Sunday, July 09, 2006

 

Corruption in Chicago

On Friday, the Sun-Times reported:
Former patronage chief Robert Sorich and Sorich's chief lieutenant, Tim McCarthy, were each convicted of two counts of mail fraud for working the scheme while at the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Their high-ranking colleagues in the city's Streets and Sanitation Department were convicted as well: Patrick Slattery of one count of mail fraud and John Sullivan of one count of lying to the FBI.

"As we listened to the testimony, as we came together as a single voice, it became evident to all of us that what we saw was wrong. There were fundamental problems in the hiring process in the city of Chicago for many, many years," said jury foreman S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Sorich didn't call a single witness in his defense.

Friday, the Sun-Times editorialized:
The jury has spoken: Four men charged with rigging the city hiring process to favor political workers are guilty of at least some of the counts against them. And while Mayor Daley's patronage system was not named as a defendant, we can now say it has been convicted of existing, something that seems obvious to any City Hall observer but runs contrary to the mayor's and his administration's repeated claims. Chances are that more charges will follow.

Prosecutors argued that the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs ran "a corrupt clout machine" that routinely handed out jobs to political workers. Perhaps the most damning evidence was a secret 60-page list of the names of more than 5,700 applicants for jobs and promotions, including their political sponsors. The evidence was backed up by the testimony of the secretary who kept the list. "It was about politics, it was about clout, it was about who you know," Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie B. Ruder said in her closing arguments.
Everyone in the city seemed to know this except the city's top lawer, who testified ignorance. The presiding judge called her testimony 'incredible.' Today's Sun-Times editorializes:
Consider the infamous list of more than 5,700 names that was also one the trial's highlights. The list, which was supposed to remain secret, was kept by the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to track job applicants and their political sponsors. It includes the names of scores of people who knew that if you wanted to get a job for a friend, relative or political supporter, you contact the IGA. The Rev. Jack Wall, pastor of Old St. Patrick's Church downtown -- Mayor Daley's church -- is on the list recommending two people. Even he knew the drill. But Georges, the city's top lawyer since 1999, who has worked at City Hall since 1997, said she didn't know. She testified that she thought the office only tracked job candidates so it could report back to interested politicians.

"With respect to the city, the Law Department especially, the corporation counsel's office especially, there seems to be -- the attitude seems to be -- put on the blinders and don't look left or right," Coar said during the discussion with lawyers, out of the jury's earshot.

With its verdict, the jury specifically rejected a defense argument that the feds unfairly tried to criminalize violations of the civil Shakman decree, which puts strict limits on political hiring. Some alderman and probably many Chicagoans also believe prosecutors went too far. But the jury didn't buy it, and they shouldn't have. This wasn't simply a matter of the city hiring people based on somebody's recommendations -- that would be a civil matter. This was secret, wholesale rigging of tests, forging hiring evaluations, conducting meaningless interviews and shredding documents. It was a massive, fraudulent, hypocritical end-run around those Shakman limits. With its verdict, the jury said politics as usual has to stop.
Yes, it did. John Kass comments:
I asked readers to come up with new state and city slogans. The winning state slogan was "Illinois: Will the Defendant Please Rise?" And the winning city sticker offered a pseudo Latin phrase, "Slippus Envelopus" a reader's homage to the great Mike Royko's "Ubi Est Mea?" or "Where's mine?"

It illustrated the way public corruption was once viewed, as a linear exercise, the furtive passing of a greasy envelope stuffed with cash to some political functionary, or judge's bagman, to determine the outcome of a case, a city zoning matter, a liquor license, you name it.

But that's the corruption of cheap and relatively powerless crooks, the low-hanging political fruit that feds were content to pick in years past. Not anymore. Federal investigators are zeroing in on others, on the puppet masters who made it all look legal.

The puppet masters put their people in place, to take care of the patronage, build the armies, smooth the political bumps. This allowed the bosses to lead their friends to the government trough much larger than some measly greasy envelope.

Now, Illinois taxpayers expect that public officials owe them honest service. Those who understand this, and serve on juries, may be the folks who finally clean up Illinois.
Mary Mitchel laments the absence of African-Americans mixed up in the scandals at City Hall:
A decade ago, the City Council was reeling from Operation Silver Shovel, a bribes-for-dumping scandal that snared several black aldermen as well as the council's resident reformer. Although the Rev. Jesse Jackson accused the U.S. attorney's office of engaging in unfair selective prosecution, the feds' net was wide enough to bring in whites, blacks and Hispanics who were taking bribes.

This time around, however, not one black political operative has been mentioned.

Obviously, I'm not advocating that black pols should be involved in illegal hiring schemes. But the absence of black names among those associated with Mayor Daley's clout machine shows blacks had little clout at City Hall when it came to jobs.
Note the contradictory nature of that last paragraph; not unusual for someone who views everything through a racial prism. I'm curious what she'll have to say once the feds get around to investigating Cook County's hiring practices, as they inevitably will.

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