The Chicago Syndicate: Voters Have to Be Active to End Corruption and Clout in Illinois
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Voters Have to Be Active to End Corruption and Clout in Illinois

Illinois is the punch line of lots of jokes. What's the difference between a prostitute and an Illinois governor? A prostitute has a 10 percent chance of being indicted, 40 percent less than the governor. People are not laughing at our governors. They are laughing at us. When are we going to start doing our jobs instead of waiting for the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI to clean up our mess?

Good job, again U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald on the trial of former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez. Assistant U.S. attorneys and FBI agents proved once again that governmental bodies in Illinois too often work for those in power and not for the people.

The case of the prison-bound former City Hall patronage chief, Robert Sorich, was the same story. Honest and qualified applicants for City Hall jobs did not have a chance if they weren't connected. The hiring system was wired. Elaborate schemes were created to cover up the charade. Job interviews for the cloutless turned into interrogations. Outstanding reviews were ginned up for those who were connected. Bad government.

But is jailing those who implement bad governmental practices the answer? Are federal prosecutions the road to good government?

Certainly, there are crimes from which we need federal law enforcement to protect us. Assistant U.S. Attys. Gary Shapiro and the late itchell Mars and many others have pounded the Chicago mob and literally shifted the balance of power from the tyranny of the Tommy Gun to the rule of law. The people could not do that alone. The feds have also taken on the gangs in Chicago. To be sure, the public has a key role to play in keeping our kids out of gangs and not buying their life's blood: drugs. But Chicago gangs are too well-armed and organized for ordinary citizens alone to topple. We need the U.S. attorney's office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, law enforcement and others to help us.

There is a fundamental difference between public corruption on the one hand and gangs and the mob on the other: We choose corrupt public officials. We hand them the combination to the bank vault. Impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich did not change his stripes immediately upon being re-elected. We knew who and what he was. Way before the second election, headlines of this paper detailed allegations of corruption.

Even the Safe Roads investigation broke before George Ryan was elected governor. (Yes, the U.S. attorney's office appropriately announced Ryan was not then a subject of the investigation, because he wasn't, but that is hardly an endorsement.) That Ryan was an old-time, pay-to-play pol was the worst-kept secret, even in Illinois. We once again looked the other way and chose him as our governor.

Public corruption is insidious because it crushes our faith in the system we hold dear. When those we choose use the power we lend them for their own selfish purposes, we throw up our hands and say the system is broken.

That is the easy but wrong conclusion. The system isn't broken. The system is the best in the world. Democracy is not just a concept; it is the right to choose. We fought and fight wars for democracy to triumph. Courageous African-Americans in the too recent past withstood fire hoses, beatings and worse for the cherished right to vote. Too often, we in Illinois have squandered our votes. As long as we elect the most effective fundraisers, we are destined to give power to those who provide the funds. As long as we equate "he's honest" with "he's ineffective" we will continue to get what we deserve.

Our U.S. attorney's office is the best in the nation at fighting public corruption. From Greylord, to the 1st Ward, to Silver Shovel, to Safe Roads, to the hiring scandals, the U.S. attorney's office has done its job time and time again. But good government cannot and should not be won in the criminal courts. It is time to stop looking to them to do our jobs. It is time to wake up and make honesty and integrity voting issues.

Thanks to Ronald S.Safer. Mr. Safer is a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Chicago. During the 1990s, he headed the Justice Department's prosecution of Chicago's Gangster Disciples.

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