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The Mystery of Mayor Daley

After 15 years in office, his popularity and his power have never been greater. Insiders say Richard M. Daley could crack down on the cronyism and ethically questionable deals that threaten to undermine his legacy. Why doesn’t he? A special report

Fresh from what should have been a relaxing vacation in Mexico in late January, America’s most powerful Democratic mayor seemed to be an emotional wreck. His voice cracked. His face was flushed. He looked miserable. “As I stand before you today, I am embarrassed, I’m angry, and I’m disappointed, because I feel I have let the people down,” said Chicago’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, during a press conference to address the growing scandal surrounding the city’s Hired Truck Program.

The members of the City Hall press corps—a hard-boiled bunch not easily moved by emotional outpourings from the mayor—were hard pressed to remember when Daley had seemed more aggrieved over allegations of corruption in his administration. Reporters on hand “thought he was on the verge of crying several times,” wrote the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown. “He seemed angrier than usual, disappointed,” recalls Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM Newsradio 780. “And you don’t often hear the mayor say he’s sorry.”

Daley had good reason to be upset. In a series of stories called “Clout on Wheels,” the Sun-Times had detailed how mayoral cronies and Mob-linked contractors, among others, were getting fat off the city’s $40-million-a-year Hired Truck Program, in many cases by getting paid to do little or no work. In the Chinese water torture of follow-up stories, many themes that have plagued Daley in scandals past seemed to converge: There were waste and inefficiency, apparent favoritism extended to clout-heavy cronies and campaign contributors, abuse of the city’s set-aside program for women and minority businesses, and even a whiff of nepotism, given that one of the mayor’s brothers, Cook County Board member John Daley, had provided insurance for some of the program’s participants.

What also became clear was that the Hired Truck mess had been allowed to fester long after warning bells sounded. When problems in the program first surfaced, in 1997, the city had hired a consultant to conduct an audit and recommend improvements. Yet six years later, the program appeared more corrupt than ever. For Daley, who has gotten so much mileage out of being portrayed as a hands-on manager immersed in the nitty-gritty of the job—if he notices a pothole, he mobilizes Streets and San—there was no way to plead ignorance and shrug the whole thing away, as he had done with so many previous scandals. At best, Daley had taken his eye off the ball. At worst, he had tolerated a corrupt program that wasted perhaps tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. Either way, he looked bad.

 

Stumbles such as the Hired Truck scandal certainly are not what made Daley, by any measure, an extraordinarily successful big-city mayor. He has held office on the fifth floor at City Hall for 15 years, longer than any other Chicago mayor except his father. And his popularity among voters has only increased over that time. Last year’s “race” for mayor looked more like a battle between Seabiscuit and Mister Ed—Daley won it going away, with 79 percent of the vote.

A quick glance around town reveals plenty of reasons for Daley’s electoral dominance. The streets are cleaned. The garbage is hauled. The snow gets plowed. The street lights work. The trains run on time. Crime is down. In other words, The City That Works works pretty well.

Beyond delivering the basics, Daley can boast a litany of other successes that would do any mayor proud. He has forced improvement on a public school system once disparaged as the worst in the nation. He has torn down public-housing high-rises that were among his father’s most ignoble legacies. He has made sure basic city services were more evenly distributed to minority neighborhoods, and employment in city government was more inclusive to minorities. And he has seen to it that the city looks great, thanks in no small part to those ornamental wrought-iron fences that the mayor  adores, and to those picturesque flower beds gussying up the city’s boulevards.

But as sure as the tulips bloom on Michigan Avenue each spring, new scandals seem to sprout like crabgrass on Daley’s watch. Often these scandals involve people with close connections to the mayor receiving juicy no-bid contracts or getting cut in on plump deals as lobbyists or consultants, creating the appearance that clout and favoritism remain the guiding forces in determining who does business with City Hall.

Not all of the scandals are created equal, of course. They have ranged from the merely venal to the possibly criminal. And over the years Daley has insisted—sometimes indignantly, often implausibly—that clout plays no role in his administration; that he would never compromise the best interests of the taxpaying citizens of Chicago or jeopardize his reputation for the sake of enriching a friend or relative or generous campaign contributor.

Still, the sheer volume of apparent conflicts of interest and ethical lapses that have clouded Daley’s tenure should trouble anyone who cares about the city. Beyond that they raise a puzzling question: Why does Daley allow them to happen? With all his power and influence, why does he risk his legacy as a great mayor by not cracking down on clout and cronyism in his administration? “That’s the $64,000 question,” says one legislator who has observed the workings of the Daley administration.

