I must say I cringed a bit when I read a gushing forward by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar who states the book Corrupt Illinois is the most comprehensive account of corruption in our state ever published. A Washington Times writer who reviewed this book called Edgar – who got the 1995 Amendatory Act passed that gave Mayor Richard Daley dictatorial control of the city schools – “Chicago’s last scrupulously honest and effective Republican governor.”
Really? Is that because Edgar never had a major scandal or went to prison like the two governors that followed him? If you don’t get caught you’re not corrupt in a system that is functionally corrupt?
Those questions don’t register in this book written by UIC professor Dick Simpson and political affairs consultant Thomas Gradel. While this book is indeed comprehensive and fun to read about all the corrupt acts our state and city officials have been caught doing, there is no real analysis of how the system works.
One reviewer lamented that the two authors do not present enough solutions to the problem of corruption. But is there a solution? I say read Machiavelli, considered the founder of modern political science, to understand how politics works.
Gradel and Simpson illustrate how corrupt our government is by recounting all the major corruption scandals that have rocked our state and city. According to their statistics, Chicago ranks as the most corrupt city in the country, with Illinois ranked as the third most corrupt state. They note four of the last nine Illinois governors went to jail, 33 aldermen have been convicted and 13 judges were taken down in Operation Greylord for fixing court cases. The breath and scope of our public officials’ corruption is impressive indeed!
The authors state that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, although being more transparent and not beholden to the Chicago Machine, “continues mayoral control over the Chicago city council, just like his machine-boss predecessors. In fact, he has more control than ever.”
After studying votes on controversial issues, the authors write, “Our conclusion was that Emanuel presides over a more compliant rubber-stamp city council than any mayor in Chicago history.”
The current mayor’s corruption scandals do not take a back seat to his predecessor Daley. It was Emanuel who selected Barbara Byrd Bennett, who will be the first chief of the city’s public schools to go to prison, and it was Emanuel who implemented a massive cover-up of the Laquan McDonald shooting that resulted in protests throughout the city demanding the mayor’s resignation.
Corruption appears to be an acceptable way to do business with the government. How many government officials, like Congressman Dan Rostenkowski and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, were reelected even though they had known conflicts of interest and their cronies were indicted for corrupt schemes.
The people elected Donald Trump who openly works with convicted felons, Mafia and drug traffickers. We are all corrupt.
The authors write that corruption is interaction between officials and citizens via bribery, interaction within public institutions via patronage and nepotism and influence over political institutions via clout and misuse of power.
Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability (a monopoly of power, great discretion in the hands of elected officials and a lack of accountability).
The authors think like republicans that we should eliminate some of our government. There are 540 governments with the power to tax in Cook County, 1,200 in the Chicago Metropolitan region and more than 7,000 in Illinois.
The image of our government is perhaps the most damaging. The most harmful effects of rampant corruption are community apathy in which people accept the status quo and disengage in the political process. Therefore, “prosecution alone is not a sufficient cure.”
The first stolen elections were in 1833 when the town of Chicago was incorporated. Over the years reformers have been elected, but never with enough control over the government to eliminate political corruption, the authors state.
However, I also cringe when I hear the word reform. Reform includes shaking up the city and gentrifying it so that most people who lived there can no longer afford to. Reforming the public schools meant charter schools, which ultimately leads to more corruption with less accountability.
The financial cost of corruption to taxpayers is estimated to be at least $500 million a year, the book states.
Chicago is notorious for election fraud. The most common form today is rigging absentee voting in precincts, especially at nursing homes. This is a result of machine politics, which includes getting government services in return for your votes, and a businessman getting a corrupt contract because he paid into a campaign. Machine politics is basically an economic exchange system.
The Shakman decree tried to take a big bite out of the machine when it mandated that Democrats in Chicago could not fire government employees based on political work or contributions and employees cannot do political work on government time. However, patronage hiring, while unconstitutional, was and still is an integral way one gets hired. When I argued with the politics of a Rahm Emanuel petition gatherer, he said it was purely to get a job.
“While patronage has shrunk, it is still a part of the machine-politics tradition in Chicago and Illinois.”
Nepotism is also a big problem that continues today. Simpson writes about how when he served as the 44th Ward Alderman, he challenged the appointment of Tom Keane to the Zoning Board of Appeals in 1971 because he was the son of Mayor Richard Daley’s floor leader and the vice president of the biggest real-estate company in Chicago. The Board of Appeals would affect the value of all the company’s properties. Simpson said it posed a problem for the faith of citizens in the govern. Daley passionately defended his choice, and the council voted 44-2 in favor of Keane. Simpson said Daley defended his choice because he was favoring his own sons with government contracts, such as giving a no-bid insurance contract to a company that employed one of his sons. Today Cook County Assessor Joe Berios has a number of relatives working in the assessor’s office. While there is a clause that prevents Chicago public school principals from hiring family members, there is no such law for charter school operators, and many exploit it.
Simpson and Gradel note that global money has replaced machine economics with Rahm Emanuel. “If machine politics is replaced by big money provided by secret wealthy individuals and corporations, it will simply be replaced by an oligarchy.”
Next week we will take a look at one of the biggest corruption scandals affecting our court system as well as why police corruption continues.