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The [Patronage] Papers

The verdict itself in the City Hall hiring fraud trial was nothing but anti-climactic. But the aftermath has been nothing but downright weird. Who is criminal defense lawyer Thomas Anthony Durkin, and what planet does he live on? How could the consistently dim-witted Sun-Times editorial page get it so right and the often-misguided but more solidly consistent Tribune editorial page get it so wrong? And how blind to reality are the patronage apologists who continue to insist in the face of overwhelming evidence that basing jobs and promotions on political considerations somehow results in a superior, well-oiled workforce?

Let's take a look.

Durkin's Donuts
At one point during the trial, U.S. District Court Judge David Coar told Durkin (outside the presence of the jury) that he was "getting way beyond what's reasonable here" and that some of his theories were "beyond far-fetched."

To no avail. Durkin is still operating outside the bounds of reality, even for a defense attorney zealously advocating for his client.

"It is perfectly obvious that the case was prosecuted with an eye toward attempting to unseat Mayor Daley," Durkin asserted in a post-verdict press conference, using the word "unseat" to imply a political motive, though, ironically, nobody did a better job of dirtying up the mayor during this trial than Durkin.

"Bush wanted smaller government," Durkin continued, "[but now is] attempting to interfere with the local government."

Huh? Maybe he wants to achieve smaller local government by getting all these grifters off the city payroll.

"A Republican senator announced he thought there was corruption here, and he brought in a prosecutor from New York to root it out, and that's what he wants to do," Durkin continued, angrily, referring to former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald's selection of Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) to be U.S. attorney here.

And . . . the problem is what?

Durkin then claimed that "you can't get a fair trial in this building," and that "these are people hell-bent on wanting to rid this city of corruption!"

Save Corruption, Vote Durkin!

"If you take mail fraud theory to its logical conclusion, everyone in City Hall with a role in hiring is a potential co-schemer."

Exactly! Now you're talking sense.

And now you're not. Durkin then said it was "ridiculous" that the "supposed beneficiary" of the patronage scheme was the mayor's campaign apparatus.

Is he talking about the same trial we are?

"I think most people on the street think we had the case," he said in the Tribune.

Not on my street. And not in the jury box. Foreman Jay Olshansky said the prosecution's case was "extraordinarily strong."

Finally, Durkin said, "This is the kind of federal government we've elected and a majority of people in this country seem to want it."

Whatever that means.

Editorial Sages
The Sun-Times editorial page shockingly hit it out of the park in "With Hiring Verdict In, Daley Has Questions To Answer."

Most satisfying was the recollection of Daley's own denials that he doesn't play a role in city hiring and that patronage does not exist. "We don't hire anyone on a political basis," Daley once said. "We have never done that in the city."

(A former city personnel director is also recalled saying, "You don't have to know anybody. You have to know your way to Room 100 of City Hall. That's where you apply and that's where you'll be fairly considered.")

Let's just say it: The mayor is a liar.

The Tribune editorial, "Daley's Choices, Sorich's Guilt," positions the mayor's corruption as a nagging blind spot on an otherwise exemplary record it feels compels to present.

The Tribune says the mayor has had five "certifiable" successes in his 17-year run. Here they are, with comment.

1. Planting trees and beautification. Oh Lord, had no one seen flowers in a median before? He's the mayor, not the president of the Garden Club.

2. School reform. Really? Daley hasn't achieved the funding reform that almost everyone knows is desperately needed. Without that, and addressing socioeconomic issues in a deeper way than just trying to shove the poor out of the city, everything else is tinkering around the edges. Daley's "reforms" may work for those who can clout their kids into the city's top schools, but as Alexander Russo notes, Chicago is now the cautionary tale, not the model, for mayoral control of urban school systems.

3. Tearing down CHA high-rises. The Tribune thinks the mayor doesn't get enough credit for this. Huh? Maybe he doesn't get enough scrutiny. No one opposed tearing down the towers - if a workable plan for where those residents would go was in place. It wasn't. Just as the critics predicted, most former CHA residents are not returning to affordable, mixed-income neighborhoods promised by the city. Instead, they have largely resegregated in worse conditions than where they started. The point of public housing reform wasn't a beautification plan to remove the eyesores, but to provide a decent place for people in need to live.

4. Lowering the murder rate. You've got to be kidding me. During Daley's tenure, Chicago claimed the mantle of Murder Capital, U.S.A., recording not just the highest murder rate in the country for several years running, but more actual murders than New York City, which has three times the population. The problem doesn't begin and end with the mayor, but he only acted when the media finally noticed and the numbers became an embarrassment. His refusal to accede to long-standing proposals to re-align police beats to correspond to where crime was actually occurring was not only egregious, but counter to the notion of community policing he claims to advocate . While Chicago still resides at or near the top of the murder charts, he now gets credit for a drop in the numbers that simply corresponds to national trends?

5. Building improvements at O'Hare and Midway. Again, this is a strike against the mayor, not for him, because it illustrates his utter lack of comprehensive planning. Daley sunk $927 million into renovating a landlocked Midway instead of shutting it down and investing in an alternative like Peotone. The result? Planes that slide off runways and kill kids sitting in traffic. Meanwhile, O'Hare is the best example, as the Tribune itself has shown in Pulitzer Prize winning reporting, of the corruption that has consumed this administration. That's what those building improvements are about.

If this is the best the Trib can do on the mayor's behalf, I've been much too kind to him.

