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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some Context on Jon Burge, the Chicago Media, and Election 2008

In yesterday's election for Cook County State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez trounced Tony Peraica. The only time that the race became a story in the press in the area was a bruhaha over an advertisement created by Tony Peraica. Tony Peraica used an advertisement that invoked the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked Republican Cook County state's attorney candidate Tony Peraica to stop passing out a campaign flier that looks to Fitzgerald like Peraica is claiming his endorsement.

The flier shows side-by-side photos of Fitzgerald and Peraica and says, "U.S. Attorney's Office Needs Help Fighting Corruption in Cook County."

Fitzgerald said in his letter he had never even met Peraica. "The flier creates the misleading assumption that I have endorsed your candidacy. . . . That is by no means the case. I have never endorsed any candidate in any race for anything (much less someone I do not believe I have yet had occasion to meet.)"

Peraica's advertisement made the claim that if he (Tony Peraica) were elected, then Peraica would help Fitzgerald in rooting out corruption in Cook County. Alvarez cried foul because the advertisement was construed as an endorsement of Peraica by Fitzgerald, which Fitzgerald never did. While the advertisement was a bit misleading, the entire issue was rather trivial. Yet, this is the only thing that the media in the Cook County area focused on regarding the race.

At the same time, only weeks before the election Jon Burge was indicted by the same U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Burge is a former police commander in Chicago that committed systematic torture for almost twenty years before finally being removed in the early 1990's.

The Burge story should have been explored long before the campaign, but it should have especially been explored following the indictment. The Cook County State's Attorney's office didn't merely look the other way while this torture went on. In fact, they were often willing participants. It was in fact often Cook County State's Attorneys prosecutors that often took statements of suspects after being beaten for hours, electricuted, and other torture. The Cook County State's Attorney's office knew what happened and they participated for years actively in the torture.

Anita Alvarez is a twenty plus year veteran of the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Some of those years were spent in the office while Burge and his crew were committing systematic torture. Both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times endorsed Alvarez. Both cited her "experience" as a main reason for their endorsement. In fact, the Cook County State's Attorney's race was a mirror of the Presidential campaign, with Peraica, the Republican, as the agent of change, and Alvarez, the Democrat, the agent of experience. As much as the folks at both the Sun Times and Tribune ate up Obama's message of change, they just as quickly dismissed the exact same message from Peraica.

The Cook County government is in need of far more significant reform than the govenrment in D.C., and that is coming from someone who knows full well how broken D.C. is. The Burge story only starts here as well. First, Burge was again indicted by the U.S. Attorney not the Cook County State's Attorney. Second, he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice not torture. That's because his acts of torture have now passed the statute of limitations. That's likely because the powers that be in places just like the Cook County State's Attorney's office protected Burge until the statute of limitations ran out.

All of this should have made the entire office toxic. Had the media given the Burge story and the overall corruption surrounding the proper coverage of a story of this magnitude, the entire Cook County State's Attorney's office would have become toxic. Had the media covered this story with the vigor that it finally deserves, Alvarez' 20 plus year connection to the office would have been as toxic as McCain's connection to Bush.

The State's Attorney's office almost never indicts a politician in the very crooked County of Cook. One of the reasons that the County is as corrupt as it is, is exactly because the Cook County State's Attorney's office does nearly nothing to be a watchdog. The other reason is because the major news organizations are just as ignorant.

Instead, the major media in the Chicagoland area focused on a silly advertisement. They made experience the important issue in the race, and as such, the apathetic voters voted in the ultimate insider to oversea one of the most corrupt political governments in the country.


Anonymous said...

It is such an irony that in Chicago loyalty to the Democratic Party takes precedence over Human Rights, but at the same it it helps produce the first African American President.

This will go down as one of the many tragic ironies in American History.

Richard Devine not only presided as First Asst, SA when these things happened, but during his off years, before he became the SA, he defended Jon Burge as a lawyer in the private law firm that represented Burge.

Not only that, but when Bobby Rush ran for Mayor against Daley there was a conscious decision not to make torture a campaign issue even though there are documents in the form of letters to Daley from when he was the SA who had the initial responsibility regarding Burge, but chose to cover it up and support Burge's promotion instead.

And if that nasty lady was working in Devin's office, then she knows all about it, too.

Weird huh?

mike volpe said...

I was told by someone who I take as very reliable that reps from the State's Attorney's office took statements from suspects following torture. I believe the office didn't merely look the other way but rather they were all active participants.

Anonymous said...

Another weird irony is that regarding this issue it is Republicans who have had the most positive impact in favor of the people. George Ryan pardoned 4 men who were tortured into confessing to crimes they did not commit, and Fitzgerald is the guy who after 30 years finally arrests Burge.

