From the Chicago Tribune: Independence Day for City Hall
Someone needs to explain how the existence of thousands of incompetents and no-shows on the public payroll makes for a better city
Political consultant David Axelrod is absolutely right: Whatever federal juries may conclude about the illegalities of the Chicago patronage system, the voters of Chicago will re-elect Mayor Richard M. Daley, if he decides to run.
Maybe even if he decides not to run. Maybe without any opposition, even Spanky the Clown.
No matter how many indictments U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald obtains against patronage gatekeepers, grafters, insiders and schemers. Or how many federal juries convict the system's practitioners, as one did last week with Daley's former top patronage aide and three others on charges arising from a system of placing campaign workers on the city payroll.Axelrod last week explained on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" that voters would re-elect Daley because he's a great mayor who has done wonderful things for the city. And, as Axelrod implied in an article he wrote last year for the Tribune's Perspective section, the alternative of a system in which workers aren't recommended by "elected officials, business, labor and community leaders" is as scary as the federal bureaucracy. As the widely accepted (in Chicago) argument goes: Hiring sponsored workers makes them more responsive to their bosses and their bosses more accountable to voters.
Except the patronage system is not as benign as Axelrod and its supporters would have it. No need to go over the evidence of how the system has dumped incompetents into such important positions that are supposed to protect public safety. Someone needs to explain how the existence of thousands of incompetents, slackers and no-shows on the public payroll makes for a better city. And how workers responsible only to their political sponsors ensure quality. Yeah sure, thousands of energetic and competent workers are on the payroll, and so what? Aren't they all supposed to be energetic and competent? Isn't that what taxpayers are paying for?
Those who argue that a well-oiled machine makes for a "wunnerful" city engage in a fundamental logical error: The simultaneous presence of a patronage army and the existence of a viable city is not automatic proof that the first causes the second.
Dare I suggest that things beyond Daley's patronage workers, contractor buddies and City Hall itself may also account for Chicago's success? That the city rose on an expanding national economy and lifestyle choices made by yuppies and others who value urban living? Or that the city's success came in spite of a system that encourages dishonesty and corruption?
This apparently is a hard concept for Chicago voters to grasp, as they reliably march to the polls to ratify misconduct and fraud. Among their numbers are the tens of thousands who directly benefit, through jobs and contracts. And the tens of thousands more who indirectly benefit from relatives and friends on the payroll. And the uncounted more in business, labor, civic and neighborhood organizations who buy their way inside. Also include the misguided who honestly believe that illegality is necessary for success, illegal as in violating civil and criminal law.
Such is Chicago's lore, fed by those of us in the media who enjoy writing about it, who value graft for its humor and entertainment. Reformers like Robert Merriam and Martin Kennelly are mocked as ineffective daydreamers, and perhaps they were. While newspaper editorial boards are fuming about corruption, favoritism, secrecy and nepotism at the city, county and state levels, commentators, historians, authors and others are getting their jollies describing the goofiness and grittiness of it all. It's all part of the city's patina.
What I'm trying to say is that the network of political, business, labor, community, media and other interests has become so invested in the system that few are left to risk being labeled excessively moralistic for protesting the "way things work."
One clear symptom is the nearly complete absence of what used to be a vibrant community of political independents, something of a loyal opposition that brought the force of conscience into the public arena. Nobody wants to be a "do-gooder." How ironic, then, that Daley recently complained about the City Council messing around with a proposal to ban Chicago restaurants from using cooking oils that contain trans fats. Maybe if he gave the aldermen something real to do, they wouldn't be wasting the taxpayers' time with such nonsense.
Could this intelligent writer be pointing out something of real interest to the "big dummies" of Chicago??? One can only hope, as the Tribune actually continues to make public record of the corruptive Mayor.