It’s a question as much about Chicago as about its leader. After all, the city has a history of tolerating—sometimes celebrating—a certain level of boodling. One school of thought even presumes that corruption is the grease that makes Chicago work. Yet, in the past decade or so, other big cities have revived and thrived under dynamic mayors without being plagued by the clout-related scandals that regularly erupt here. After a while, it’s hard not to conclude that the solid, taxpaying citizens of Chicago are being duped. Wouldn’t Daley like to cement his reputation by campaigning to clean things up?

To find answers, I set off on a quest of inquiry and discovery. City Hall rebuffed my efforts to speak directly with the mayor on the subject (he did provide written answers to a few general questions; see “Mayor Daley Responds,” page 63). But I did talk to more than two dozen other people, from current and former public servants to consultants, academics, journalists, wonks, watchdogs, and others who get paid to think about the workings of Chicago politics and government. Some of my sources have worked for Daley in the past, and some work with him today. Many acknowledge that Daley could curtail the clout and the cronyism and the ethically tortured dealings tomorrow if he chose to. Their explanations for why he doesn’t range from the self-evident—voters have not punished Daley at the ballot box—to the biological—the existing system of political rewards and favors is so deeply encoded in Daley’s DNA that he literally sees nothing wrong with it.

“This mayor is very similar to his father—personally honest, not taking any money himself,” says the legislator quoted above (to maintain working relations with the mayor, several people quoted in this article insisted on remaining anonymous). “But all the Bridgeport childhood pals and political cronies and siblings and big campaign contributors—they’re all feeding at the trough and getting inside deals and making him look bad. And it goes on and on and on. At some point you’ve got to say, ‘This is what he believes in. It’s part of his philosophy of government. He wants it this way.’”

 

Slick dealing has always run in Chicago’s blood. The city, after all, began its life as a real estate boom in a swamp.

“Buying and selling land, cutting sharp deals, was the first thing Chicagoans did,” says James Merriner, a former political editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of the new Grafters and Goo Goos, a history of corruption and reform in Chicago. In the course of writing the book, what “shocked” Merriner, he says, was “how pervasive corruption always was, throughout the city’s history.”

“This was a city of speculators and sharpies—that’s part of its mystique,” explains Paul Green, a political science professor at Roosevelt University. By not getting bogged down in fussbudget rules of “process and procedure,” Green argues, the city has reaped tremendous benefits: “There’s a notion that goes back a long time, that a successful city needs a tolerable level of corruption—that in order to cook you need a little grease. Chicago was not ordained to become the strongest city in the Midwest. It got there by scratching and clawing and not always playing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules.”

After Richard J. Daley, the current mayor’s father, took office in 1955, no one ever seriously argued that he benefited financially from the corruption that was rife in city government—he relished power, not money. But Daley père never felt compelled to end it. Leon Despres, the former Hyde Park reform alderman, recalls a time when the elder Daley was asked about the rampant corruption in the City Council. “I let them take so much, but no more,” the mayor replied, according to Despres.

The world has changed since then. For one thing, the 1979 Shakman decree, which set strict limits on government hiring and firing for political reasons, dealt a heavy blow to the kind of patronage-fueled political machine that Richard J. Daley had commanded. But it did not necessarily end the machine-style practice of “pay to play"—of trading economic favors for political support. “The assumption is that if you give political support, you ought to receive rewards,” says Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who served two terms as alderman under Daley I. Today, though, the goodies most often come in the form of lucrative government contracts rather than patronage jobs. “Businessmen who give contributions to the mayor expect to . . . deliver goods and services to City Hall at inflated prices,” Simpson says.

The result is a form of “legalized bribery,” as Crain’s Chicago Business put it in a recent editorial—a system in which juicy deals are steered to insiders who have made political contributions. To be sure, pinstripe patronage is not limited to Chicago. And Daley’s supporters point out that many contributors to the mayor have not received favors from the city. But the pay-to-play ethos flourishes here in part because Illinois, despite some tightening of campaign finance and ethics laws in recent years, places so few restrictions on how political donations can be collected and used. Unlike most other states, there are no limits on how much a contributor can give. (Chicago actually does place some restrictions on registered lobbyists and companies doing or seeking city business, though employees and officers of those companies are free to make unlimited personal contributions; insiders say these limits have done little to curb Chicago’s pay-to-play ways.) Combine that easy money with the easy virtue of Chicago’s political culture, and merit seems to take a back seat to influence. Between 1996 and this year, for example, Mayor Daley received at least $108,575 from companies in the Hired Truck Program, the Sun-Times reported.

