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SCANDAL AND CORRUPTION
See No Evil
As mayors, both Daleys have maintained a pristine record of personal honesty. At the same time, ample instances of skullduggery, graft, and scandal have marred their administrations without sinking them. It’s as if there were a long-standing—if tacit—pact between Chicago’s voters and its pols: As long as officeholders deliver dependable city services, it seems, citizens will return the favor at the ballot box while tolerating the greasy wheels of politics. “There’s corruption under every mayor,” says Roosevelt’s Paul Green. “Chicago is a tough city. It isn’t Madison, Wisconsin.” Many of the streets you drive on, Green says, are named for people “you wouldn’t want to be in a lifeboat with, if they were alive.”
By several accounts, Daley I candidly tolerated a certain level of graft as part of his management style. Leon Despres says that the mayor once told a group of University of Chicago professors, “I let them go so far and no further,” referring to his Machine allies. “Daley wasn’t given to preaching,” Royko once wrote. “His advice amounted to: Don’t get caught.” Much to the mayor’s chagrin, many people did—from average-Joe precinct workers to close friends and members of his inner circle, including alderman Tom Keane and the mayor’s patronage chief, Matt Danaher.
Publicly, anyway, Daley II denounces corruption. When graft charges touch the current administration, he typically decries the problem, though he defiantly insists he knew nothing and blames the trouble on a few bad apples. Often, he rolls a few heads and then announces reforms that never seem to go far enough to cure the problems.
Though the scandals tarnishing the two administrations echo each other in many ways, they are also quite different. Many of Daley I’s problems, for example, sprang from election-related corruption—cries of vote fraud rang out after every election, not a major issue today. And though patronage excesses were rampant under Daley I—"As corrupt as the city’s hiring practices may be today, they’re clean and pure compared to the old days,” says Lois Wille—they weren’t necessarily illegal at the time.
In 1969, Michael Shakman, a Hyde Park lawyer, sued the Democratic organization, claiming he had lost his bid to become a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention in large part because of political patronage. Three years later Daley I and the Shakman plaintiffs reached an agreement that set strict limits on politically motivated hiring and firing. But the mayor largely ignored the federal court decree. He could get away with it because he was above the law, in many respects. Daley I handpicked candidates for Cook County state’s attorney and Illinois attorney general, says Bob Crawford, so he effectively controlled who got prosecuted and who didn’t. And given his clout with presidents, who appoint U.S. attorneys, the mayor “made damn sure there would be no anti-corruption investigations by a wise-guy U.S. attorney he couldn’t trust,” Crawford claims.
Another potential source of scandal, giving public jobs to friends and family, was done almost openly in Daley I’s time. Mike Royko called the administration a family employment agency. For instance, when Richard M. Daley was fresh out of law school (and having taken three tries to pass the bar exam), his father gave him the job as an assistant corporation counsel. Another son, Michael, became the attorney for the Democratic Party of Cook County, which Daley I controlled. Those who questioned the jobs he got for his sons—they could kiss his mistletoe, as the mayor famously put it in 1973, after news broke that he had secretly switched millions of dollars in city insurance business to a little-known Evanston firm that included his son John.
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It seems almost laughable now, but when Daley II rode into office in 1989, he vowed to end corruption in city hall. Just weeks into his new administration, he told reporters that his office had found loads of dubious contracts by his predecessors that qualified as boondoggles. “There’s enough of them to hold your nose,” he said.
Yet contract cronyism has thrived under Daley II. Over the years, the city has routinely doled out millions in contracts to clout-heavy friends and associates of the mayor who are usually generous campaign contributors—the so-called pinstripe patronage. (A list of major scandals up to 2004 accompanies managing editor Shane Tritsch’s Chicago story from July that year, “The Mystery of Mayor Daley.” Go to chicagomag.com/daleymystery.) Nepotism, too, remains alive and well under the current administration. A 1999 Tribune investigation found that 68 relatives of the Daley clan had been on the public payroll at one time or another since Daley II took office.
With teeth now behind the Shakman decree, this administration has been tangled in charges of illegal patronage. Most notably, a federal investigation in 2005 uncovered “pervasive fraud” in city hall’s hiring and promotions. Daley II’s former patronage chief, Robert Sorich, a Bridgeporter whose father was the official photographer for Daley I, was convicted in 2006 of rigging city hiring tests and faking interviews to benefit Daley II loyalists. Three other city hall insiders were also convicted in the scheme.
Last year, Daley II finally settled the city’s decades-long legal battle with the Shakman complainants. His administration agreed to end all political hiring (which officials repeatedly insisted never happens anyway) and create a $12-million fund to compensate victims of illegal political discrimination. More than 1,400 people have received payouts from the fund, according to city records.
Outright graft has also remained an issue for this administration. In one of the most notorious instances, the Sun-Times revealed in 2004 that Daley II’s administration had given out lucrative trucking contracts to politically connected companies in exchange for bribes. In many cases the companies did no work—they just paid and got paid. The mayor’s Bridgeport friend Michael Tadin led the pack of hired-truck contractors. After the story broke, Daley II announced that he wouldn’t take campaign contributions from city contractors anymore (although he hasn’t sworn off donations from contractors with the city’s pension funds).
The latest black eye for Daley II came this past May, when seven building department employees and eight private developers were nabbed in a bribery scam in which the builders allegedly paid off city inspectors to falsify or expedite inspections. “We’re talking systemic corruption,” said David Hoffman, the city’s inspector general.
Saying the charges were “appalling and regrettable,” the mayor denied the notion that corruption was widespread in his administration. “You cannot condemn everybody for a few,” he told reporters. “I don’t know if it’s systemic, but you can’t indict everybody on that.” Still, when U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictments, he noted, “There’s every reason to think there will be more charges to come in the future.”
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