The Chicago Syndicate: What Happens to Chicago's Top Mob and Corruption Fighter After the Presidential Election?
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What Happens to Chicago's Top Mob and Corruption Fighter After the Presidential Election?

Despite the national media's childlike fantasy that Illinois is something like Camelot—where the knights rise to power without staining their shining armor—we're still neck deep in corruption and sleazy pay-to-play politics.

The Chicago Outfit, though wounded, still reaches out to friendly pols. The bipartisan Illinois Combine that runs things isn't finished, though a Republican boss was indicted last week. The Democratic half of the Combine, Chicago's Daley machine, is now poised to leverage the awesome power of the White House. And what the machine wants is control of the federal hammer in its backyard.

Readers keep asking me the same question: Will the next president keep Patrick Fitzgerald as the U.S. attorney in Chicago?

I really can't say. What are political promises worth from politicians with debts to pay? But here's what I do know. There is no story more important to the people of Chicago and of Illinois than the future of Fitzgerald, who has systematically hunted down the corruption.

Corruption the Chicago Way doesn't only waste money and burden taxpayers. This isn't only about isolated instances of graft and amusing, earthy rapscallions. That is a cartoon. The reality is that Illinois political corruption is an infection that spreads. The people either are numbed and deny it, or they feel pressured to suck up to their overlords. That's not American. That's positively Medieval.

That's how important this is. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have promised to keep Fitzgerald here.

"If we lose him, we lose everything," said a Chicago FBI agent wise in the ways of Chicago politics and its symbiosis with the Chicago mob. "I can't imagine it happening. He's the guy who pulls the trigger on all these investigations. If it happens, if they get rid of him, forget it."

Fitzgerald, brought here as an independent with no political connections and no ambitions to run for governor or knock down seven figures at a law firm, has done more in a few years than could have been imagined.

A corrupt former Republican governor in prison. A Democratic governor with a creeping case of feditis that appears to be politically terminal. City Hall patronage bosses convicted. And the leaders of the Chicago mob are scheduled for sentencing in December, which means the Outfit is in no mood to play the enforcer for their favored politicians.

History shows us that governors are expendable, but mayors are not. In this city's fantastic history of corruption, a mayor has never gone down. Chicago mayors are like the queen bee, and all other bees protect her, because she lays the magic eggs. Without the eggs, what's the point of public service? After years of climbing, Fitzgerald is getting close to the hive.

McCain has no loyalty to the Republican half of the Combine, which backed Mitt Romney, who made it clear he would dump Fitzgerald if elected. But McCain was unequivocal in his support for Fitzgerald and said the prosecutor should remain where he is, fighting political corruption in Illinois, not promoted up or out.

"I'd keep him. I'd keep him," McCain said last November when I asked him at a session with the Tribune's editorial board, of which I am not a member. "I think he has done a good job and I think the American people are crying out for having this corruption cleaned up."

Obama, meanwhile, talks reform. But he's backed by the Chicago machine. And Obama's own longtime friend and real estate fairy, Tony Rezko, has been convicted of corruption and is believed to be preparing to talk to the feds.

Mayoral brother Bill Daley has been rumored for a Cabinet post in an Obama administration, and is expected to be on the transition team if Obama is elected. Bill Daley will look to protect his brother first. Although Bill is a thoughtful politician, somehow I just don't see the phrase "Barack, we've gotta keep Pat Fitzgerald" on Billy's lips in the personnel meetings.

Another Chicago connection, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Tomczak), is being rumored as a possible White House chief of staff. Emanuel would also look first to protect the mayor. Washington Beltway reporters won't tell you this, because they must figure that what happens in Chicago stays in Chicago, but a few years ago, Emanuel was elected with the help of a massive patronage army of stooges on the City Hall payroll who pounded the precincts.

The fellow who directed this army for Emanuel is the corrupt former city water boss Donald Tomczak. He now sits in federal prison in Duluth, Minn., while Emanuel prepares to reform us all. It was Fitzgerald's office that put Tomczak away.

Back in March, Obama visited the Tribune's editorial board. He said that if elected president, he would keep Fitzgerald in place.

"I still think he's doing a good job," said Obama. "I think he has been aggressive in putting the city on notice and the state on notice that he takes issues of public corruption seriously."

Does your wanting to keep Fitzgerald in the job threaten any other political entities here in Chicago?

"I can't speculate on that," Obama said then. "I can't."

But you can.

Thanks to John Kass

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