March 17, 2004


As it completes its 15th year, the administration of Mayor Rich Daley has suffered the usual array of TADs -- temporary adverse developments -- that afflict any long-term governmental regime.

Yet Daley remains personally untouched and politically unscathed by any of the misdeeds of city officials or aldermen. If scandal is defined as an act that shocks and offends the moral feelings of the community and leads to disgrace, then no scandal has attached to the mayor or to any major officials in his administration.

Daley prides himself on his management ability and on his knowledge of the city's labyrinthine bureaucracy, which is greased with a $4.8 billion annual budget. Daley raised almost $6 million in his 2003 re-election campaign, and he runs one of the most effective political machines in the nation.

Unlike his father, Richard J. Daley, the current mayor doesn't need a political machine to crush his opposition. That's because there is no opposition -- at least not to Daley. The mayor uses the city's vast resources, coupled with that of Cook County's government, which he controls through his brother, County Board Finance Committee chairman John Daley, to co-opt his opposition. Those upon whom he showers ward projects and patronage have no reason to oppose him. In fact, they fervently want to keep him in power, and they work for him and bankroll him. The city is the mayor's "machine."

So Daley's professed ignorance of abuses in the city's once-obscure "Hired Truck" program must be greeted with skepticism. The city spent $40 million on the program since 1996, paying selected truck owners (or small companies) between $29 and $94 per hour to sit at city work sites all day and haul away debris from sewer reconstruction or curb repairs. This is a classic example of Daley's policy to spread around the city's wealth -- and to reward his supporters.

Not coincidentally, according to news reports, the mayor and other pro-Daley Democratic politicians received $800,000 in campaign donations since 1996 from Hired Truck participants. More than a quarter of the contractors are from Daley's Bridgeport neighborhood. John Daley sold insurance to the owners of the three biggest fleets, and he got $50,000 in contributions since 1996 from Hired Truck firms.

Sounds like a TAD, except for the fact that the program's supervisor, Angelo Torres, was indicted in February by the U.S. attorney's office for allegedly taking $3,800 in bribes to steer $50,000 in business to a truck owner. Torres is a former gang member, and he was sponsored for his job by Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization. Twenty-six of the 165 Hired Truck contractors have since been suspended. The amount of Torres' bribe is puny, and he is the only city official charged to date. It is likely that he will enter a plea, so there won't be any trial publicity. Unless there are more indictments, this TAD will soon evaporate, joining the plethora of other Daley Administration TADs that never evolved into a scandal.

Here's a list of other now-forgotten TADS, as compiled from press reports:

The Duff family, long-time Daley contributors, organized Windy City Maintenance, fronted it as female-owned, and got the janitorial contract at O'Hare Airport and the Washington Library, generating more than $100 million in billings. In reality, the company wasn't woman-owned. The firm was indicted in 2003 by the U.S. attorney's office on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering.

O'Hare Airport: The construction company of Patrick Harbour, a Daley fund raiser and business partner of city trucking contractor Michael Tadin, has garnered more than $130 million in airport contracts since Daley took office, most of them no-bid. Harbour's company, AOR, has gotten 90 percent of O'Hare construction work since 1989. In 2001 the Daley Administration awarded a $1 billion contract to T-6 Partners, a development team, to build a new airport terminal. T-6's lobbyist and attorney was Victor Reyes, a former Daley aide and head of Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization.

Grabur International, a firm consisting of two friends of the mayor's wife, Maggie, took advantage of the city's "minority business" program to generate $1.5 million in profits in just 3 years. The lease of airport concessionaire W.H. Smith was due to expire in 1996, and for some reason, Smith felt compelled to "partner" with them. Smith's lease was renewed, and Grabur gets 30 percent of Smith's airport profits through 2006.

John Daley brokers insurance through Near North Insurance, a firm charged as a criminal operation in 2003 by the U.S. attorney's office and whose president, Michael Segal, is under indictment for alleged fraud. Daley's client list, according to the Better Government Association, is a "who's who" of O'Hare contractors. Daley earns $400,000 annually in insurance commissions. Another brother, lawyer Michael, gets paid $180,000 per year as a consultant by Salomon Smith Barney, the investment firm which floats the bonds that generate billions of dollars for city public works projects.

EDS, a Texas company, won the city's $40 million parking ticket collection contract. The company's lobbyist was Joe Cari, a partner in the law firm of Bill Daley, another brother.

Marina Cartage Co., owned by long-time Daley pal Tadin, gets the bulk of the city's truck-hauling contracts. In 1989 Tadin bought a 29-acre South Side parcel for $509,000, which he then leased to the city as an auto pound for $25,000 a month. He has profited enormously. He also bought another parcel for $85,000 and leased that to the city for salt storage, and reaped another huge profit.

It will be recalled that Tadin played a central role in the downfall of Daley's City Council floor leader, Alderman Patrick Huels (11th), in 1997. Tadin loaned Huels' security company $1.25 million, just months after Huels helped engineer a $1.1 million city subsidy for Tadin's company to build a new trucking headquarters. Huels failed to list the loan on his 1996 ethics statement, and he subsequently resigned as alderman.

Since 1973, 25 sitting Chicago aldermen, one city clerk and one city treasurer have been convicted on corruption charges. Nine aldermen went down during the reign of Richard J. Daley, and 10 during his son's tenure. During the 1990s, the feds' "Operation Silver Shovel" scored 18 convictions for bribe-taking, including a city water commissioner, "Operation Haunted Hall" scored 31 convictions for ghost payrolling, and "Operation Gambat" scored eight convictions for bribery on zoning and court cases. But since the venality attached itself primarily to the City Council and to a few lower-level city officials, the Daley Administration suffered no harm.

In a city where politics is a business, favoritism is not deemed reprehensible. The mayor's propensity to steer city business to personal and political pals is just "politics as usual," and the voting public will tolerate it as long as some value is received for money paid. But it is evident that a clique of Daley insiders, including some of his family, are profiting mightily from city contracts.

Despite his garbled syntax and hot-tempered tirades, Daley has evolved into an icon, much like his father in the 1970s. Chicagoans view him as an able and trustworthy administrator, and they do not perceive him as using his power to enrich himself. They believe that he truly cares about the city and that he has not grown lax as mayor. And there is a great and growing residue of affection for him.

The city has not stagnated under his administration. On the "big four" issues -- taxes, crime, education and services -- Daley has performed admirably.

In sum, Daley seems to have concocted the perfect governing formula: taking care of his friends and family, but taking care of the public's needs just a bit better. Unless TADs begin erupting monthly, or a major scandal engulfs a top city commissioner close to the mayor, Daley's opposition-free reign will continue until he chooses to retire.