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Political Atrocities of 1999

Our Public Servants and Their Finest Hours

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What we have here is a genuine political parable. In early October, James "Cookie" Cook, mayor of Milford, Illinois, beat a six month-old puppy to death with a shovel. Cook explained, "The dog just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." The national outpouring of rage persuaded Cook to announce he would resign at a special city Council meeting. But once at the meeting, Cook announced he wouldn't quit after all. "I had a lot of businessmen come up to me today and say they wanted me to stay," he said. "They said I was doing a hell of a good job and not to let this get me down."

Cook's big-city counterpart, Mayor-for-life Richard M. Daley, committed enough political atrocities this year to win a Janey Award for Political Prurience. He didn't murder any puppies, but he too retained his job and the support of the business community. But before examining the details of his well-earned victory, let's look at the runners-up.

A REAL PILL

City treasurer Miriam Santos ran for reelection while under indictment for mail fraud and attempted extortion. She was carried to victory by Democratic regulars because if she won and was convicted--as was expected--Daley could replace her with a wholly owned subsidiary. She was and he did, with Barbara Lumpkin. During her trial Santos was denounced by many former employees as an abusive boss. She blamed her bad personality on medication. Later, in an appeal, her lawyer claimed the medication made her voice sound harsh, which made her sound threatening to the brokers she was pressuring for money. Well, it beats the Twinkie defense.

THEATER OF THE ABSURD

Former Fifth Ward alderman Larry Bloom, convicted of tax fraud last year, served out his six-month sentence in the federal pen in Oxford, Wisconsin. "It is an absurd place," he pontificated upon his release in November. "Most of the people there may have committed crimes, but the harm being done to their families because of their absence far outweighs any benefit to society." Since the onetime candidate for state's attorney can't practice law for three years, he plans to go into real estate which is what got him into trouble in the first place.

The question remains: What turned the City Council's high priest of ethics' into a felonious monk?

DANNY BOY OH BOY!

Last year Danny Solis, the 25th Ward alderman, got caught violating School Board rules against mixing schools and politics. This year his campaign flirted with violating federal election laws when a flyer appeared in 25th Ward mailboxes reading, "Register to vote this evening and receive a complimentary bottle of wine! Presented in cooperation with Alderman 'Danny' Solis."

Confronted by Tribune columnist John Kass, Solis responded, "I didn't know they [the registration-campaign organizers] were giving out wine. That's illegal. It's against federal law. And it looks bad."

Perhaps the reason for Solis's behavior is evident in his City Council eulogy for the late First Ward alderman Fred Roti--widely viewed as the mob's representative in the council--who was convicted of it counts of racketeering and extortion. Solis declared that Roti "can be a role model for other aldermen here in this body. Certainly he's a role model for me."

PLAYING HAT AND MOUTH

Aldermen Burt "the Mouth" Natarus (42nd Ward) and Dorothy "the Hat" Tillman (3rd Ward) were debating Natarus's proposal to crack down on street musicians when Tillman invited him to dance. Noting Natarus's silence, Tillman told him, "You're scared to dance with me." Natarus replied, "I sure am. Your hat gets in my way."

The hilarious twosome were among 36 newly elected or reelected aldermen who chose to be sworn in early, which immediately qualified them to take a $10,000 salary raise.

SPRINGTIME FOR SPRINGER

Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward) put on the council's biggest circus of the year by summoning TV schlockmeister Jerry Springer to tell whether the violence on his show was staged. If it was real, ex-cop Burke suggested, the city could send Chicago policemen to arrest the perpetrators. "It looks real to me," Springer declared with a straight face.

THE CASE IN BRIEF

In the ongoing federal investigation of bribery, license peddling, and fundraising in the office of then-secretary-of-state-now-governor George Ryan, it was learned that a briefcase stuffed with cash and Ryan fund-raiser tickets disappeared from a driver-licensing facility in 1993. The bag of course could have been major evidence. So what happened to it?

Dean Bauer, a top aide to Ryan, finally told the Tribune in November that he'd removed the bag for "safekeeping"--certainly not to conceal evidence. He said he stored the bag in a secretary of state inspector general's office in Joliet for three or four years. Then, he said, he turned the money over to the state's general fund. Attempts by the Tribune to corroborate his account were unsuccessful. Dean Bauer, meet Jerry Springer.

PATE'S DEBATE FATE

The Illinois senate was debating a bill mandating a $1,000 fine for physically assaulting a sports official. Who should oppose the bill but the president of the state senate himself, James "Pate" Philip, another legislative role model.

