My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Daley in Trouble? WTF?

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Could it be true? Could Mayor for Life, Lion of the Midway, the Honorable Richard M. Daley be in trouble? Today's Tribune suggests that the growing stain of corruption associated with the City's Hired Truck program may have begun to tarnish City Hall:

Though 15 months have passed since the first arrests in City Hall's Hired Truck scandal, Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday he still doesn't know who in his administration installed the corrupt Angelo Torres as head of the trucking program.

Describing himself as "hurt, embarrassed, disappointed" by broadening allegations of wrongdoing uncovered by federal prosecutors, Daley said as many as seven names of possible Torres sponsors have been floated around City Hall and the mayor's aides are seeking to identify if any of those--or someone else--is responsible

A little background. You used to get a job for the city the old fashioned way: turning out votes for the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. A city worker was a sort of permanent "temporary worker," and had to pull in maybe 10 votes from family and friends to keep his job. Higher city officials had to coordinate political activities in their precincts, distributing election materials, put together GOTV efforts to make sure people got to the polls, etc. This had the effect of making sure city jobs were distributed widely across the city, to people in most of Chicago's neighborhoods, to ensure satisfactory turnout everywhere. Some working class white ethnic areas, including the Mayor's own Bridgeport neighorhood, did tend to benefit disproportionally, however.

All of this changed with the Shankman consent decree eliminating political hiring for most city jobs, and the unionization of the city work force under Mayor Harold Washington. These changes have meant that Cook County Democrats have to build support more like the rest of the country does: by raising large amounts of cash.

Since city workers don't get paid enough to be huge campaign contributers, some people claim the Daleys have turned largely to contractors - private businesses who do business with the city. In this view, the city has been drifting away from public employment and towards outsourcing more and more work to contractors in part because contractors can give large campaign contributions, and their activities are not regulated by Shankman.

After the scandals started to break, Mayor Daley of course said he will no longer accept contributions from people who do business with the city, and urged other officials to do the same. This however, was pretty easy for him to do, since he's already raised enough money for his next, presumably last, campaign.

Even with Shankman in place, Daley has built up a power base in the city like no other. There is his growing political base in the Latino community, embodied by the Hispanic Democratic Organization. There are deals he's cut with black religious leaders, neutralizing a traditional base of opposition. And among the white and Asia populations, falling crime, (gradually) improving schools, neighborhood beautification and rising property values have gone a long way in building a remarkable amount of tolerance and goodwill among voters.

Could that change? Probably not right away. Nobody's accusing the Mayor himself of wrongdoing. Well, almost nobody. And city residents, myself included, care a lot more about public safety and education than we do about a little corruption here and there, especially if it greases the wheels and Gets Things Done. But in light of Chicago's structural relationship with its suburbs and the rest of the state, a relationship I've compared to a 50-year seige, the Mayor has to be able to retrieve resources from Springfield and Washington if he hopes to keep the city running. And this is where the corruption scandals matter.

From the Tribune editorial:

- Federal corruption probers have all but opened a satellite office in Chicago's City Hall. On Monday, Gerald Wesolowski, a former Water Department official, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy--a coup for a government probe that so far has led to charges against 27 people.

- Why is that a coup? Because Wesolowski admitted he solicited trucking companies seeking city business to give money to the mayor's re-election campaign, and to the 11th Ward Democratic Organization of his brother John Daley, who chairs the Finance Committee of the Cook County Board. Wesolowski also said city workers won promotions and raises by campaigning for Daley, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and others.

- The cliffhanger: Wesolowski says unnamed officials told Donald Tomczak, his boss at City Hall, which campaigns were to get help from his political army. If Wesolowski is telling the truth, Tomczak can put those mysterious officials in a world of hurt if he ever talks to the feds. Finally: Tomczak's attorney has said he is negotiating a possible plea deal with ... federal prosecutors.

The editorial implies that people in Springfield may be less willing to trust Daley with additional money and resources as a result of the spreading taint of corruption in City Government. Which is maddening to me, because they're our resources.

Take transportation. Much of the state is so underpopulated that there is as much as a mile of road per resident, compared with the thousands of residents per mile found in the city. So while infrastructure spending is higher per square mile in the city than elswhere, it is much lower per capita. While this situation is somewhat addressed by paying for some infrastructure with gasoline taxes - we drive less and use less gas - it's still a fact that our tax money is being used to build new roads in the middle of nowhere, while our own streets and public transit ifrastructure crumble. The big culprit here is the Federal tax system - because city residents are less likely to own a home, they are paying far higher Federal taxes than are suburbanites, who are writing off their mortgages. New York City pays $11 billion a year more in Federal taxes than it receives in services. Chicago's number, if someone bothered to do the math, wouldn't be nearly so high. But it would be high enough to close the CTA budget gap many times over.

At the same time, the city is forced to pay a disproportionate share for services to the poor, since the exclusionary zoning laws in force in most suburbs don't allow for the construction of much low-income housing. Chicago has about a quarter of the state's population but half of its poor residents - the middle class has fled, largely to get away from poor people and the responsibility of paying for their upkeep, but there is nowhere else for poor resients to go - the rest of the region is very short on affordable apartments with public transit access. So the suburban middle class is largely escaping from the responsibility of helping the poor, and non-poor city residents are paying for the infrastructure that helps them do it.

In this context, getting cash from the State and Federal governments is a big part of what a mayoral administration needs to do. Voters who are awake are less concerned about a little theft by city officials than by a lot of theft by suburbanites and downstaters. If we don't keep finding ways to beat back the leaches, we'll be sunk - another has been like Detroit or Cleveland.

So if the scandals interfere with Da Mare's ability to get cold hard cash, the public may turn on him, unthinkable as it seems today. On the other hand, if he gets the CTA funding and the Community Development Block Grant reauthorization he's looking for, then who cares? It's not like there's no corruption at any other level of government.

But what if he's not immortal? What if there's [gasp] a contested election? More on this later.

Note: for some reason Photobucket is down today. I am very disturbed by this. What if all my pretty pictures get wiped out?

Edited to post photo, once it became possible - EG

1 comment:

Trope said...

I can still see the pics. That's a good sign.

It does that sometimes.