“Scandals in public life are almost always the result of the intersection of power and money,” says Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that works on campaign finance, ethics, and government accountability issues. “When you don’t have contribution limits, it’s like you don’t have a red light at that intersection. It makes it a lot easier for things to come together that people may say are wrong, but that are not necessarily illegal.” The resulting level of corruption may be “tolerable” to some, but a lot of people—and not just good-government types—say the price is too high.

 

The most obvious peril in a system tilted by clout is that it distorts the efficiencies of a free market and dents taxpayers’ pocketbooks. An example: In 1993, a Skokie company called Bella Bagno was quietly awarded a no-bid contract to provide the disposable plastic sheathing that keeps the toilet seats sanitary at O’Hare International Airport, which is run by Daley’s Department of Aviation. The deal provoked allegations of insider dealing when it was revealed that Bella Bagno had hired a consulting firm owned in part by a close friend of Mayor Daley’s; Bella Bagno’s owners also were generous contributors to Daley’s campaign fund. Over the course of five years, the city paid Bella Bagno about $15 million—as much as seven cents a flush for the toilet seat material. When the contract was finally put out for competitive bid, in 1998, another company wound up providing the plastic for less than half that price.

Such waste alone would be awful enough. But there are other costs. Last year a company owned by the clout-heavy contractor Richard Crandall, who has made millions of dollars from City Hall installing ornamental fencing in Chicago, received a $10.9-million contract to repair and replace doors at O’Hare and Midway airports. But he won the contract by default after the other three bidders looked at the specifications and dropped out. One contractor told the Sun-Times it would have been “impossible” for anyone other than Crandall to prevail. “Seeking public contracts at City Hall is so onerous for small business people that some don’t even bother,” says Merriner. “They feel they won’t get a fair shot at bidding because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the contracts are greased.”

Terry Brunner, head of the Aviation Integrity Project, a group funded by suburbs opposing expansion at O’Hare, argues in a draft of a report on corruption at the airport that “the most damaging and long-lasting” effect of Chicago’s clout-based system “is the corruption of the public policy process.” From the much-maligned renovation of Soldier Field to the grossly overbudget Millennium Park to the estimated $15-billion expansion of O’Hare, citizens are deprived of input or debate over the best allocation of their tax dollars, he contends.

The psychology that such a system breeds is yet another cost. “The public has a right to expect honesty and integrity and faithful service at all levels of government,” says Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, a watchdog group (and Brunner’s former base). “When that bond is broken, it damages civic life, because it erodes public trust in government.” Says Rogers Park alderman Joe Moore, one of the few members of the City Council who have been willing to speak out: “When you see people close to the mayor leaving government and making megabucks, it contributes to the already large amount of public cynicism that exists.”

 

Richard M. Daley rode into office vowing to end business as usual in city government. In his 1989 campaign for mayor, he was highly critical of a deal giving a politically connected woman named Barbara Jones Green the popcorn concession at Midway Airport. The head of a minority-certified company, Green had been a major fundraiser for the late Mayor Harold Washington and was supporting acting mayor Eugene Sawyer. Daley suggested the deal hinged on “political cronyism” and “fundraising ability.” In a Daley administration, he vowed, such contracts would go to “the most qualified person, period.”

Daley won that election. And within a few years, another airport concession was at the center of controversy—only now it was Daley fending off the charges of clout and cronyism. In this case, W. H. Smith had snagged a ten-year extension on its newsstand license at O’Hare after cutting in two women who were friends of Maggie Daley, the mayor’s wife, as 30-percent minority partners. When asked whether clout had wired that deal for Grace Barry and Barbara Burrell, who possessed little retail experience, Daley insisted that W. H. Smith could “hire or fire anyone they want. . . . That’s their responsibility. I don’t ask them to hire or fire anyone. I’ve never done that.”