Quoth-the prez, "Most of my friends...I think they'll tell you that every once in a while the referee or umpire ought to get popped--and pop him good...I just say maybe they deserve a pop once in a while."

BLIND MAN'S DUFF

The rest of the year belongs to our mayor-for-life who sees, speaks, and hears no evil. He was amazed to learn that some of his closest associates would reap millions of dollars in windfall profits from the proposed new casino he helped engineer for suburban Rosemont. The associates include Sandra Ann Degnan, wife of Daley's longtime political enforcer, Timothy Degnan, and one of wife Maggie Daley's gal pals, Susan Leonis.

Then there's the Duff family, whose patriarch, John Jr. is a Daley pal who once held three city jobs, once testified on behalf of mob boss Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo, and once bragged that he was friends with mob bosses Anthony Spilotro and Frank Buccieri. One of Duff Jr.'s sons, John III, has been arrested numerous times but never convicted; he once testified that mob boss Ernest Rocco Infelice helped him with a gambling debt. Last summer the Tribune disclosed that since Daley was elected in 1989, various Duff family businesses have taken in nearly $100 million in city-related contracts for janitorial and other services through Daley's privatization program--though they're often among the highest bidders for the contracts.

In one case a Duff company, Windy City Maintenance, was the low bidder, though it later billed the city $3.8 million more than its bid, pushing the cost of the contract higher than the bids of at least two other companies. That same firm, set up one month after Daley was elected, palmed itself off as a woman-owned business to take advantage of government set-asides. The "official" woman, Patricia Green, turned out to be John Jr.'s 71-year-old wife, Patricia Green Duff, who apparently has had nothing to do with running the business. Similarly, an African-American associate of Duff's was able to get another Duff business certified as a minority enterprise.

Daley, a three-term state's attorney, was shocked to learn of the Duffs' mob ties, even though they'd been investigated by the feds in 1994 for allegedly running a Florida gambling operation in connection with New York's Gambino family (the charges were later dropped).

The Duffs have thrown fund-raisers for Daley, and he has attended. But he denies that he steered city business to them, despite I this statement from newsman Bruce DuMont, whose late wife, Kathy Osterman, was the city's director of special events: "There were certain people recommended to her by Daley that she should do business with," said DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, during a July radio interview. "The Duffs were among a coterie of people she was supposed to do business with....My impression....was that the mayor and Mr. Duff were longtime friends."

Daley's response: "I knew Kathy Osterman personally. She worked for me as state's attorney from 1979 until she was elected alderman....When I was elected mayor I appointed her head of special events....She married Bruce DuMont in May of 1992....She died in December of 1992. I don't know the relationship between her and Bruce. They were husband and wife."

Still, Daley promised to "look at all the facts" in this case. At year's end the looking was still going on, but no evil has yet been seen.

Nor was evil seen in the rise of National Asphalt Heat Treating, which got the city's multimillion-dollar paving business after hooking up with Michael Tadin, a Daley pal who takes in millions from various other city enterprises, and Tony Pucillo, who use to head the city's Department of Transportation.

Tadin is the guy who loaned former 11th Ward alderman Patrick Huels a million bucks, which eventually forced Huels to resign. As in an earlier unusual deal involving Tadin, some of the city's documents relating to how National got the paving business have disappeared.

MORE ON THE RICH WATCH

You don't have to be a city contractor to love our mayor's scintillating solipsisms and strangulated syntax, which grow eerier every term. For example, after the victory of his aldermanic enemy Helen Shiner, he proclaimed, "She is not a thorn in my side. I have a beautiful side--both sides, front and back."

Anthony Porter, who was wrongfully prosecuted for murder when Daley was state's attorney, was sentenced to death and spent years on death row. He was saved from execution only after student investigators found the real killer. Asked whether he would apologize to Porter, the mayor said, "I'll apologize to anyone. I mean, society can apologize. Everybody should apologize. Personally, no. I don't even know the person. But I'll apologize to anybody on any action of society. On abortion, on domestic violence, on all that."

Daley managed to top himself with his plan for a new tax on takeout food from supermarkets and restaurants--a sneaky way of partially reinstating the sales tax that had been reduced on food and medicine. His 2000 budget includes a 0.5 percent tax on prepared foods carried out of grocery stores or fast-food restaurants in nonreusable wrappings or containers, such as paper cups and Styrofoam packages. As Mayor James "Cookie" Cook might put it, your doggie bag just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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

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