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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why I Have Hope for Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield in Light of the Blagojevich Scandal

I have in the last year plus of blogging done many reports on a lot of corruption. There is one common thread in all habitual corruption. That is that the media is either incompetent or corrupt or both. In covering the scandal surrounding Grady and Emory I saw an utter lack of ability and or willingness by the local media like the AJC and the national media like the New York Times to connect the dots on all of the corruption that continues to go on there. In the latest reincarnation of corruption at Emory University, once again the media can't seem to figure out how to connect the dots to all the other corruption that surrounds that University. In covering the corruption of Dr. Mark Blotcky in Dallas, there was almost no coverage of his reign of terror besides what I wrote. The corruption at the Texas Medical Board gets scant coverage at any of the Texas area media outlets.

The same is true of the corruption in Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield. That our state is one of the most corrupt in the nation speaks for itself in damning the media here. Let's take the case of Jon Burge for instance. This was a police commander that for about twenty years lead a reign of terror in which hundreds of suspects had confessions tortured out of them. In fact, it got so bad that George Ryan had to put a moratorium on the death penalty. That's because far too many folks on death row got there because of tortured confessions. In fact, it is a matter of public record that prosecutors from the Cook County State's Attorney's office took confessions routinely from suspects they knew were just tortured. Yet, the newspaper that did the most coverage on this story was not either the Tribune or the Sun Times, but the Chicago Reader, the local artsy newspaper with one tenth the circulation of either the Tribune or the Sun Times.

For far too long, corrupt business as usual has gone on in Chicago and the media has turned a blind eye. For instance, we see all of this flurry of activity from the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Yet, the Cook County State's Attorney's office has in the last twenty years convicted exactly one politician of corruption charges. Is that something you would hear in the local media? Of course not. In fact, our current mayor was previously the Cook County State's Attorney and he was in charge while Burge was committing much of his torture, and he did nothing. Is that something you would ever read in either the Tribune or the Sun Times, very unlikely?

In 2006, John Stroger, then President of Cook County, suddenly slipped into a coma. It was unclear if he would survive let alone run for another term. In the worst kind of back room deal, his son, Todd, usurped the office and annoited himself the candidate of the Democratic Party in the next election. Prior to this, Todd was a city councilman in Chicago. Since then, Stroger has increased the County's sales tax to the highest levels in the country, cut funding to Cook County Hospital (also called John Stroger Hospital), and as this local CBS affiliate report shows put multiple political allies and friends on the County's payroll with cushy six figure jobs. Yet, outside of the report I linked, you will find scant coverage of Stroger's consistent and uncontrolled corruption.

Then, there is mayor Richard M. Daley. He is a walking talking pile of corruption. Every once in a while the media will report on a scandal like the hired truck scandal, but in reality, Daley's obscene corruption is really nothing more than an open secret that the media only attempts pay lip service to when it goes overboard, like the hired truck scandal. That his entire government is run as nothing more than a patronage, political machine full of favors, bribes, and back room deals is something that in Chicago only John Kass seems willing to address with any seriousness.

So, why am I so hopeful that this scandal will lead to real reform? There are several reasons. First, the brazenness and hubris that Blagojevich exhibited has created a visceral reaction not only in Illinois but in the nation. This is no longer a local or state story, but a national story. I believe that one of the reasons that the two newspapers cover up the corruption is access. They want to be able to speak to the mayor, the Cook County President and the governor. Now, the national media has descended upon Illinois. Some investigative journalist from Portland, Oregon isn't going to be concerned if he burns bridges with the Mayor's office in Chicago. As such, they are a lot less likely to be afraid to report the whole truth than most of the corrupted Chicago media establishment.

Second, Patrick Fitzgerald is an uncorruptable federal prosecutor that clearly has a visceraly hate for corruption himself. He will take these investigations wherever they lead and spare no one that is guilty. Now, with the visceral reaction of the nation to this corruption, he has the mandate of the entire nation to follow through on each and every lead. Unlike the standard operating procedure of the Chicago political establishment, this investigation won't be swept under the rug. Fitzgerald will follow through until he catches each and every person involved. The only potential road block is President Obama himself. If he were to fire Fitzgerald, even as part of a so called house cleaning, it would be his way of continuing the so called Chicago Way. If that happened, then this investigation would stop in its tracks. Of course, if President Obama were to do this, it would be at the expense of his Presidency. This brazen attempt to subvert an investigation into many of his political allies would not go unnoticed now that the entire nation's media has descended upon Fitzgerald, Chicago, and the state.

Third, this has the this has the to really damage the President Elect, but he also has the chance to turn this into a huge victory. If you read any Obama apologist they will defend him by proclaiming that this is guilt by association. The problem is that Obama rose through the ranks of the very guilty political machine that brought us this scandal. Obama is guilty by association because he didn't swear off the likes of Daley, Blagojevich, and Stroger, but rather he made them ALL his political allies. He's guilty by association because all his associations are guilty. Yet, he has a chance to turn all of this in his favor. He now has the bully pulpit and the resources, and he can demand that every investigation into every bit of Illinois corruption will reach its conclusion while he is President. If he does this, he will be viewed as the reformer he claims to be. It remains to be seen if Obama will show the kind of political courage necessary to do this, but if he is who he claims to be, corruption in Illinois will be taken on head on. If he does it, he will also lead the charge to break the grip of corruption that has had a hold on Chicago, Cook County and Springfield for as long as the governments here have been around.

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