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October 17, 2009

Amazingly ignorant Macleans article on Chicago

I'm a regular subscriber to Macleans magazine, Canada's foremost newsmagazine.  First, I love that it has columns from conservative pundit Mark Steyn, Scott Feschuk, Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne.  While I don't read every article, I usually like its take on Canadian politics as well as international stories.  I don't always agree with it, but it's always thought-provoking.

Which is why I was shocked to read Jaime Weinman's article in last week's issue called "Target: Chicago - Conservative pundits have a real hate on for the Windy City"  Whether or not the premise of Weinman's article is true, he makes it sound like everything you hear about Chicago politics is a product of Conservatives' imaginations.  There's not one mention of the rampant corruption that takes place in that city, and in Illinois in general.  I found that omission rather egregious.

Weinman uses the recent controversy over the Olympic bid as a starting point to also talk about how Conservatives criticize President Obama for being a product of the Chicago "political machine" (which he is) and going on about "The Chicago Way" of politics.  He says:

"When conservatives aren’t portraying Chicago as the crime capital of America (its murder rate has been rising in recent years), they’re portraying it as the birthplace of Obama’s incipient fascism, often using a line from the movie The Untouchables, “the Chicago way,” to describe Obama’s methods. Hannity recently said that Obama is bringing “Chicago thug-style politics” to Washington. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of opposition to Obama is phrased in anti-Chicago terms; Republican congressman Darrell Issa criticized Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel by accusing him of 'resorting to the playbook of the Chicago political machine.'"
This is all fine and dandy.  Weinman has a viewpoint, and he's entitled to it.  But what he never even mentions is the rampant corruption that always has gone on in this city, and probably still is.  When I lived there, not too many days would go by that I didn't hear about another political scandal.  Mayor Richard Daley has had so many of his cronies indicted and so many corruption probes into his administration that I can only think that there has to be another reason that he's been mayor for 29 years. When you spread the money around, people like that.

Weinman completely ignores facts like this:

1) According to a article in December 2008, "more than 1,000 public officials and business people from Illinois have been convicted in federal corruption cases since 1971."  Of those, 30 were Chicago aldermen.  Three of the last eight Illinois governors have been convicted on counts from bribery to conspiracy, racketeering and bank fraud.  If former governor Rod Blagojevich goes down (I think he goes on trial next year), that will make 4 of the last 8.

2) According to the Chicago Tribune, "A key member of Mayor Richard Daley's Olympic committee has a long business relationship with a developer vying to build the billion-dollar Olympic Village, the grandest piece of Chicago's plans for the 2016 Summer Games."  Committee member Michael Scott was a consultant for a firm that would benefit greatly from the proposed "Olympic Village" if the Olympics had ultimately gone to Chicago. 

The article goes on to say:

"But Scott's multiple roles as a private developer, mayoral confidant and member of the city's Olympic committee raises anew concerns about insider dealings in a city where Daley allies have long benefited from civic projects the mayor champions. City Hall insiders for years have profited under Daley's administration in myriad deals, from minority contracting to leasing trucks to scooping up prime city-owned land."
This kind of stuff has been going on for years.  While Daley manages to skirt the actual corruption laws, it does pay greatly to be a "friend of Richard" in Chicago.

3) An FBI report on activity in Chicago comes up with some real doozeys.  Here's a couple of them:

a) January 2001: The last conviction in Operation Silver Shovel, an extensive probe into city corruption that resulted in convictions for "18 individuals, six of whom were current or former city aldermen."  When it was finished, "Silver Shovel had uncovered everything from labor union corruption to drug trafficking and organized crime activity."

The first indictments in this investigation were handed down in 1995.

b)  October 19, 1990 - A Cook County Circuit Court Judge, an Illinois State Senator, a Chicago Alderman, and two others were charged by a federal grand jury as a result of FBI Chicago's Operation Gambat investigation. These individuals were charged with crimes relating to corruption in the Cook County Circuit Court, the Illinois Senate, and the Chicago City Council. Four of those charged were convicted; the fifth defendant died awaiting trial.

c) November 21, 1986 - The first of two federal grand jury indictments was returned as part of the FBI's Operation Incubator. A total of fourteen local officials were charged with accepting bribes, including a Deputy Water Commissioner, the Cook County Clerk, a former Mayoral Aide, and four Aldermen.

4) 2005 - The Hired Truck program.  As mentioned in this Chicago Tribune list of cases that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has handled:
"The charge: In the investigation that would ultimately lead prosecutors into the heart of City Hall, a host of top city officials and trucking contractors were indicted in 2004 for a massive bribe scheme that corrupted the city's Hired Truck program.

The result: 42 people were convicted, including City Clerk James Laski (left) and former Water Department No. 2 Donald Tomczak"
 This list also includes reaching into the offices of Mayor Daley himself:
"The charge: In July 2005, Fitzgerald's office reached deeply into Mayor Richard Daley's City Hall, indicting Daley's longtime aide Robert Sorich (left) and three other city officials.

The result: Sorich and two co-defendants were convicted in 2006 of conspiring to reward pro-Daley political workers with city jobs and promotions. The investigation of City Hall continues and more indictments are widely expected."
I could go on, but you get the picture.  Chicago is notorious for it's political corruption, and for Weinman to intimate that all of this bad publicity for Chicago is a result of Conservatives feeling "like Chicago is a city that embraces all the people who are trying to destroy America" is a complete lie by omission.

I think it's totally dishonest to do an article like this and entirely leave out the city's long political history.  There's a reason that there's the old joke about dead people voting in Chicago.  This article does not reflect well on Macleans or on Weinman, who has written many articles I find interesting and informative, so this is not to question Weinman's reporting skills.  I just think he dropped the ball this time.


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