Thursday, October 06, 2005

 

Clout & Corruption in Chicago

Mayor Daley admits the obvious

Chicago Planning and Development Commissioner Denise Casalino resigned on Tuesday. She is the 14th top mayoral aid to resign in recent months. The circumstances surrounding her departure (sadly) aren't really remarkable:
Citing a possible zoning violation, the city recently ordered a halt to construction of a West Side home on a lot jointly owned by the Casalinos, property the commissioner hadn't reported on her annual economic disclosure statement.

Her resignation Tuesday followed new inquiries from the Tribune's Gary Washburn about a condominium she owns with her husband at a Near North Side complex he helped to develop. It was built in apparent violation of zoning limits for the site. Casalino has acknowledged errors in judgment, including calling city departments to inquire about the slow pace of obtaining permits for some of her husband's projects.
It's her explanation and Mayor Daley's reaction which are remarkable. First, her explanation:
"I get very frustrated when there is a bureaucratic process that takes too long and when my husband applied ... if they were taking exceptionally long, I made the mistake of calling people to say, `Why is this taking so long?'" Casalino said.

In the end, "It is always going to look like I possibly could be doing something to help him along in his projects as a builder, and we both need to have our careers," she said. "The bottom line is that I don't want this to reflect bad on the mayor."
It seems she is bemoaning that the perception of her actions are accurate. She doesn't acknowledge that it was a mistake to use her clout to help her husband. Her mistake was getting caught and embarrassing the Mayor.

It's Mayor Daley's reaction which is quite surprising:
Mistakes made by Planning and Development Commissioner Denise Casalino were no big deal and nothing that should have forced her resignation, Mayor Daley said Wednesday, bemoaning the "great loss" of a "great, great public servant."

"She did nothing major. Nothing at all. This is all minor stuff. . . . It was nothing overstepping that line that brings [it] to [the point where] she had to resign. . . . But she felt she wanted to do this," Daley said of the resignation, triggered by conflicts with Casalino's developer husband.

"It just got to a point that, she felt, for her family's sake, [it was best to resign]. She said, 'I've got a life, too. I've got a family. I have a career.' And she walked right out and tripled her salary . . . Don't worry. She picked up just like that."

Daley even went so far as to defend what some would call an "ethical lapse": Casalino's decision to call the Department of Construction and Permits and ask why the department where she once served as first deputy was taking so long to issue a permit for one of her husband's projects.

"Ask these developers. Permits can linger there for the next 12 years, and they can't do any work here," he said. "I mean -- the bureaucracy in there is really lingering. That affects them. They've got workers. . . . They can't get the permit. They can't do the work. So I'm sorry. It's minor. It's not a major thing."
Left unanswered by the Mayor is why Percy Casalino deserved special treatment. Because he didn't need to pay off any of the fixers who make their living using their connections navigating city bureaucracy. If Daley knows the bureaucracy is such a problem, why hasn't he done anything about it? Or does he like it when city bureaucracies create situations where the powerful must use clout to accomplish anything and individual citizens become easy prey for hustlers and shake down artists? Does he even care about this? After all, if he thinks a member of his administration using clout to circumvent the bureaucracy on behalf of her husband is 'minor stuff,' what's the big deal about obstinate bureaucrats with their hands out?

What Mayor Daley acknowledged by his reaction is that he knows city bureaucracy is a problem which fosters what the US Attorney has called the city's 'culture of corruption.' And that he not just tolerates, but practically endorses, the use of clout by members of his administration. Not that we didn't know this already, but it is shocking to hear the Mayor openly admit it.

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