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About a year and a half ago I got a tip that the feds were looking into the dealings of west-side political boss Isaac Carothers. Not long after that I saw the burly alderman lumbering down a hallway behind City Council chambers and asked him if it was true.
What was interesting was that he didn't act surprised or angry. And of course he didn't say no.
"I haven't heard anything like that," he said.
Yesterday, of course, Carothers pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes and failing to tell the tax man about some of the political favors he's received. He then resigned his seat in the City Council.
His absence will be noticeable. From the Trib's coverage of the spectacle:
"Even on a City Council full of strong personalities, Carothers, 55, was known as a bit of a political bully and had the bluster to match his sizable frame. Ever a Daley defender, he spoke on the council floor with the assuredness of colleagues with decades more experience and was not above belittling those who did not side with the mayor."
He could be a bully, but more often he was a slick operator who could pretend to be a bully when it was convenient. As I've noted before, he sometimes complained that the Daley administration wasn't keeping aldermen informed, that it was wasting taxpayer money, that it wasn't paying attention to people in the neighborhoods. He's a well-spoken guy, and he'd use his rhetorical skills to cut down department officials with some choice remarks sure to make the papers . . . and then turn around and go along with what the administration was pushing. One of my favorite Carothers turnabouts happened a couple years ago over Daley's plan to spend tens of millions of dollars in TIF funds to complete the downtown Riverwalk. Carothers was outraged by the idea before he supported it.
Worst of all, though, was that as the administration's handpicked chairman of the committee on police and fire, Carothers served as the mayor's gatekeeper on public safety issues rather than as a watchdog on behalf of citizens.
When pressured to convene hearings on a discredited report on police torture, he did—but refused to let aldermen ask top cops about anything besides the report itself, including evidence of ongoing police misconduct. When the city was hit with its latest outburst of youth violence last fall, he agreed to convene the committee—so it could discuss an ordinance cracking down on loud dog barking. In recent months he's resisted efforts to reform the police board, a group of mayoral appointees that's supposed to oversee disciplinary actions against officers—and he did so even after a study showed that the board helps keep troubled cops on the force and offers little in the way of explanation for its decisions.
Most months the committee's agenda was dominated by ordinances authorizing the donation of old police and fire vehicles to communities in Central and South America—a noble recycling effort, but hardly an undertaking that will confront the serious crime and policing issues facing Chicago.
And it's not like Carothers went out of his way to look out for the police department either. He voted for all of Daley's budgets, including recent ones that have cut funding for officers and undermined one of the department's most effective training programs.
True, there were things to like about Carothers. First and foremost, he added personality to to the City Council—his loathing for so-called reformers and anything to do with Jesse Jackson (Sr. or Jr.) was particularly entertaining.
In fact, it would be tempting to say good riddance to the man except that the mayor gets to appoint his successor. Something tells me we'll get somebody with no more guts or independence and only half as interesting.