Libby’s post raises a question that Chicagoans have struggled with for a long while: How much corruption should we accept, in exchange for a well-run city?
In the case of the recent Sorich trial, it started like this: Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin broke the story of the hiring of building inspector John Ryan. Ryan is the son of a big shot in the Carpenters Union. Nothing new there. Ryan was also thoroughly unqualified to be a building inspector. In fact, Ryan was a 19-year-old kid. The resume he’d submitted to get the job was, well, fiction…and the hiring process was rigged.
This might be a funny story, if not for the fact that people had died in several incidents over the previous year that involved collapsing balconies and building code violations and so-forth. And Ryan was not the only thoroughly unqualified but politically connected building inspector on the city payroll.
When the story broke, it was clear that heads would have to roll. In the parlance of Chicago Machine Politics, someone would have to wear the jacket for this. Mayor Daley called a press conference, at which he nominated Buildings Commissioner Stan Kaderbek to wear the jacket. The jacket was a perfect fit, and Kaderbek took the fall and lost his job, even though he didn’t like it much.
And in the good old days, that would’ve been the end of it.
But not now. See, now we’ve got these pesky federal prosecutors that Libby was talking about. Guys like US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, that Patrick Fitzgerald) and Assistant US Attorney Patrick Collins, who’ve decided to make a real effort to confront the Chicago Machine.
Their investigation yielded indictments – and eventually convictions – against Robert Sorich (Mayor Daley’s patronage chief), Tim McCarthy (Sorich’s assistant in the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs – the department that doles out the plum jobs for City Hall), along with two guys from Streets & San – Patrick Slattery and John Sullivan. Two guys who, the jury agreed, had a hand in rigging the hiring process to screen candidates based on political connections, rather than professional qualifications.
So in the end, Sorich And The Three Bears ended up wearing the jacket. They allowed their lawyers to put up a defense, of sorts, but not to call any witnesses or advance any theories that would suggest they were taking orders from anyone higher on the Machine totem pole.
These guys dreamed up this scheme on their own. Yup. That’s a good one.
In her recent columns, Carol Marin has questioned the federal prosecutor’s aim, and his tactics. Prosecution witnesses were allowed to claim an unbelievable level of ignorance, rather than taking their share of blame. While distasteful, this sort of dealing is nothing new. And the feds didn’t aim high enough, Marin says. Which is true, if in fact, the feds are finished with this business.
But I suspect that we have not seen all of Fitzgerald’s cards. Not by a long shot.
Returning to the question – How much corruption should we accept, in exchange for a well-run city? – I guess it depends on your perspective. I agree with Libby – Chicago is prettier, safer and more accessible then it was during previous administrations. We’re all pleased with Chicago’s recent economic development. Then again, most of us aren’t related to someone who died when a balcony collapsed in a city that hires thoroughly unqualified but politically connected building inspectors.
Politically, Chicago is “The City That Works”…as long as you don’t look too closely at how it works. In this town, we’re not talking about “a little bit” of political corruption. Remember the Minority Hiring Scandal with its over $100-million price tag? Or how about the infamous Hired Trucks Program, which which has yielded federal charges against 44 people, and counting?
There are plenty more jackets available, and Fitzgerald is a tenacious prosecutor.