Monday, September 22, 2008

Man vs. Machine

Will the people rule? . . . Is democracy possible?
—Lincoln Steffens

Chicago rebuilt machine, U.S. says

In trial of 4 city aides, prosecutors to portray new type of corruption

By Dan Mihalopoulos, Laurie Cohen and Todd Lighty, Tribune staff reporters

The upcoming corruption trial of Mayor Richard M. Daley's former patronage chief will focus on an idea widely consigned to the city's past--the Chicago political machine.

Before charges were leveled last year against Daley aide Robert Sorich and three other city officials, many observers of city politics had long ago pronounced the death of machine-style politics. But in the Sorich trial, which begins Wednesday, federal prosecutors are poised to call dozens of witnesses from City Hall to describe a revived model of the Democratic machine.
"If Sorich gets convicted, it's bad," said Ald. William Beavers (7th), a rare elected official who openly defends political hiring. "It would be a big blow to the patronage system."

The judge has described the federal government's approach as a "frontal assault on political patronage as it has been practiced in the city of Chicago."
Prosecutors allege that officials rigged hiring to guarantee jobs and promotions to favored applicants, including members of pro-Daley political groups that took orders from the mayor's office.

Chicago's Democratic machine traditionally operated by doling out public jobs to political loyalists. Such patronage was thought to have been shut down more than three decades ago by civil court decrees restricting politically motivated hiring and firing.

Instead, prosecutors are expected to describe a thriving machine centered in the Daley family's 11th Ward that gave jobs to "goofballs" and workers who "did not know what they were doing"--so long as they had the right political or labor union connections.,0,4647230.story

In recent years, investigations, indictments, and criminal convictions for hiring fraud and graft, including the federal conviction of the current Mayor Daley's patronage chief, have left little doubt that the machine, if it ever died, was reincarnated since its apparent collapse in the early 1980s. In July, 2005, a federal court-appointed monitor reported widespread abuses of a previous court decree against patronage hiring, and the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners alone still controls 500 political jobs. The U.S. Attorney's office contended in 2006 that the machine had been rebuilt. [1] Although jobs-for-political-work still is a significant component of the machine, the exchange of lucrative contracts for political contributions, such as documented in the investigation of the Hired Truck Program scandal, probably has eclipsed classical patronage as a tool of machine politics in Cook County.

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