Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Updated May 20, 2004 at 2:20 am

The Fire Next Time: Follow the Money and the Mikva Commission Report [coming out in June?]. Did the Mikva Commission avoid the Clout issue? Do Claypool and the other County Board Reformers have the right stuff to handle the County Building fire issues in the right way?

Is Forrest Claypool doing a "Cool Hand Luke," and speaking carefully and responsibly, below, about the Fire at the 69 West Washington Cook County Government Building that killed six Cook County employees last fall?, Or, is he avoiding questions that Cook County Board members should be confronting, if not asking, even before the Board Members get the Mikva Commission Report?

Jeff Berkowitz asks, among other questions, if this is a case where we need a truly Independent Counsel with the power to issue subpoenas and convene a Grand Jury. Well, do we? Can you really expect State's Attorney Devine to investigate public corruption in Cook County Government, or in City of Chicago Government? To my knowledge, Devine has not shown much inclination to do so, nor has Attorney General Madigan. The U. S. Attorney for the Northern District, Patrick Fitzgerald, seems to have his hands full. So, who would have the power or the inclination to appoint an independent counsel, with power of subpoena and grand jury, to investigate the potential public corruption behind the County Building Fire. Where are the goo goos when we need one? Yet another case of liberal hypocrisy? We ask, you decide.

A partial transcript of our show with Forrest Claypool, Cook County Commissioner, is included below. The show is airing in the suburbs this week [Week of May 17] and will air through-out the City of Chicago this coming Monday night at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21. For more details on the suburban and city airing schedule of "Public Affairs," and more details about the show, see the blog entry immediately below the transcript.
Jeff Berkowitz: ...Did Clout kill six people?

Forrest Claypool: ...I would not want to be in the position to ... even try to speculate without letting this process take place...

Berkowitz: ...He [Patrick Murphy] said this then, it was last November [on our show] and I don't think anything has been said [since then] to change it, he said they were told during the fire drills [at 69 West Washington] "go to the nearest stairwell, they will be smokefree and you can live up to four hours." That obviously wasn't the case, right?

Claypool: Right.

Berkowitz: That obviously wasn't the case that they could live up to four hours there[in the stairwells]. They were told [that], apparently. I don't think anyone has challenged that. So, is this a case of obvious negligence on [the part of] building management and of the [Chicago] Fire Department?

Claypool: Well, there may again, again, with something of great, not only of loss of life, but they are going to have trememdous legal ramifications for the taxpayers of Cook County when this is all said and done, it would be irresponsible of me to speculate on anything--

Berkowitz: Because this would be an admission against interest [and therefore admissible against Cook County as a hearsay exception to the rules of Evidence in any trials on this matter?]

Claypool: Well, it is not just that; it is not just that. I just think that we don't have all of the facts. That's why we have the [Mikva] Commission. Obviously, there are issues of management that are going to be put under a bright spotlight here...we want a factual, documented report and to find out what really happened, rather than you know the kind of rumor and speculation that's taking place.

Berkowitz: Well, here are a few things, one of the criticisms, it appears to be valid, that Patrick Murphy made--is that the [Mikva] Commission is not looking in the right areas or at least there are certain areas they are carving out and saying they won't go there. Elzie Higgonbottom, you know Elzie, right? An owner of one of the companies that was managing the building at 69 West he still Chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board?

Claypool: I believe so.

Berkowitz: He is a pretty well connected guy, right?

Claypool: [Nodding with his head]

Berkowitz: That's a yes?

Claypool: Oh sure, sure. Of course he is.

Berkowitz: And, Robert Wislow- he is the owner of the other company managing...I think he is a big time contributor [to politicians]. Higgonbottom is a big contributor. They contribute to the Mayor [of Chicago, Daley]. They contribute to the State's Attorney [of Cook County, Devine]. They contribute to the Attorney General [Lisa Madigan; they contribute to County Board President Stroger]. You understand that?

Claypool: Yes.

Berkowitz: You don't disagree with any of that. Okay. And this guy [Elzie Higgonbottom] [Elzie is in the news again tonight [May 19], saying on Chicago Tonight that "our company did a great job in managing that building [69 West Washington, the County Building where 6 people died in the fire last October]]got a contract to manage a [County]Government building, and the government poured in five or six years ago, before you were on the Board (as Cook County Guardian Patrick Murphy said), the Cook County Board poured in 22-25 million dollars. They didn't put in sprinklers, which would cost, I believe, 2-3 million dollars; they didn't put in automatic mechanism to unlock the doors, which I think Patrick Murphy said would cost nickels and dimes. They didn't have pressurized stairwells, which would be nickels and dimes. Is anybody looking at that. He [Patrick Murphy]says he has asked and that Ab Mikva [said he] not looking at that; He [Ab mikva] said that is outside his purview. So, doesn't that kick the ball back to you guys.

