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Crimes Against Humility

Political Atrocities of 1997



In wine country some years begin with routine weather conditions that suggest an ordinary crop. Then late in the season a perfect confluence of sunshine and rain brings a special magic to the vineyards. So too may things change on the political landscape.

Early this nonelection year it seemed we would have only a few sour grapes to chew on. Then in October came a series of revelations that made '97 a vintage year for political atrocities.

Like any fine wine, however, '97 was a product of deep roots. Those roots go back to 1976, when the real Mayor Daley died. Alderman Michael Bilandic of the 11th Ward was made mayor, and state senator Richard M. Daley succeeded his father as ward committeeman. To replace Bilandic, young Richard plucked from obscurity the 11th Ward secretary, a city tree trimmer and longtime buddy. His name was Patrick Huels, and he wins the first of this year's Janey Awards, the Oscars of political prostitution.


No one noticed when the former tree trimmer switched from couture by J.C. Penney to wearing $3,000 cashmere suits, started driving a big Beamer, and blimped up to 300 pounds--signs he wasn't merely making wise investments with the spare change from his aldermanic salary. In the classic aldermanic mode, Huels was getting "honest graft" through his security firm, SDI Security Inc., as Sun-Times sleuths Chuck Neubauer and Charles Nicodemus have revealed:

Huels's business prospered through favors for companies like Toys "R" Us and contractor friends such as trucking magnate Mike Tadin. Meanwhile SDI sometimes avoided the city's head tax or didn't bother paying federal payroll taxes or employee union benefits. Tadin, an old buddy of both Daley and Huels, picked up some $50 million in business from the city and made more leasing and selling land at high prices to the city--all real estate he'd bought cheap. So it was nothing for Tadin to lend Huels $1.25 million to settle a federal tax lien. Mayor-for-life Daley was shocked--shocked--to read about the loan when the Sun-Times splashed it across page one. He eventually called for Huels's head.

There's no Huels like an old Huels.


Huels isn't the only crony prospering from the, security business. Mayor-for-life Daley's now ex-chief bodyguard, Michael Marano, also has such a business--run by his wife out of their living room. This fledgling firm somehow won many city contracts. The good mayor was also shocked to learn of this--so shocked he issued an executive order to his staff, including security people, forbidding them to take outside jobs and banning their spouses from doing business w ith the city. Plus, no city employees or their spouses can accept $1.25 million loans from Michael Tadin--or any other loan from a city contractor.

Marano took a $40,000 pay cut and had to suffer the ignominy of returning to life as a patrol officer to keep his wife's security company.


Another close Daley pal, developer Tommy Rosenberg, bagged a no-bid consulting contract worth perhaps $12 million to oversee rehab and construction in the Chicago Public Schools. Rosenberg got the contract last December from the Chicago Board of Education, which is headed by Daley appointee Gery Chico. The press got wind of it in February. Was this an example of pinstripe patronage? "None whatsoever," quoth the mayor-for-life. "I haven't had, any breakfasts or lunches or dinners [with Rosenberg] for two or three months."

Chico spent most of the year: refusing to reduce Rosenberg's contract. Then in October Daley issued his new ethics orders, and lo and behold, Chico announced Rosenberg's contract would be "reviewed" to see if the school board could get a better deal elsewhere. But after all that, Rosenberg decided he's not going to ask the board to renew his contract--because, as schools chief Paul Vallas told the Tribune, "He said that he's tired of reading his name in the newspaper. He said he really doesn't need the business. And he's had it."


Alderman Ed Burke began bidding for his Janey Award back in January, when former 31st Ward alderman Joseph Martinez pleaded guilty to ghosting on three City Council committees, including Burke's finance committee. Martinez was working full-time for Burke's law firm at the time. Then the Sun-Times started a page-one series investigating possible conflicts of interest in Burke's City Council votes. After reporters questioned him, Burke tried rewriting history by blithely going back to the council journal and changing four votes that he'd made favoring his private clients to abstentions. When the Sun-Times reported that too, he said he was just correcting errors in the journal made by Alderman Thomas Cullerton, who'd died months before one of the votes was cast. Now that's a pesky ghost.

Burke even had a cameo role in the Huels scandal. Burke and Huels, the Sun-Times reported, authorized payments totaling $633,971 from their council committees to attorney Michael Pedicone, an SDI corporate officer. Burke himself served as SDI corporate secretary for five years, according to Sun-Times ghostbusters Nicodemus and Neubauer. Burke later offered a memo claiming Pedicone had actually performed services for his committee. This is the real Burke's Law.


You don't have to be a machine alderman to win a Janey. Take Bob Creamer. Last summer he resigned as head of Citizen Action of Illinois--a "progressive" lobbying group, heavily financed by developers and trial lawyers, that Creamer helped found--after being questioned by the feds about a million-dollar bank overdraft and about whether it was related to an alleged check-kiting scheme involving a Citizen Action affiliate in Portland, Oregon.

Creamer also manages the political career of his wife, state representative Jan Schakowsky, who's now vying for Sidney Yates's congressional seat. Schakowsky claims she had nothing to do with Citizen Action's fiscal operations, that she served only on its policy advisory committee. But she spent much of her prelegislative career in administrative roles at Citizen Action and its predecessor groups, Illinois Public Action and the Illinois Public Action Council, which shut down because of debts, including unpaid payroll taxes. Her romance with Creamer blossomed while they ran the organizations.


