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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Daley's Web of Corruption and Conflicts Unfold

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune broke a major story of corruption involving Chicago's Olympics effort that unfortunately no one is surprised about. Michael Scott Sr. is a local businessman, power broker, and political insider. He's of course a prominent contributor to Daley's campaigns. He is also on the 2016 Olympic bid committee. In fact, Scott is on the Outreach Advisory Committee for the Olympic bid which is tasked with making sure that the economic benefit from the Olympics is spread fairly. So, it's ironic, if not surprising, that the Tribune reported yesterday that Michael Scott's real estate development company was involved in a transaction near Douglas Park. Douglas Park is located on the Southwest Side of the city. The park will also be host to several Olympics events including a cycling velodrome and a BMX bike course. The development of the park for the Olympics will almost certainly be a boon to the surrounding community and thus make all land in the area significantly more expensive. As such, this investment, if Chicago gets the Olympics, should be a boon for Scott.

The project that Scott is working on is being put together by several politically connected ministers including Rev. Charles Robinson, who is also a member of the board of the Chicago Transit Authority. Here is how I described just one of the corrosive effects of having the games come to Chicago.

The 2016 Olympics will guarantee billions, if not, tens of billions in contracts that the city will have to dole out for construction, security, street cleaning, etc. There is already a standard operating procedure for how these sorts of contracts get doled out now. They go to Daley's friends, admirers, and allies. Only now the budget is infinitesimal compared to what it will be if the Olympics comes here.

The problem of course is that this particular deal is almost certainly one of many in which political insiders will use their influence to move city contracts their way. There is a web of corruption and conflicts here that are the standard operation procedures for any corrupt endeavor. When I wrote my expose of Grady Hospital, I pointed out that its one time Chairman of the Board, Robert Brown, once directed a massive expansion to his own architecture firm. Here we have Michael Scott in a position to know and suggest the locations of economic developments in Chicago as a result of the Olympics at the same time he is angling for a real estate deal in an area that will be developed.

Scott, for his part, insists he's done nothing wrong. In fact, he points out that the project in Douglas Park was first developed in 2006 before the Olympics bid was started. That's all true however the original Olympic plans didn't have any use for Douglas Park. By March of 2007 however, plans changed and Douglas Park was now prominently a part of the Olympic plans.

Scott is himself no stranger to corruption. Here's how the Tribune characterized previous run ins with influence peddling.

He was criticized in 1990 for his insider connections when he left his job as city government's chief cable administrator to go work for a cable company.

Scott is also President of the Chicago Board of Education. In that role, he has been linked to a separate and concurrent story of Chicago corruption. There is currently an internal probe going on about influence peddling at some of the top magnet and charter schools in the city. We recently learned that a top aide of Michael Scott's used "back channels" to get a relative into the presigious Whitney Young High School. (the alma mater of our current first lady Michelle Obama)

The relative of a top aide to Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott got into prestigious Whitney Young High School through back channels before withdrawing after questions arose, in a case that's now part of an internal probe, sources told the Tribune on Wednesday.

District officials found out earlier this year about the incident involving Gregory Minniefield, a senior manager for the board. His relative was accepted into Young for the upcoming school year outside the regular application process, and officials "flagged" the admission, sources said. Shortly after, the relative was withdrawn from the ultracompetitive school, sources said.

In fact, Scott was recently called in front of a grand jury on the matter. The investigation into all of this influence by the school system is being conducted by CPS CEO Ron Huberman. When news of that scandal broke, Mayor Daley expressed "confidence" in Huberman. (Huberman hasn't yet been linked to any criminality or unethical behavior) Daley should have confidence in Huberman. After all, Huberman was recently his own Chief of Staff for about two years. Prior to that he ran the same CTA that Robinson is on the board of for two years. Prior to that, he was a beat cop. This is all very reasonable. Since cronies are given free reign to use the full weight and power of the city's resources for their own benefit, it only makes sense that another crony should investigate them when their influence peddling is discovered.

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