The [Wednesday] Papers
Hey, look who's back in the news! Why it's our old friend, Richard M. Daley. And it's not even about him once again "agreeing" to submit to a deposition in a Jon Burge lawsuit that he's been dodging since Jim Hendry was still generally managing the Cubs.
This time, it's personal.
Or at least more personal than what he did or didn't know about systematic torture that was brought to the attention of his office when he was the Cook County State's Attorney but which he failed to investigate.
This is about his pocketbook.
You know, through all the Daley scandals - too numerous to mention here but just pick your favorite one and savor it for a moment - conventional wisdom had it that while his friends made off with boatloads, the mayor himself never personally benefited. Like his father. Who wanted power, not money. As if power isn't a benefit and the man didn't get rich anyway.
Just like Rod Blagojevich never personally benefited from his various schemes. Just his campaign fund.
And like George Ryan never personally benefited from his various schemes. He just miraculously never had to use an ATM during his time in office - even while vacationing in Jamaica with his pal Harry Klein.
They all did it for us, out of the goodness of their hearts. And they let their friends have a little chew. And their family. Who could blame them?
"This mayor is very similar to his father - personally honest, not taking any money himself," an anonymous state legislator once told Chicago magazine for its examination of Daley's legacy of corruption.
That type of analysis, though, ignores basic cold hard realities. While in office a mayor, a governor, even some aldermen, are treated like kings. Everything is done for you. You don't have to be rich to live rich. They key is how you set yourself up for your post-public career - what Hawkeye Pierce once described in M*A*S*H as preparing a doggie bag for after the war.
After all, Daley is now a wealthy consultant, public speaker (!) and visiting fellow at Harvard.
He's also taking in a taxpayer-funded $183,778 yearly pension, which is about $50,000 more than he would be receiving if he hadn't gamed the system way back in 1991 when he was also began gaming the system for key supporters in the midst of his bid to win his first full term, according to a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation.
He also managed to save himself about $400,000 in contributions, so that's quite a haul.
And this time he can't claim ignorance. He personally engineered it.
"Daley, a former state senator, made it happen by briefly rejoining the legislative pension plan in 1991," the Tribune found. "He stayed there just one month before returning to Chicago's municipal pension fund, but the switches made him eligible for benefits worth 85 percent of his mayoral salary - a better rate than all other city employees receive."
That's the kind of derring-do that gets you to Harvard.
"Daley declined to be interviewed for this story."
I always hate to see the word "declined" used when "petulantly refused" is more apt, but in this case he might have had a good excuse: He was too busy answering questions from ABC7 Chicago's Ben Bradley for his hard-hitting two-part exclusive "A More Reflective Daley Looks Back On His Two Loves."
He's not referring to money and power.
Or Jackie Heard, though he must love her dearly. She's still performing her talking seal role as Daley's press secretary even in his afterlife.
WGN's Mark Suppelsa said on the broadcast version of the Tribune report last night that he spent weeks trying to get an interview with the former mayor. For some reason Bradley was granted an audience but not Suppelsa.
"He's still going strong, energized by new experiences and new roles," Bradley reports. Maybe there wasn't time to mention "and a groovy pension."
Bradley: Chicagoans don't get to hear from you a lot. What do you want to say to them?
Awww. We miss our money.
"His spokeswoman, Jacquelyn Heard, wrote in an e-mail: 'I can only assume that his pension was handled in the same manner that anyone's would be, given the length of service - nearly 40 years - in government.'"
But actually, Jackie, you needn't only assume. The Tribune would be happy to fill you in!
"The Tribune and WGN-TV already have detailed how Daley used the city's pension funds for political purposes. In 1991, the same year he secured his much larger pension, Daley's administration helped aldermen land a dramatic pension increase, providing them with benefits far exceeding those of the average city worker."
That would be in this report:
"When Chicago aldermen floated a proposal in 1987 to boost their city pensions dramatically, Mayor Harold Washington's administration dismissed it as an arrogant ploy that lacked even a cursory cost analysis.
"Three years later, the proposal still didn't have a price tag. But records show that the new mayor, Richard M. Daley, helped push it through the state Legislature anyway."
What a difference a mayor makes.
"An analysis of pension fund documents for 21 aldermen who retired under the plan shows they are in line to receive nearly $58 million during their expected lifetimes, though contributions and assumed investment returns are predicted to cover just $19 million, or a third of that sum.
"The pension deal was inked more than two decades ago, but the costs began to kick in recently. Most of the 21 aldermen in the Tribune/WGN-TV analysis have retired within the past five years, and there are 53 more in the pipeline."
Sorry to do this to you over breakfast.
"Like many sweetheart pension deals, the origin of the aldermanic pension perk is murky. It's impossible to determine from public records who drafted it, for example. But new records unearthed by the Tribune and WGN-TV show who blessed it: the Daley administration.
"Without any public vetting, legislation creating the plan was slipped into a larger bill before it was signed into state law in January 1991."
Today's report reminds us:
"The same legislation, rushed through the General Assembly on the last day of the session, also gave private labor leaders public pensions based on their much higher union salaries. Under Daley's watch, former Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon was given a one-day city job that allowed him to collect a public pension based on his $200,000 private union salary."
"In 1995, when Daley wanted to fund his school reform package, his administration pushed legislation that allowed it to divert $1.5 billion from the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund over a 15-year period."
Which in some circles is called theft, as we shall see.
"All the while, Daley blessed benefit increases for city workers without ensuring that payments into the funds would cover the costs, a problem worsened by the economic downturn. Today, the combined unfunded liabilities of Chicago's four pension funds have grown to nearly $20 billion, which doesn't include the $6.8 billion shortfall at the teachers fund."
And so on. I encourage you to read the investigation and its related stories in full and then consider this development: Rahm wants you to look the other way.
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel [Tuesday] called a Tribune article on aldermen's pensions that were inflated during the early reign of his predecessor 'worthy of reading' but said the issues it highlighted should not distract from the urgent overall goal of reforming state and city pensions," the Tribune reports.
"While that is a problem," Emanuel said, "what I don't want to see is that we . . . take our eye off the big change that is required. We need to fundamentally fix our pension system so employees have the retirement security they were promised, and taxpayers have the certainty they're not left with something that they're going to have to pay."
In other words, Rahm doesn't want you to get the idea that problem with pensions resides with officeholders and other public leaders gaming the system; the real issue is greedy teachers and their public service sector comrades. (Rahm took a different tack when the exposed connivers were union leaders.)
And yet, last week the hard-headed president of the pension-averse Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago admitted on Chicago Tonight that public workers facing pension cuts were not to blame for their predicament; they made their lawful contributions but state officials did not. He called those actions criminal, and as a former state attorney general, he's in a position to know.
"Well, if this happened in the private sector," Fahner said, "there would be prosecutions going."
Rahm has a point in that the pension liabilities of all public employees far outweigh the graft - I'm guessing, I haven't done the math - of the select few pols gaming the system.
At the same time, each and every one of those public employees, as far as we know, has dealt honestly with the system. Governors, legislative leaders and our political con men have not.
And yet, who is called upon to sacrifice for the greater good? Who must clean up the mess once again, paying the price in real consequences to their families while the Daleys and Degnans (and Vaneckos) lap up their lives of luxury?
Here's an idea: Make them go first. Go get back some of their dough in a show of good faith before asking everyone else to give back. I bet that would make negotiations at the bargaining table far, far easier - and it would set a true template of fairness for the future.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Instagrammatic.
Posted on May 2, 2012
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