By the time Daley offered that less-than-satisfying denial, in 2000, he had long since mastered the art of evading questions about clout-heavy firms doing business with City Hall. Many of these deals have involved multimillion-dollar contracts for old chums and generous campaign contributors, often people with roots in the Daley ancestral neighborhood of Bridgeport. There are the fencing and airport door contracts that have gone to Crandall, whose family ties to the Daley clan go back decades. There is trucking boss Michael Tadin, a longtime Daley friend and big campaign contributor whose Marina Cartage took in more money than any other company in the Hired Truck Program. The Mob-connected Duff family, another clan with longtime ties to the Daleys, had received more than $100 million in city contracts before two Duffs were indicted late last year on federal fraud charges. Hundreds of millions of dollars in exclusive O’Hare building contracts have gone to construction czar Patrick Harbour, a longtime Daley family friend. And developer Michael Marchese, another Daley chum, bought a 17-acre parcel of West Side land from the city for a dollar and built a shopping center there.

Tracking other politically tied largess requires connecting more dots, often because it involves former Daley lieutenants acting as hired guns for companies seeking city business, especially at the supersize public trough that is O’Hare. Jeremiah Joyce, one of Daley’s most trusted political advisers, has reaped millions of dollars brokering and investing in concession contracts at O’Hare. Veteran power broker Oscar D’Angelo received at least $480,000—and possibly much more—for helping arrange the W. H. Smith lease that enriched Maggie Daley’s friends. Victor Reyes, Daley’s former political enforcer, has represented companies that have won contracts for major construction projects at O’Hare and for the city’s bus shelter program.

Then there are two of the mayor’s brothers. Michael Daley, a partner with the Loop law firm Daley and George, has been paid $180,000 a year since the mid-1990s by Citigroup (and Salomon Smith Barney, which merged with Citigroup) to serve as a “consultant” on its bond business. Although Citigroup says in its disclosures that Daley’s law firm does no business related to the city of Chicago, Citigroup has landed nearly $4 billion in bond deals at O’Hare since hiring him, according to the Aviation Integrity Project (AIP) report. (Michael Daley did not return a call seeking comment for this article.)

Meanwhile, John Daley, the Cook County Board finance committee chairman and 11th Ward committeeman, has built a lucrative insurance business serving many clients who do business with the city. He has acknowledged earning as much as $400,000 a year in commissions—much of it from companies doing business at O’Hare—on insurance he sold through Near North Insurance Brokerage, whose owner, Michael Segal, was still being tried in late May on criminal fraud charges. The mayor has insisted that everything is on the square in these arrangements because John is not doing business directly with the city. (Through a spokesman, John Daley declined to be interviewed.) While that is technically true, it’s a “silly defense,” argues Bryan Doyle, project manager of AIP, because it suggests that as long as John deals with private companies feeding on city contracts, there is no influence involved. At best, says Doyle, such arrangements constitute a conflict of interest. At worst, he says, they suggest companies “have to get insurance from John Daley in order to bid on contracts at O’Hare.”

 

In all fairness, people who have close ties to Mayor Daley are not necessarily unqualified to do good work. When clout-heavy companies have wound up in contracting scandals, the mayor has often defended them by saying what a good job they did. Indeed, surely one reason they get the work is that the administration trusts them to deliver and not embarrass the mayor with shoddy results. By nature an improver who loathes government bureaucracy, Daley is also said to relish the instant gratification of quick, tangible progress. If he passes a schoolyard that he thinks could benefit from a wrought-iron fence, he knows from experience that Crandall’s company can have a new fence in place within days.

At least one former official backs up the mayor’s claims that he has no influence in deciding who cashes in on the government spoils. “I am fascinated that the media and the public assume that every decision is made at the mayor’s discretion,” says a former top administrator who served under both Daleys. “That would be impossible. You’re talking about a bureaucracy that, like most bureaucracies, carries on its own business.”

But other insiders don’t buy that line. For one thing, the sheer volume of city contracts that have gone to clout-heavy interests “shows otherwise,” says a minority alderman. “It’s not accidental that all these people close to the mayor in one way or another have been able to enrich themselves at the public trough. This is a system in which abuse of the public trust is par for the course. Contracts are steered to friends and supporters.”

“This mayor could have stopped [the contract cronyism] long ago, after the first scandal, after the second scandal, after the third scandal, after the fourth scandal,” says the legislator. “Long before the Hired Truck scandal, he could have stopped this stuff easily and still remained powerful because he is such an adroit politician. Yet he chooses not to.”

