Originally posted on ChicagoTribune.com
By John Kass
Aldermen want reform now, the Chicago Way
The national view of Chicago Democratic politicians is that they’re messianic reformers like the young Moses we sent to Washington, or they’re colorful yet environmentally green rogues with short shanks and hot tempers.
Unfortunately, what came out of City Hall last week wasn’t fantasy.
So it didn’t exactly sound like trumpets playing Handel’s water music. Instead, this was a percussion of meat.
It was like a beating in an alley, fists thunking on ribs and the sound of the slugger’s heavy breathing. And who was getting the beating?
If you live in Chicago, look in the mirror.
Not everyone was numb. Six Chicago aldermen were brave enough to try to stop it. And you should know their names at the beginning of this, not at the end. The only aldermen who stood up for you are: Bob Fioretti, 2nd; Leslie Hairston, 5th; Scott Waguespack, 32nd; Brendan Reilly, 42nd; Nick Sposato, 36th; and John Arena, 45th.
And the others? They slapped you around, my fellow chumbolones. They gave you a Chicago Way tuneup, and now they’re laughing because they figure you won’t hold it against them.
The leader of the civic beating was Mayor Emanuel’s floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, who earlier in the week co-wrote a self-congratulatory column in the Chicago Tribune’s op-ed section about how Chicago was finally ready for reform.
Then came Wednesday’s council meeting, and by a count of 42-6, the aldermen gutted their own inspector general hired to oversee council ethics. There was one abstention: Lincoln Park neighborhood Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, did not vote. She is a former assistant U.S. attorney. And she didn’t vote. A call to Smith’s office was not returned.
Yes, looking for ethics at City Hall is like trying to find virtue in a brothel, and, yes, it’s true that oodles of aldermen have gone to federal prison, but Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan has that thankless job.
Previously, aldermen had set up roadblocks to thwart investigations. Khan’s office first required a victim’s sworn and signed complaint before he could begin a probe. And still, Khan had several investigations going, and I’m told that federal authorities call his office from time to time.
But after Wednesday’s vote, investigative powers on aldermen’s campaign finances now reside with the Chicago Board of Ethics, a hapless committee of suits and geeks which hasn’t issued a finding against a single alderman in 25 years.
O’Connor, who according to the Tribune’s Bill Ruth-hart and Hal Dardick was the subject of one of Khan’s investigations, said the vote had nothing to do with proceedings against him. O’Connor insisted, as if he could see the future, that “there will not be any finding against me.”
Clearly, Soothsayer O’Connor could make a handsome side living telling fortunes. One fortune he won’t have to tell is that of his wife, Barbara O’Connor. In 2008, the Tribune reported she generated a great and profitable business selling homes and condominiums built by developers who needed her husband to approve zoning changes, not only in their 40th Ward, but across the city.
O’Connor said there was no wrongdoing and that it’s not wrong for him to make zoning decisions on development projects where his wife might someday earn a commission.
“I’m confident we’ve done everything we possibly can within the letter and the spirit of the law,” he said then.
Spirit of the law? I hope Pat will have the decency to wear a turban and hold a crystal ball when he leads the council in a vote for more revenue after the February mayoral and aldermanic elections. More revenue, for those who haven’t had your ears bitten off in an alley fight with a politician, means taxes.
Khan was a guest Friday on my WLS-AM midmorning radio show. So I asked him: They treat us like dummies, like chumbolones, don’t they?
“Unfortunately,” Khan said, “I’d have to agree.”
“I would say I have not had a pleasant reaction from City Council,” Khan told me and guest host Kristen McQueary, a Tribune Editorial Board member. “They’ve put more obstacles in front of this office, and we’re jumping through hoops to get an investigation going, then get it approved by the Board of Ethics, who then notify the aldermen that they’re under investigation.
“So you can already hear the shredding going on at this point, and the destruction of evidence and the tampering with witnesses. So it’s not getting easier, it’s getting a lot harder.”
But don’t worry. Chicago’s ready for reform now. Ald. O’Connor said so.