The Tip of the Iceberg

I’m beginning to wonder whether the key trait necessary to be a politician these days is an utter lack of self-awareness. In his Chicago Tribune column John Kass points out the irony in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s moral posturing about Ed Burke:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure was quick to clean up Chicago’s City Hall after that Burke mess.

“An individual has to distinguish between their public life and their private business,” the mayor was quoted as saying, talking about Burke. “And they shouldn’t let those lines ever cross.”

Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, the longtime chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, allegedly let those lines cross.

He’s now facing federal extortion charges.

And Rahm, who never wants to let a good crisis go to waste, helped push Burke out as chairman and installed his own floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, as boss of the Finance Committee.

“You can do all of what you’re supposed to do in changing the laws, being clear about the laws of what’s black and white,” Emanuel said. “But in the area of gray, you fall upon your moral judgment and your ethical judgment. … It doesn’t require a law to say that your public life is not supposed to be … enriching your private life.”


Which brings me to a fascinating series by the Chicago Tribune of a few years ago, in which Ald. O’Connor and his wife, successful real estate broker Barbara O’Connor, had a starring role.

It was called “Neighborhoods for Sale.” The gist of it was that aldermen and developers used the written (and unwritten) rules to lord over a building boom that reshaped Chicago neighborhoods. And some made good money.

One of my favorite stories from June 2008 had this headline:

“He zones. She sells. And it’s legal.”

Left unmentioned: that Rahm himself parlayed his political contacts into a job with an investment banker for which he was otherwise utterly unqualified and received millions.

Kass continues:

They’re not even the slightest bit shamed. Emanuel can spout such nonsense installing O’Connor, talk about Burke and morality, and never blush, because either his skin is made of wood or perhaps he just thinks the people of Chicago are stupid fools.

And the ethics czars at City Hall can say that what the O’Connors do is OK, because, well, he doesn’t have a personal stake in her business. Their arrogance is stunning.

It’s rather like Burke’s arrogance, allegedly using his control of government to withhold permits and other services for business in order to compel that business to hire his law firm.

And, over all these years, did you ever hear Bill Daley condemn Burke? Or Toni Preckwinkle or Gery Chico or Susana Mendoza? They’re all part of that clique, like some beast with interchangeable heads.

We can only hope that Ald. Burke takes some of these figures down with him but I’m not optimistic. Omertà.

It was one thing to back these crooked pols when they were bringing home the bacon but now they’re not even doing that.

5 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    For those who don’t know, Toni Preckwinkle listed in the last paragraph is the county board president, now running for mayor. Burke directed the business owners to make a campaign contribution to her, essentially for making his extortion difficult. She’s not the only candidate with such connections.

  • Ms. Preckwinkle distinguished herself by supporting the extremely unpopular “soda tax”. One of the problems of city and county government in Illinois is that the only ways they are empowered to raise revenue are by borrowing or imposing regressive taxes. Consequently, when they say that they want to increase services and “soak the rich” it’s wishful thinking or knowing deception. They’d need to amend the state’s constitution to do it.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I reviewed the federal investigator’s affidavit over the weekend, and contrary to the Mayor’s shuffling, I noticed:

    1. The extortion scheme involved an a city building department employee serving under the Mayor. Who hired him? What systems were in place to provide transparency and oversight? (Also, when is the indictment coming, because it doesn’t look like he cooperated, or was even asked to cooperate) In any event, I suspect the City will get sued for a civil rights violation and lost profits for the employee’s actions.

    2. The city process of aldermanic holds seems excessive. It shouldn’t be for building renovations, and if its going to be used, a reason should be required for the hold. The holds here went beyond law and custom, but were enabled by their excessive scope anyway.

    3. Annual driveway permitting seems weird. Requiring permission to open or close a driveway cut is normal. The bit about requiring annual insurance for the driveway, through an annual permitting process is unusual and excessive.

    4. Property taxes probably have to be high and arbitrary to make tax protests profitable enough for extortion. His firm took the work on contingency to perform legal work that in most places doesn’t require a lawyer.

    5. Part of the government’s case is based upon an architect and a city employee stating that the holds were unprecedented. This reflects positively on other aldermen, but the evidence that an out-of-state politician (Texas?) helped steer the business owner to Burke as someone you need to know, suggests the power of a corrupt reputation that rarely needs to be exercised. Is it coincidence that Trump hired Burke’s firm for his tax work? He probably got pointed in that direction without a hint of extortion.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I also couldn’t help wonder while reading this if the most important underlying factor is the change in technology and the lack of comprehension thereof by some, often older, people. The feds recorded his cell-phone conversations and obtained his AOL e-mails. Almost as if he thought that he was safe so long as he didn’t conduct his business on a landline.

  • Andy Link

    The fact he still uses an AOL email says a lot.

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