It's just one of those very bizarre situations that is truly convoluted and puzzling.

mike volpe said...

In a sense it is, but in another sense it is the ultimate end game for the systemic corruption that infects this city. Fitzgerald got Burge, and not for torture mind you, but he's from New York. There's no way a prosecutor that was a product of this city would ever have gotten this guy.

Ryan saved some folks from the death penalty but of course wound up in his own corruption.

The reality is that this story is not about partisanship but corruption. We have a corrupt government that looks the other way and an equally corrupt media that allows it.

Anonymous said...

It's public record Mike, there are documents that support the complicity by the SA office.

There is testimony that has been corroborated and supported by decisions in appellate and Federal courts that name the names of at least two SA's. Peter Troy is one SA who participated in torture, not just took statements, and Jack Hines is the other. Jack Hines is now a Judge. These people stay in the system, they get promoted, become Judges, and make lateral moves into the US Atty's office.

It's all public record mike, the only conspiracy is the conspicuous manner in which the machine and the media collude to cover the story up.

They still call Jon Burge an "alleged" torturer, even though he was fired for torture. You don't fire people over allegations. He is a proven torturer and there are decisions all up and down the justice system and forensic evidence to back it all up.. but still, they use the word "alleged" when they describe his activity. It is all very "1984".

Some of the very people close to the Burge cases were in the US Atty's office during some of the investigations and stings regarding one of the pardoned prisoners. That is one reason Fitzgerald does not want to say he's involved in exposing corruption in the SA office, because he has at least one old time Burge associate right in the office of his First Assistant. So, he is only going to do so much.

It's creepy Mike.. The Cook County Law enforcement community can only be described as a "knot" of corruption.

mike volpe said...

Where do I find the information regarding Hines? That would be an excellent follow up.

Anonymous said...

I'd say go online into the archives of the Chicago Reader and look at the several works done by Jon Conroy around the Burge issue. He addressed that issue in one of his later pieces, and there is not a better source of info on all of this than Jon Conroy.. at least not right now.. and there are other things by others in the works as well..

mike volpe said...

That was one of the tenors of my piece that it is the Reader, not the Trib or Sun Times, that has lead the way in exposing this. That's where I first read about all of this.

None of this could have gone on without the tacit approval of the Chicago Media. That's how far the corruption goes.

Anonymous said...

Yep.. you are spot on about Jon Conroy Mike, and kudos to the old Reader for letting him do his thing. You know the new owners let him go, right?

but the idea that the Trib can "control perception" long enough to allow all the statutes of limitations to run, and to keep it from becoming an issue in the minds of the citizens for so long also does say something about the people here. While there were people who worked hard, there was never a public outcry about it.

So, yes there is the role the media plays, but at some point the people become responsible. The people elected a Black President. Are they off the hook? Does it make all the things and people they would like to ignore go away? No.

When the Trib sells their company does that make their responsibility in this any less?

No way.

mike volpe said...

That's a good point. Ultimately, the public's apathy to the problem has to be laid on the public itself. I think there is plenty of blame to go around and the public not demanding action regardless of what the major newspapers said has to be laid at the public itself.

I did work on the scandal at Grady Hospital in Atlanta.

The dynamic there was similar. The media establishment in Atlanta nearly ignored the corruption at the hospital altogether and the only newspaper that reported on it was the equivalent of the Reader and in fact I believe the same company owns both.

I don't think we'll ever know exactly why the Trib and Sun Times refused to report on this but I wonder if they were scared of losing access. I wonder if they thought they would jeopardize sources if they dug too deep.

Anonymous said...

I remember in 1991 after the Amnesty Intl. report on Chicago torture the Trib or the ST asked the question in a front cover story about 1982 SA Richie Daley's role in the cover-up regarding the letter from the Coroners Office to Supt. Richard Brzeczek and the subsequent letter from Supt. Richard Brzeczek which apprised SA Richie Daley of the situation. Daley did nothing and so, true to his letter to Daley, Richard Brzeczek also did nothing, because he was not responded to.. But of course, It is Brzeczek who get the heat, not Richie Daley.

It was getting some traction. Then there was the tragedy of Commerce Sec. Ron Brown dying in a plane crash. Clinton appoints Bill Daley and any other story in town dies right there. So, there was a shining moment of hope.. and it went down with Ron Brown's plane.

I mean.. the brother of the Mayor on the Cabinet.. talk about access.

Anonymous said...

If there has ever been someone more blessed by the tragedies of others than Richie Daley, let me escape the visage of that dark angel.