Friends of Frank Coconate

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It's pretty well known to folks at City Hall that political gadfly Frank Coconate (PDF) is an odd man out in Chicago politics.

Actually, that's an understatement.

For the last several years Coconate, a 27-year water department employee, has been a key source for reporters doing stories on waste, corruption, and clout in city government. In 2005 he went public, even appearing on TV wearing a Jesse Jackson Jr. for mayor button (remember them?). In August 2005 the city fired him, accusing him of violating work rules.

He appealed his firing, and for the last two years he's been battling the city in hearings before the human resources board.

On Tuesday he had his last one, as lawyers for both sides made their closing arguments. Before it, he sent out an e-mail asking friends, supporters, and reporters to attend.

Coconate may be persona non grata with the Daley administration, but among the 25 or so folks who showed at the 11th-floor City Hall hearing room were aldermen Manny Flores (1st) and Howard Brookins (21st). Coconate worked several precincts for Flores during his first aldermanic campaign in 2003, and he met Brookins through Jackson. Neither Brookins nor Flores stayed for the whole hearing (and who can blame them? it went on for about five hours), but they didn't try to hide their attendance. They signed in with the receptionist at the front desk outside the hearing room, and as they left they made a point of stopping by to shake Cocanate's hand.

"I showed up for Frank," says Flores. "He's an old friend."

Flores's appearance was particularly gutsy, since he's running for Congress in a race where Daley will have some sway. It's nice to know that there are a few politicians willing to put loyalty to an old friend over their subservience to the mayor. 

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