Back in 2006, Obama visited Kenya and railed about wholesale political corruption there that robbed the people of their right to honest government.
Then, he was campaigning for president of the United States as a reformer, though he forgot to mention that if elected, he'd bring half of Chicago's Daley Machine to the White House.
Excellent observation! In my numerous travels, I am sometimes asked why Chicago has such a reputation for corruption, and why, if it is as bad as is claimed, who don’t the voters throw them out of office or why don’t the politicians go to jail.
Simple, Cook County has mastered the art of leveraging public services, patronage employment, and media collusion to make the most seamless and ruthless political machine this country has seen. Sure some people would argue that the machine style politics as practiced in Chicago is endemic to all large urban areas, but Chicago is quite unique in that it has lasted nearly unscathed to this day and shows little if any sign of going away.
Everyone gets a piece of the action, and in turn they are all taken care of with jobs, earmarks, scholarships, perks for friends and families and most importantly big county and city contracts.
The unions support the machine because although Cook County has been hemorrhaging industrial union jobs due largely to burdensome tax policies and gentrification of formerly industrial areas (see Vienna Beef), the city has expanded its own workforce, all union naturally, and more importantly, has unanimously sided with the unions during contract negotiations that between union contractors and the respective union. The unions play ball with the machine, and they have a powerful ally when it comes time to negotiate pay and benefits with the non governmental employers.
You do campaign work for a politician, and are now qualified for a cushy municipal job. Are you an engineer? Campaign for me and I will get you a job at the Metropolitan Sanitary District (personal note here, I applied and tested for a spot at the MSD and out of 900 candidates, I was one of only 6 who scored a 100% on the exam, and the only one who had greater than 100% after my professional certifications were taken into account and DID NOT get the job. The job was relisted due to lack of qualified applicants, and was given to an alderman’s son in law). Is your son in school and needs some summer work? Campaign for me and he can work for streets and sanitation during the summer.
Support me and convince your congregation to support me, and I will make sure that the legislature allocates money for your congregations. Much like the $200,000 Michael Pfleger received from The Dear Leader.
Finance my campaign, and I will make sure that the neighborhood you want to redevelop is reassessed by the county every year until the holdouts can no longer afford the increase in property taxes and you can buy them out for a song.
And the gangs! Most people are not aware that street gangs in Chicago play a very active roll in politics. Although they cannot vote because most of them are felons, they can intimidate rival politicians and act as political muscle for politicians who court them. The Black Stone Rangers (now known as the El Rukins) and the Gangster Disciples received boatloads of federal state and local money under the guise of reaching out to local community anti-poverty groups in the 1960. Jesse Jackson used El Rukin muscle to man many of his protests (did you know that Jesse’s half brother is an El Rukin, and is jail). Former Gangster Disciples bossman Larry Hoover founded 21st Century V.O.T.E and had the support of former Cook county Commissioner, and Obama crony, John Stroger. A survey by researcher Andrew Papachristos found that 4,500 Chicago gang members claimed to have received monetary compensation for campaign work for politicians.
Basically, everyone gets a piece of the action, and consequentially everyone helps the machine propagate itself. The part about all this is that it’s all quietly understood so no one has to talk about it. My cousin worked for the CHA back in 2000. When Al Gore came to town for a rally in Daley Plaza, everyone in his department was given a ½ day off for an administrator in-service. The half day would provide anyone who wanted with ample opportunity to go to the Gore rally, which my cousin blew off to go fishing with me instead. He was not approved for overtime for the next 6 months, despite the fact that everyone else in his department was putting in between 5-10 hours a week. The understanding was that by being an employee of the city, you read between the lines and do what’s good for the continued survival of the machine and having Daley’s brother in the White House (he was Gore’s chief of staff) .
Young voters and self styled “progressives” support the machine …. Do I really have to elaborate here?
What about the legal system stepping in? Fat chance as the county prosecutor is just another machine hack, this time in the incarnation of Anita Alvarez. The feds do come in about every 15-20 years, Operation Silver Shovel, and clean house, but even when a Cook County machine politician is convicted and sent to jail they still try to pick up right where they left off after their release.
Real reform will come when a prosecutor has the enough time and resources to spend a decade dealing with the corruption, much like Patrick Fitzgerald is doing now. I think it’s a safe bet that The Dear Leader will either fire him, or promote him out of the trenches where he is tearing Obama’s political allies to pieces and give him a do nothing job at the Department of Justice.
And while the machine manages to dole out enough goodies to its supporters to keep getting itself elected, it does that off the backs of people like me who eventually get fed up and move the fuck out. Lower taxes, cheaper homes and better schools beat out any back scratching that the Democratic Machine could dole out.
And the media? The press here in Chicago may make a wave now and again, but a target rich environment like Chicago could be Pulitzer material for a decade; problem is no one has the balls to do as often as it needs to be done.
Remember this the next time Obama talks about cleaning up Washington and his political roots in Chicago. He swam in a cesspool of corruption with lifeguards like Richard Daley, Emil Jones, and Todd Stroger