Whenever these deals come to light—and they’re almost always unearthed by news reporters or government watchdogs rather than the mayor’s administration—Daley is put in the awkward position of denying that there is even the appearance of a conflict of interest or that political influence plays any role. “I have billions of dollars of work going out,” he declared after the Chicago Tribune broke a story on a contract scandal involving Richard Crandall, the fencing mogul. “None of it can be clouted. They cannot be clouted!”

When a scandal causes enough political fallout, Daley shifts from denial to damage control. The standard drill is to “bring in a third-party auditing firm to review everything that was done and recommend new procedures,” says a former administration veteran, who then recites the remainder of the drill: “Get rid of a few people. Mea culpa. He’s done. Move on.”

Over the years, Daley has imposed elements of reform. To promote greater “transparency,” for example, all city contracts are now posted on the city’s Web site. After the Better Government Association and the Tribune revealed that W. H. Smith had paid Daley’s pal Oscar D’Angelo to broker its license extension at O’Hare but had not listed D’Angelo as a lobbyist, Daley pushed through a tougher ethics ordinance that, among other things, would fine unregistered lobbyists working to get city business.

These remedial measures are always specifically in response to the scandal at hand—though they never seem to prevent new scandals from blooming. “When he reacts, he defines the problem in the narrowest possible way,” says the BGA’s Jay Stewart. “But he never gets at the substance of the problem.”

 

How could the mayor clean things up? The most obvious, most effective solution comes from someone who ought to know: Daley himself. In his first successful campaign for mayor, Daley demonstrated that he understood perfectly well how to put an end to the kinky dealing at City Hall. “We don’t need more studies or more investigations,” he said during a campaign speech in 1989. “We need strong leadership at the top that sets the tone for everyone else below.”

The former administration veteran concurs: “You need to have a system that says you’re not going to tolerate it, and you really have to mean it.” Says Judd Miner, a lawyer who served as corporation counsel in the Harold Washington administration: “It starts with setting the tone and making clear you expect employees to step forward and report wrongdoing, and you provide incentives for them to do it. And you set up a mechanism to investigate complaints.” Adds the minority alderman: “He would have to send a message that we’re going to be fair. And we’re going to come after people who behave badly—before the press embarrasses us into it.”

Without question, the scandals have “sullied [the mayor’s] reputation as a good manager,” says Joe Moore, the Rogers Park alderman. Indeed, if the Hired Truck Program has done nothing else, it has put to rest the notion that Daley is a sort of super CEO in public servant’s clothes. “I think the mythology is long gone what an astute, great manager he is,” says the legislator. “There’s an inconsistency when all these scandals come up and you say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know anything about it, but I’m a hands-on manager with everything else.’”

Yet what makes the portrait of the mayor particularly complex is the fact that he is said to be genuinely tormented by the scandals. “He is so sensitive when he takes these hits,” says the legislator. “When he’s under attack or under pressure, like with the Hired Truck Program, he hates it. He absolutely hates it. He becomes a different person. He’s unhappy. He’s stressed. And he’s mad at everyone.”

“Deep down inside, it appalls him to see the illegal activity,” says a West Side alderman, referring to the Hired Truck debacle. “It really ticks him off. I’ve seen him blow up, so that part of it is genuine. But when it comes to fixing the system, that’s when it gets a little murkier. That’s where it’s harder to ascertain whether he really wants to fix it.”

Why does Daley not act? What does he gain from shadowboxing at the corruption swirling around him but never landing any mortal blows, meanwhile absorbing the real blows to his image? The legislator puts the question another way: “His politics is always about self-interest, 100 percent of the time. And he never spends political capital to help another person. So why is he spending political capital to continue to help all these people?”

My interviews around town yielded a variety of explanations.

Chicagoans have low expectations. “If half of [the scandals under Daley] had happened in Minneapolis or Milwaukee or other places known to be politically clean, this regime would have ended ages and ages ago,” says Don Rose, a consultant and frequent mayoral critic. Yet with each election, as the list of scandals lengthened, Daley has only gotten stronger. In 1989, he was first elected mayor with 55 percent of the vote. Last year, against three lightweight contenders, he rolled to re-election with 79 percent.

“From the mayor on down, no one likes what happens when there is something like the Hired Truck scandal,” says Pete Giangreco, a political consultant. “But when these problems crop up, people give him a pass because the city has never worked more efficiently or more equitably for everyone.”

