakeable grip on local power.

The sooner the better. The stench is reaching even to Seattle.

TO COMMENT: The regular comment feature is not in operation now. However, you can e-mail me your comments on this post, at the address under "Contact," above. I'll add them, here.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at August 14, 2005 09:57 PM

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