Saturday, June 04, 2005

McCarron gives Daley a Pass

John McCarron’s a nice guy and a good columnist for the Chicago Tribune. One, he has been a guest on my show, so you have to like the guy. And two, although I seldom agree with McCarron, I always read his columns in the Chicago Tribune. They are provocative, well written and reflect a lot of thought.

The problem is McCarron’s approach to Mayor Daley and his administration. Like many urban studies folks, he is way too forgiving of Daley’s deficiencies. McCarron seems to think that Daley’s only problem is that he is a little slow to adapt to some “rule changes,” for the environment in which Daley operates.

McCarron analogized in a column he wrote about a month ago the change by the U. S. Attorney’s office to no longer tolerate use of governmental office employees for political work on government time to the American League’s rule change that permitted designated hitters [“DH”]. And, John McCarron suggests Mayor Daley is having trouble getting his administration to adhere to the U. S. Attorney’s change in enforcement in the same way that some baseball teams and fans had trouble getting behind the DH rule.

Two major problems with that: (1) the U. S. Attorney enforcement change isn’t all that new so that the Mayor should have adjusted by now and (2) The DH rule change is an arbitrary one that someone thought would appeal to the fans. The enforcement change in the U. S. Attorney’s office has its roots in the theory and birth of democracy, itself. That is hardly a change in civic rules that I would call arbitrary.

McCarron seems to long for the days of legalized patronage because precinct captains were not impersonal civil servants and they would “fix” your government problems, including your potholes. Oh, John, give me a break. They would fix it for a price, an additional one to the one that you paid in taxes. They would fix it for someone who pulled a Democratic ballot in the primary and someone who gave every indication of supporting the ward boss and following his voting “suggestions.” Is that really McCarron’s ideal, or even preferred, world? I doubt it.

And, of course, patronage does not allow free and fair competition between the political parties. The party in power gets an advantage, sometimes insurmountable, from the use of its patronage government workers to do political work. Instead of the candidate with the best ideas and the best track record of performing for voters winning the election, it is more likely to be the candidate who had access to the government patronage army.

McCarron perhaps should ask Cong. Emanuel’s primary opponent in March, 2002, Nancy Kaszak, how she felt about the recent reports that City Hall, via Don Tomczak and others, was assigning government workers to “assist,” the Rahm Emanuel campaign during his tough congressional primary race with Kaszak in March, 2002, which Rahm won by about a dozen points.

After his election, it was reported that Emanuel acknowledged Mayor Richard M. Daley as a public servant role model without whose help Emanuel said he could not have won. Whether now Congressman Rahm Emanuel “knew,” in a legal sense what Daley’s guy, Tomczak, and Tomczak’s army of patronage workers, were doing for Emanuel is not the point, here. The point is that the patronage which McCarron seems to defend appears to have helped Daley get his guy, Rahm, into the 5th Cong. Dist. seat— so that Daley could have a Congressman from Chicago who within two short years would get a coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee [ala the young Dan Rostenkowski] and would be the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Now, that’s clout, which of course is good for Daley and Emanuel. That may be good for Chicago and it may even be what the 5th Cong. Dist. voters wanted, but we’ll never know for sure, because Team Daley had its thumb on the scales. And, that is what is wrong with this “stuff”, John McCarron seems to long for. In such cases, we don’t know if the best candidate wins because the “clout,” clouds the contest.

Of course, we know that McCarron knows about Tomczak and his lieutenants because he discusses their nefarious activities in his column. Notwithstanding that knowledge, McCarron seems shocked that “the old ways,” of mixing city business with city politics survive. McCarron says, “Not even the 2003 indictment of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a friend and kindred spirit of Daley's, spurred the mayor to thoroughly clean house. This amazes, because Ryan could be ruined for the same failing that seems to afflict Daley--not appreciating a rules change.”

But, there is another hypothesis. That hypothesis is that Mayor Daley and former Governor Ryan both “appreciated,” the rules changes. Of course, they appreciate that John. As everyone’s mother used to say, “They may be dumb, but they are not stupid.” However, what Daley and Ryan may share is the desire to get and maintain power. Indeed, that’s why those two got along so well. The Daley-Ryan Combine, as another columnist of the Chicago Tribune, John Kass, so aptly and gracefully put it.

I don’t know if it can be proved that either Mayor Daley or George Ryan [whose trial is set to begin in the fall] was complicit in the corruption all around them. But, what does seem clear is that both thought [and in Daley’s case, he still thinks] that having subordinates who practice the old rules can enhance their political power. [ See hired thieves, here].

Sure, playing it that way may involve some risks. Whether the Mayor is actually involved or not, the exposure is such that he could get caught, either way. And, when the Mayor’s brother, John Daley, has his brother in law get caught, as happened yesterday [see here], the Mayor’s image is not enhanced. However, when you have a city employee who isn’t working on city business for his salary, you have a city employee who will owe somebody in the Daley Administration something and will help that somebody do something that might help the Mayor politically, without the Mayor even knowing about it. See how that works, John McCarron?

Oh, the Mayor and former Governor Ryan—they “appreciate,” the change in the rules, all right. And yet, they find the risk to their administration and their reputation, and possibly even a legal risk to themselves, well worth it.