But to some, that explanation shows only how little Chicagoans expect of their elected leaders. “The average voter is not saying, ‘We’ve got to get Jeremiah Joyce a no-bid contract so he can make millions of dollars,’” says the AIP’s Bryan Doyle. “What we’re left with is being happy with the garbage being picked up and the snow being plowed.”

No political opposition. When a single party or administration dominates the political landscape over a long period of time—a fact of life in Chicago under the Democrats and Daley—"studies have shown that corruption more easily flourishes, because you don’t have the check and balance of party competition,” says the University of Illinois’ Jack Knott. “The stronger the party competition, the less corrupt politics you have.”

The Republican Party can’t make hay out of Daley’s scandals because there is virtually no Republican Party in Chicago politics. And Daley has compounded his dominance by pacifying almost all other potential checks on his power. Among Democrats, no strong leader in years has emerged from the African American community to challenge Daley. The same holds true for the Hispanic community. And there are no white progressive reformers agitating against Daley the way Bill Singer and Dick Simpson once did against his father. The City Council—19 of whose 50 members were originally appointed by Daley—is also no longer an effective counterweight to the mayor. That legislative body has been compared variously to a rubber stamp, a puppy dog that rolls over for Daley, and a pack of trained seals. The county commissioners, one of whom is Daley’s brother John, don’t challenge the mayor, either.

Lack of opposition means “there is no great fear of consequences” for Daley, says the BGA’s Jay Stewart. The former Daley administration veteran puts it another way: “Rich doesn’t believe anyone can touch him. And when you’ve come to that state of mind, that’s dangerous.”

Too many yes men. As troubling as the lack of opposition is the shortage of dissent within Daley’s administration. Many of the seasoned political veterans who once had the mayor’s ear have moved on to other challenges—in some cases the challenge of using their connections to enrich themselves. Daley “listens to a very small group, and that’s a problem, because you don’t have the free flow of ideas,” says the former administration veteran. Aside from the lack of experience, those new hands may lack the stature or confidence to tell Daley things he doesn’t want to hear. “He needs adults who feel comfortable enough to express ideas good and bad—and to be able to tell him that the Hired Truck Program is screwed up,” says the administration veteran.

Cleanup could be messy. In the aftermath of the Hired Truck scandal, Daley meted out a few wrist-slaps, shuffled some personnel, and pledged reform. Meanwhile, he was asked how and why a former gang member named Angelo Torres had wound up in charge of the $40-million-a-year program. The question went to the heart of the scandal, because the answer could shed light on the high-level people who had devised and authorized the program. Yet the mayor’s response never varied: He had no interest in finding out how Torres got put in charge—the important thing was that the program was being fixed.

Daley’s profound lack of curiosity about Torres would seem to fly in the face of sound management principles—unless, of course, he knew the answer would prove even more embarrassing than lamely playing dumb. “Do you really think Angelo Torres was the only unqualified or crooked person involved in the Hired Truck scandal?” asks the minority alderman. “A whole bunch of people all along the line had to know about this or be involved in some way.” Adds the legislator, “There’s nothing of any substance  in the contract world that [Daley] is not aware of.”

If he truly wanted to clean up the system, Daley would have to “worry about stepping on the wrong toes,” says Bob Crawford, retired political editor at the news radio station WBBM. “Guys like Daley try to get away with the least reform possible because they don’t want to hurt those campaign contributions. There are very few profiles in courage in politics, and Richie Daley isn’t one of them.”

Never enough votes. As impressive as Daley’s victory margins are, the number of people voting for him has actually dwindled substantially. When Daley won 55 percent of the vote in 1989, 576,000 people cast their ballots for him; last year just 363,000 voters gave him his landslide—a 37-percent drop. While the decline reflects the electorate’s apathy—why bother voting when the outcome is already ensured?—Daley must constantly worry about threats beyond the horizon, and he is always watching his flanks.

Critics contend that the mayor uses the Hispanic Democratic Organization—the patronage army whose members permeated the Hired Truck Program and occupy high-level positions in many city departments—to protect one flank. Daley “doesn’t want to find out who put Torres in there,” says the former administration veteran. “He set up this organization to blunt any opposition from the Hispanic community, and to make sure candidates elected [with HDO’s help] would always be loyal to him. So he doesn’t want to dismantle that.”

