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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

It’s Time to Revisit the Issue of Taxpayer-Financed Bodyguards

In the aftermath of Maggie Daley’s death on Thanksgiving night, the citizens of Chicago have shown just how much they valued and loved her. No doubt about that, but now is the time for Mayor Emanuel to revisit the dicey issue of taxpayer-funded bodyguards for political figures.

Maggie Daley, Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke
 

In the aftermath of Maggie Daley’s death on Thanksgiving night, the citizens of Chicago have shown just how much they valued and loved her. No doubt about that—I mourned the city’s former first lady, too. But as I read the news stories and watched the memorial service, the thought popped into my head that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in addition to considering building a permanent memorial to Maggie, will also have to revisit the dicey issue of the former mayor’s security detail.

Last September, as Mrs. Daley’s health was declining, Emanuel told reporters that the Daleys would keep the three policemen—on an “on-call basis” only—who protected and chauffeured them; down from the five that Emanuel assigned them on Rich Daley’s leaving office. The new mayor explained that it was the least the city (i.e. taxpayers) could do, adding that two were devoted to driving the late first lady to her many doctors’ appointments, treatments, and hospital stays. “I made that decision. While we’re a city of big shoulders, we’re also a city of big hearts.” He also noted that Mrs. Daley “has done countless thousands of hours on behalf of the city as a first lady.” The Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported him saying, “The former first lady has served this city without any compensation at all for years. It’s the decent thing to do.” 

Those were nice sentiments, but the new mayor was being generous and compassionate with the public’s purse and its policemen. Since the start of this bodyguard flap, the extended Daley family should have stepped up to hire a driver for Maggie. The closeness of the brothers—who have made plenty of money in law, banking, insurance, much of it remarkably enhanced by their paternal and fraternal mayoral ties—could easily have covered the cost. The Sun-Times’ Chris Fusco, Carol Marin, and Don Moseley reported a month ago that the security detail for the Daleys since Rich left office had cost taxpayers more than $184,000.

Which brings me to Alderman Ed Burke. The Sun-Times reporters—and remember, this is more than a month ago—gave the cost for his security as $119,000 since May 16, when Emanuel was sworn in. Yes, Rahm reduced it from four active policemen to two retired ones. And, yes, Burke is chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, but unless there’s something wildly unsavory that Burke knows and the public doesn’t, it mystifies me why taxpayers should supply Burke with security detail. (Is it possible that Rahm just loves the guy? At a breakfast fundraiser at Misericordia Thursday, Emanuel hailed Burke as the reason the city’s financial crisis seems more under control than the state’s:  “…they don’t have a great finance chairman like I have.”)

Just think about it: Burke has had taxpayer-financed bodyguards since 1983 and the administration of Mayor Harold Washington, when the alderman’s role in the Council Wars generated threats. If Burke thinks he still needs a driver and a bodyguard, he should hire them and pay them.

Last September, the Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper, after describing Maggie Daley as “one of the most beloved, admired and respected citizens this city has ever known,” dared to question Rahm’s rationale for her drivers. Roeper asked, “How many cops and firefighters, how many hardworking Chicago citizens, also have a spouse or a child or a parent who is battling a deadly illness and requires fast and comfortable trips to the hospital?”

Yes, Maggie Daley did a splendid job championing the arts and education, and tens of thousands loved her and now her memory, but the public should not have paid for a former first lady’s drivers—especially when her family could afford them. And now, it’s time for the mayor of this cash-strapped city to rethink the use of taxpayers’ money to pay for security for the former mayor and the current alderman.

 

Photography: (Daley and Burke) Chicago Tribune; (Emanuel) Esther Kang

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