Saturday, February 21, 2009

Policing Chicago aldermen

Tribune editorial:
Last Sunday, in introducing an ongoing Chicago Tribune effort titled "State of Corruption," we told you we would advance reforms to combat the culture of political sleaze at all levels of government in Illinois. This Sunday we're pleased to report that Ald. Patrick O'Connor, Mayor Richard M. Daley's floor leader in the Chicago City Council, promises to instigate a change that would empower the city's inspector general to investigate the 50 aldermen.
When he introduced an I.G. ordinance in 1989, Daley included no carve-out to protect aldermen and their staffs. When he was asked repeatedly which city employees should be subject to scrutiny, he replied, "A-L-L! How many times do I have to say it?"

That provoked high aldermanic dudgeon:

• Shaw again: "Anyone who suggests that members of the City Council are less than honorable should take that information to the state's attorney or the U.S. attorney."

• Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd) said the fact that many aldermen had been convicted of crimes "indicates the system works as it is."

• Ald. William Beavers (7th): "This is supposed to be a strong council and a weak mayor. I won't give anybody my powers."

• Ald. Fred Roti (1st): "Are you saying you're corrupt?"—an indignant rebuke to Ald. David Orr (49th), who had observed that Chicago's City Council was "one of the most corrupt historically in the country." Eight months later, Roti was indicted on corruption charges. He spent four years in prison.

Excluding aldermen and their staffs keeps the current inspector general, David Hoffman, from pursuing leads. Last Sunday's Tribune quoted him as saying that, "In some of our investigations, this has stopped us from moving in certain logical directions."
If Chicago aldermen were prone to shame, they'd be embarrassed that even members of the Cook County Board permit their inspector general to investigate themselves. Every reason voiced since 1989 for the aldermen's carve-out has collapsed:

• Council members who at times play constitutional scholar, fussing about separation of powers between executive and legislative branches, never mention that the FBI and federal prosecutors—parts of the executive Department of Justice—routinely investigate members of Congress. Even if separation of powers was a valid worry, the council is a hybrid: Aldermen legislate, but they also make executive-level decisions on such crucial matters as zoning within their wards.

• And while in prior years the I.G.'s office pursued relatively small offenses while massive City Hall corruption in hiring and contracting flourished, that changed when Hoffman arrived in 2005. His staff has proven that it operates independently from City Hall, often to Daley's chagrin. There's no reason to think the mayor would be able to pull strings and have the I.G.'s office settle political scores with disobedient aldermen.
Via Uptown Update!

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