Never enough money. The UIC’s Simpson recently analyzed the money Daley raised in the last election cycle. He found that about a third came from “global economy” sources—lawyers, financial institutions, insurance companies, commodities traders—whose principal interest was that Chicago be an attractive place to live, work, or visit. Another third flowed from miscellaneous contributors. The final third came from “old economy” sources—contractors, construction firms, developers, construction unions—remnants of the old Democratic machine who often give with the expectation of being rewarded with city business. Though virtually all the contract scandals that have clouded Daley’s tenure are clustered in this group, the mayor is dependent on money from these sources to keep his war chest full.

“At the end of the day, whoever is mayor needs to raise about $5 million for re-election, on the chance there is real opposition,” says the West Side alderman. Daley “lets the other money stuff"—pinstripe patronage and the attendant scandals—"happen because he needs it to happen. [The mayor and his team] need to be able to raise money for their state senators and state representatives and their aldermanic candidates.”

“This mayor can’t be too precise in saying, ‘We’ve got to check each [contractor] to make sure they’re not getting too much money,’” says Leon Despres. “If you’re too severe, the contractors don’t have enough money for contributions.”

It’s all about the power. The patronage army he wields through HDO and the system of alliances, favors, and money that constitute the Chicago way are at the heart of Daley’s grip on power, and if the resulting scandals cause him to take some PR hits and occasionally answer awkward questions in front of the TV cameras, the gains still outweigh the costs. “What drives him is his constant need to maintain and maximize his position of power and to cut his losses,” says the legislator. “This is not somebody who’s coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to change the world in two terms and leave my mark.’ This is about a person whose goal is to be carried out with his boots on, in the same way his father was.”

It’s really OK. The most hidden explanation may also be the most revealing: Deep down, Daley doesn’t really think anything bad is going on. This is a man who learned politics at the knee of his father, and he has “adopted the approach of his father, which is that you’re going to have a certain amount of corruption in government—that your friends will now and then try to get rich,” says Don Rose. “What you try to do is keep a lid on it rather than eliminate it. I don’t think he benefits from it [financially], but he doesn’t want to stop his family and friends from benefiting by it.”

When a media furor leaves Daley red-faced over an ethically shaky deal for one of his pals, “he’s angry because he’s been made to look bad,” says Matt Piers, a lawyer who served as deputy corporation counsel under Harold Washington, “not because there’s corruption.”

By this argument, Daley’s worldview is so caught up in the history of Chicago as to be indistinguishable from it. The Chicago way is the Daley way.

 

In mid-December of last year, the tough, independent U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, announced the indictment of former Illinois governor George Ryan for alleged public corruption while he was secretary of state and, later, governor. “By giving friends free rein over state employees and state business to make profits—and by steering those profits to his friends and, at times, his family—defendant Ryan sold his office,” Fitzgerald declared, in language that surely must have given pause to Daley—an ally of Ryan’s—and to some of the mayor’s cronies.

The indictment of Ryan was another blow by Fitzgerald against the culture of corruption that infects politics in this part of the world. He has struck other blows that have hit uncomfortably close to Daley—last year’s indictment of the Duffs, for example, and the January indictment of Angelo Torres on charges of extortion. What’s more, federal prosecutors issued a subpoena seeking records on the city’s Hired Truck Program.

Is Mayor Daley hearing footsteps? Perhaps. In his State of the City speech in February, Daley expressed anger and embarrassment over the Hired Truck scandal and said that things were going to change at City Hall. “No contractor or employee is entitled to special treatment based on their friendship with me, my family, any city employee, or the seemingly countless people who present themselves as my friend,” the mayor declared. On the other hand, he has made similar proclamations in the past.

In addition to getting the word out, loud and clear, to his own people, Daley could push at least two forceful reforms if he really wanted to clean up city government, observers say.

The BGA’s Jay Stewart has publicly urged the mayor to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting city contractors from donating to any mayoral campaign fund. “If such an ordinance were passed,” Stewart said in a letter to the Sun-Times, “the public might finally have a little confidence that contributions don’t buy contracts, and the mayor might not have to put up with questions about his relationship with generous contributors like Michael Tadin and the Duffs.”

Another reform that could help clean up city government is a whistleblower law similar to that adopted by the state of Illinois. At press time, Alderman Joe Moore was crafting just such an ordinance. It provides financial incentives to people who report official acts of corruption. And it protects whistleblowers against firing or other retaliation.

The ultimate bulwark against political corruption, of course, is the voters, who have the power each election cycle to pass judgment on their leaders at the ballot box. As long as they remain happy with the way things are, chances are the mayor will, too.

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