Quotes And Notes
FIRST ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY GARY SHAPIRO: At bottom this case was about a scam . . . the creation of a new machine, a corrupt jobs machine, a machine that stole jobs that should have gone to qualified applicants without political favor and instead went to fuel political armies . . . these were not mopes, they were high-level guys.

LEAD PROSECUTOR PATRICK COLLINS: People in governmental entities fear the system more than they fear the FBI . . . The notion that [the defendants] are heroes for standing tall in the 11th Ward [is absurd] . . . Mr. Sorich knowingly allowed people that were unqualified, people that were drunk, to be put in the hole with other men. That is a public safety risk."

SHAPIRO: The irony meter shut off for this afternoon. I think I will not comment on that. [I didn't hear the question, but I'm dying to know what it was.]

SHAPIRO: As a matter of law, Chicago is required to engage in non-political hiring. They falsified Shakman certifications. That's just good old fraud. That's lying to make your scheme work.

MICHAEL SHAKMAN (in separate news reports): It's especially sad and especially serious when you think about the fact that these men were convicted of stealing jobs from honest citizens and awarding them on a basis of political clout

You have to lay the responsibility at the feet of Mayor Daley. These are his people, who never would have thought of doing this without his approval."

ALD. BERNIE STONE (to the Sun-Times): This whole trial was ridiculous. All these trials send a message . . . you will be found guilty. That's the power of the big eagle.

PAUL GREEN (to CNN in 2004): You need a tolerable level of corruption to really make things work. You've got to have a little grease to make things smooth.

JAY STEWART (in a statement): Despite the wailing and moaning of Chicago's ruling political class, the everyday citizens that made up the jury had no difficulty in determining that the relentless political intervention, sham interviews and records manipulation that epitomize the "City that Works" are nothing more than criminal conduct. Machine politicians and their courtiers are undoubtedly perplexed to learn that gaming the system for their benefit is illegal. But taxpaying citizens, who ultimately foot the bill for enriching cronies, understood this inherently corrupt ethos of Chicago's politics and rejected it.

The corrupt system exposed by the trial has existed for one reason only: to further Mayor Daley's political might. It did not serve to make the City more efficient, nor encourage diversity or any of the other flimsy excuses offered by the Mayor's apologists.

GREEN: "Not many great political writers have come out of Wisconsin," said Green. "The city of Chicago and the state of Illinois were not built by great planners, they were built by great speculators, people who risked a lot to do a lot. That mentality is still here today. And that's what we get periodically as the price of getting things done."

"I'm personally sad for Gov. Ryan," said Green. "But let's not go overboard and start wringing our hands and trying to become the Oregon of the Middle West."

What's The Matter With Oregon?
Election turnout by state according to The New York Times via the U.S. Census Bureau, April 2006:

1. Minnesota: 79.2 percent.

2. Wisconsin: 76.6 percent.

3. Oregon: 74.0 percent.

24. Illinois: 66.0 percent.

The List
Did I hear political pundit Bob Crawford tell Carol Marin on Chicago Tonight the other night that the reason why it took the feds so long to prosecute this case when the city turned over its hiring records in 1987 was because "They lost the list!"?

The folks in the U.S. Attorney's Office have obviously never worked for Grayson Moorhead Securities.

Supremely Patronage
Justice Brennan delivered the opinion of the Court.

To the victor belong only those spoils that may be constitutionally obtained. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976), and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980), decided that the First Amendment forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved. Today we are asked to decide the constitutionality of several related political patronage practices, whether promotion, transfer, recall, and hiring decisions involving low-level public employees may be constitutionally based on party affiliation and support. We hold that they may not.

[Patronage] can result in the entrenchment of one or a few parties to the exclusion of others" and "is a very effective impediment to the associational and speech freedoms which are essential to a meaningful system of democratic government."

A government's interest in securing effective employees can be met by discharging, demoting or transferring staffmembers whose work is deficient. A government's interest in securing employees who will loyally implement its policies can be adequately served by choosing or dismissing certain high-level employees on the basis of their political views. See Elrod, supra, at 365368; Branti, supra, at 518, and 520, n.14. Likewise, the "preservation of the democratic process" is no more furthered by the patronage promotions, transfers, and rehires at issue here than it is by patronage dismissals. First, "political parties are nurtured by other, less intrusive and equally effective methods." Elrod, supra, at 372373. Political parties have already survived the substantial decline in patronage employment practices in this century. See Elrod, 427 U.S., at 369, and n.23; see also L. Sabato, Goodbye to Good-time Charlie 67 (2d ed. 1983) ("The number of patronage positions has significantly decreased in virtually every state"); Congressional Quarterly Inc., State Government, CQ's Guide to Current Issues and Activities 134 (T. Beyle ed. 19891990) ("Linkage[s] between political parties and government office-holding . . . have died out under the pressures of varying forces [including] the declining influence of election workers when compared to media and money-intensive campaigning, such as the distribution of form letters and advertising"); Sorauf, Patronage and Party, 3 Midwest J. Pol. Sci. 115, 118120 (1959) (many state and local parties have thrived without a patronage system). Second, patronage decidedly impairs the elective process by discouraging free political expression by public employees. See Elrod, 427 U.S., at 372 (explaining that the proper functioning of a democratic system "is indispensably dependent on the unfettered judgment of each citizen on matters of political concern"). Respondents, who include the Governor of Illinois and other state officials, do not suggest any other overriding government interest in favoring Republican Party supporters for promotion, transfer, and rehire.

We therefore determine that promotions, transfers, and recalls after layoffs based on political affiliation or support are an impermissible infringement on the First Amendment rights of public employees.


Posted on July 8, 2006

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