As WBBM Radio political editor emeritus, Bob Crawford, has stated often in the last five years, or so, the Mayor has a systemic problem with corruption in his administration. And, you don’t fix a systemic problem by bringing in a few apparently good people, e.g., City interim Procurement Chief Mary Dempsey and new City Chief of Staff Ron Huberman to improve the image in the Daley Administration and fix a few broken parts.

No, you attack the system and you do it systemically. When Daley was elected in 1989, he kept people like Tomczak in place, telling us recently that he did so because he didn’t want to be vindictive and fire people who hadn’t supported him. I don’t believe that for a minute. He knew what Tomczak was up to and he liked the general outcome for Daley. I don’t mean Daley “knew,” that in a legal sense. For that, I don’t have the facts.

But, Daley knew in the sense that he has spent virtually every minute of his life in politics. From the time his father, Richard J. Daley, would take Rich Daley, as a little kid to the wakes of his father’s constituents—to the time Daley spent in the state legislature and would have to come back to Chicago so his father could tell him how he screwed up—such as the time he was going to put a tax on art objects, it’s all been a learning experience about Chicago politics.

So, Daley “knows,” what his Water Department is doing, what his Streets and Sans guys are up to and he likes the general outcome for Daley. Daley leaves those folks in place. Does that make Mayor Daley legally culpable? Doubtful. Does that mean that Daley could have attacked this systemic problem and chose not to? You bet.

Today, June 4, we have city pundits talking about what a new era it is because the most recent scandal with John Daley’s brother in law being caught and fired for essentially ghost payrolling resulted from a city initiated investigation by his new Chief of Staff. Baloney. The investigation by the City was initiated by someone who dropped a dime to call the Chief of Staff, Huberman.

Huberman knew he had to do something pronto because very likely the same whistleblower dropped a dime to the U. S. Attorney’s office. So, Huberman [and the Mayor] had no choice but to move. This was no time to fool around, not with U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald almost putting his cot in City Hall, so he can keep a constant eye on things while getting the few hours of sleep per day he requires.

In today’s John Daley-brother-in-law case, there were cameras [for 911 type security reasons] at the facility’s entrance for the employees, so that when Huberman got the call, he had someone review the prior tapes and they quickly established the equivalent of ghost payrolling and acted on it.

Now the question for Huberman is-- Are there other city facilities with such cameras already in place and if so, are those tapes already being reviewed for ghost payrolling? I don’t mean over the next year or two. I mean today, June 4. If not, why not?

Moreover, has Huberman already started installing cameras that might not be too noticeable in buildings with the high potential for ghostpayrolling. If he has, and he starts random sampling of such tapes, and calls law enforcement about them, now we are talking systemic solutions to systemic problems.

Indeed, after writing my above question to Chief of Staff Huberman, I read in today’s Tribune article about the Scandal du Jour and learned that Huberman said, “A thumbprint-scanning device now used in a pilot program at the 911 center will be deployed citywide to make sure workers who claim pay actually perform the work.”

And, the Tribune reports [in the Tribune linked article, above] that Mayor Daley fired the city Water Management Commissioner, Richard Rice. Huberman said that Rice “was not suspected of participating in the Water Management scheme,” but he was dismissed because he “ultimately is responsible for the operations of his department.” [Query: Won't Kass ask on Monday if this means that Daley should fire Daley? Ultimately, Isn't Daley responsible for the Daley Administration, for Angelo Torres, for Don Tomczak, etc.?, Well, isn't he? That was the problem with firing Rice, today's Bill Aboldt]

So, now, what about the other departments in Daley’s City Administration. If there is a systemic problem in Daley’s City Administration, Huberman better look at the other parts of the system. Right? He had better have Daley’s blessing to start removing major political figures in the Daley Administration who Daley, Huberman or someone high up has reason to believe may be “dirty.” Of course, if one of those people thinks she can tie Daley into this stuff and the U. S. Attorney knocks on her door, she might just start singing. Therein lies the Daley Dilemma.

On the other hand, the next time a dime is dropped, the call might go only to the U.
S. Attorney, and not to Ron Huberman. And, if Huberman hasn’t attacked the systemic problems, and the U. S. Attorney keeps acting on those calls, one of those calls might lead the Feds to the Mayor’s office.

Further, even if Patrick Fitzgerald doesn’t trace this to the Mayor himself, the voters may look for a Mayor who will clean up the system. Some of the political powers in the city are making some calls of their own—To Cong. Jackson. To Cong. Gutierrez. To Jesus Garcia. To Cong. Davis. To State Rep. Fritchey. To Attorney General Madigan. To Governor wannabe Ron Gidwitz. To Paul Vallas. It could happen. The voters might just say, a Daley in the Mayor of Chicago's Chair for 39 out of 52 years—Enough is Enough.

If Mayor Daley can’t cut out the cancer that has spread throughout his administration, the voters may decide it’s time for a new surgeon. A new mayor, who won’t look the other way, while his underlings collect a 20% corruption tax from all of the Chicago residents, keeping 10% for themselves and using the other 10% to finance the Mayor’s political work.

It could be a “Long, Hot Summer,” at City Hall.

So, you see John McCarron, it really isn’t about the DH rule. Not even close.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at