Forrest Claypool: I think all of the questions you raised are going to be answered by the Mikva Commission.

Jeff Berkowitz: Is that right? By the Mikva Commission [appointed by the County Board President)?

Claypool: I believe they will. Because those are factual questions you are talking about. The question is of all those things you just mentioned--should those things have gone in. Those are a product of a number of things. One, what did the Building Code require at the time. What would common sense tell you, essentially. Those issues-- experts can look at them and make conclusions--some objective; some subjective, as to whether or not they should have been done and whether or not they were legally required to be done; or whether they should have been done even if they weren't legally required to be done because of changes in technology, or as you said, because of the cost--some of those issues--and, who is responsible for those things, that's what should be determined...the County Government was the Landlord that made these decisions, obviously they are going to be the primary point of focus. But, I certainly wouldn't say just because somebody made a campaign contribution to somebody that they are not going to try to manage those buildings to protect life and health and safety. The issues of management, how they were run... the issues of what should have been done, those issues will come out.

Berkowitz: Look, there may be some things that are easier if you get 22 million dollars, and contracts for that amount-- there are some things that perhaps are easier to maybe do no work and get the money, you would agree with that, right?

Claypool: I'm sorry. State your point, again.

Berkowitz: There are some contracts for which it is easier to make a contract, do no services, get paid and virtually do nothing--

Claypool: Well--

Berkowitz: If you have to put in sprinklers, you have to do something.

Claypool: Well, obviously, those contracts, they are again in black and white. The facts are there. Do they require it or they don't require it.

Berkowitz: That's right.

Claypool: Was it done or was it not done?

Berkowitz: It wasn't done. But the question is, was it not done as a connivance between these folks with certain board members because this would be a good way to disburse 20 million dollars to benefit various people?...For that, you need a grand jury.

Claypool: Well, that is a criminal offense, obviously, if that occurred.

Berkowitz: Right, but the Mikva Commission doesn't have the right to issue subpoenas-- so they really couldn't get into this. Nor could the Governor's panel. Only the Attorney General [Lisa Madigan] could and--

Claypool: Or, the State's Attorney.

Berkowitz: She [Lisa Madigan] said she is leaving it to others [The Fire Marshall]. And, I don't know--

Claypool: Or, the State's Attorney [Dick Devine] could as well. If the State's Attorney made that judgment, I believe he would proceed.

Berkowitz: You think he would?

Claypool: Absolutely.

Berkowitz: You think he [State's Attorney Devine] is entirely independent? He is sufficiently independent? Is this a case where you need a truly Independent Counsel with-with the power to issues subpoenas, with the power to convene a grand jury?

Claypool: Well, I think--

Berkowitz: These folks [Mikva Commission and the Governor's panel] are independent but they don't have the power; the people who have the power [Madigan and Devine] may not be independent.

Claypool: Well, that may or may not be.

Berkowitz: Well, what do you think? You are the guy on the hotseat.

Claypool: Well, I will tell you what I think. I think that Dick Devine is an honorable and honest State's Attorney who would not let campaign contributions or political influence or anything else stop him from issuing criminal indictments if there was loss of life as a result of criminal behavior. That is what I believe.

Berkowitz: He [Devine] may have a conflict. I am not questioning-- he is a former guest [of this show]; I think he is a very honorable guy. But when someone has a conflict, it doesn't mean that he is not honorable-- it means that he has a conflict of interest [This is the same obvious point that 9/11 Commissioner Richard BenVeniste pretended not to know when he said-- how could 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick have a conflict of Interent, in light of what a good, honorable person she is].

Claypool: Well, I don't think these types of conflicts you are talking about would rise to the level of preventing the elected prosecutor of the County [of Cook] from pursuing criminal claims over an issue so significant that it cost the lives of these young people-- so I really don't believe that would be the case.
Berkowitz: ...Not run for it. If [County Board President] Stroger were to step down [next year], would you let your name be used as someone to be nominated and elected by the County Board as President?

Claypool: No, there are a lot more popular people on that Board than me. No, I would not.

Berkowitz: Who would that be [that you might support for County Board President]?

Claypool: [Laughter]. That is premature. I would not want to speculate on that.
Forrest Claypool, Cook County Board Member, interviewed on "Public Affairs," filmed on May 8, 2004, and as is being cablecast on "Public Affairs," this week [week of May 17] in the suburbs, and as will be cablecast through-out the City of Chicago this coming Monday night, May 24 at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21 [CANTV] on "Public Affairs."