Governor Jim Edgar adopted a brilliant Democratic idea and proposed a grand plan to fund the state's starving schools by increasing the income tax while reducing the property tax. But because his fellow Republicans don't like either Democratic or brilliant ideas, they killed the plan in the state senate (though he recently shamed them into passing a watered-down version). Edgar got even with the: bastards: he made their survival more difficult by refusing to head the ticket again.


Cynics of course suggest the guv said no to another run because he feared further embarrassment from the scandal billowing around Management Services of Illinois, which is accused of cheating taxpayers out of as much as $7 million. And why did MSI get a contract in the first place? Because it lavished gifts (not bribes) on mid-level state bureaucrats? Because it gave tens of thousands in campaign contributions (not bribes) to GOP legislative leaders? Because it became one of the guv's biggest campaign contributors? Of course not, the guv insisted while testifying at the trial where the cofounder of MSI and the man at the welfare department who oversaw MSI's no-bid contract were convicted. In a subsequent trial the convicted MSI executive ratted on his boss, William Ladd. Ladd was soon convicted of bank fraud--but caused no further damage to Edgar. One of the crooks' lawyers, Patrick Tuite, said all the convictions could "shut down the town" of Springfield. Not a bad idea.


Republican flipping and flopping began with Al "Two Gun" Salvi, the defeated Senate candidate who discovered that his pistolmania was too extreme for Illinois. He announced that he's against assault weapons for ordinary folk and supports limited gun control--at least as long as he's running for secretary of state.

Du Page County Board chairman Gayle Franzen, one of the new millionaires created by casino gambling boats, set a record by getting in and out of the secretary of state race in a week. The Sun-Times's Steve Neal suggests it's because Franzen can't take a financial search.

And state comptroller Loleta Didrickson, like Caesar refusing the laurels, twice said she would not run for the U.S. Senate, preferring to run for secretary of state. But Didrickson finally heard what she described as the call of the people--or, more accurately, the call of gubernatorial candidate George Ryan--and became a Senate candidate at last.


Rich Daley helped bail Senator Carol Moseley-Braun out of her huge campaign debt--though she was a no-show at the big Chicago fundraiser he helped set up for her featuring President Bill Clinton. She's now the see-no-evil senator. Asked whether the federal government should investigate corruption in the Daley administration, the onetime prosecutor told the Trib's John Kass, "This is a governmental and policy issue, so it's not appropriate for me to express an opinion." Right. The senator's long string of good luck could end next year if Didrickson manages to defeat ultra-right-wing millionaire Peter Fitzgerald in the Republican primary and runs against Moseley-Braun.

Moseley-Braunians are praying for Fitzgerald, perhaps the one-person she can defeat.


Edwin Eisendrath, chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, is petitioning Washington for the right to buy electricity from Wisconsin for CHA buildings because Commonwealth Edison's rates are too expensive. How shocking. Only a few years ago Alderman Eisendrath was the power broker who headed the City Council committee that greased Com Ed's expensive sweetheart contract through the council over the objections of consumer advocates.

Soon Electrifyin' Eddie will be leaving his dual gigs as head of the CHA and regional director of HUD to take a job in the private sector with, he says, a high-tech "educational" firm--which he calls another form of "public, service." There's no truth to the rumor that he's quitting in a snit because his efforts to be slated for state comptroller were rebuffed. None whatsoever.


Former U.S. attorney "Little Jim" Burns, now running for governor, says he thinks the feds should investigate high-level corruption in the Daley administration. The big question for Little Jim: Why didn't you go after any of the big fish--Huels, Burke, even Daley--while you were in office? Their cronies were raking in millions while you were setting up penny-ante stings to trap out-of-the-loop black and Latino officials. Perhaps you thought you'd need the Burkes and Huelses and Daleys for your gubernatorial race? Let's call a Silver Shovel a spade.


Erratic federal judge Brian Duff again upheld the challenged remap of Chicago's wards, despite its obvious racial imbalance. Nothing politically correct about him. The process of drawing up the map, which was done in secret, was once described by Huels as "the' most open in Chicago's history." Former anti-remap activist Carol Moseley-Braun sees no evil in the Duff ruling, because she claims she still hasn't read the case. According to Illinois Politics, gubernatorial candidate John Schmidt, while working in the U.S. justice Department, saw to it that the feds didn't enter the case on behalf of the minorities (Schmidt denies it). Now he's got Daley's backing in the race. Mighty white of him.


Mayor-for-life Daley danced on the head of a pin explaining that, yes, there definitely had been discrimination in the Fire Department during his dad's administration, but dear old dad had had nothing to do with it. The department was run by the elder Daley's closest pal, Bob Quinn. Quoth Rich, "It was mostly whites that applied in that department."

It also came out that the elder Daley, whose Red squad spied on all manner of political enemies, was himself the subject of FBI political surveillance for associating with communists. According to Rich, dad "always knew the FBI was watching him.... You expected that, definitely."

While visiting Washington, the mayor expressed his concern for the environment by opining, "All the EPA does is cause a problem, then came out against funding the Education Department. His comments prompted a conservative downstate congressman to exult, "He's a Republican."

Rich also observed that "campaign" financing is consuming the executive and legislative branch. Washington is consumed with money." Back home, however, he vigorously defended the right of his brother's law firm to rake in the business in city zoning cases. And when a reform-minded alderman proposed that officials be prohibited from taking campaign contributions from firms doing business with the city, Rich responded, "But you can't do that.... Why would you do that?"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Mike Werner.

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