May 15, 2006

Trial a glimpse into Chicago political patronage

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Four Chicago officials went on trial on
Monday, accused of rigging the city's hiring process to reward
loyalists of Mayor Richard Daley, in a case prosecutors said
shows a ban on political patronage is being ignored.

City employees Robert Sorich, Timothy McCarthy, Patrick
Slattery and John Sullivan have been charged with fraud.
Sullivan was also charged with lying to the FBI. If convicted,
they could each spend several years in prison.

In opening statements in U.S. District Court, prosecutor
Patrick Collins said only people who had served in Daley's
political organization by ringing doorbells and handing out
leaflets for certain political candidates had a chance to get
well-paid positions like sewer and building inspectors or
foremen on city construction projects.

Employing imagery associated with the selection of popes
and kings, Collins described the proverbial "puff of smoke"
that accompanied a list of preferred candidates for jobs issued
by City Hall, and the "kneeling at the feet" required of
job-seekers and their overseers.

Collins said Sorich and the other defendants coordinated
who was hired by the city, falsified job evaluations and
manipulated job interviews for the favored applicants.

Daley is the son of legendary Democratic Mayor Richard J.
Daley, who was known for running a well-oiled Democratic
machine based on patronage.

A 1983 court-ordered ban against patronage hiring, except
for 1,000 top city positions, prompted the current mayor and
his critics to agree machine-style politics was over. But
Collins said the ban has been effectively ignored by the
current administration.

The younger Daley, who has served as mayor for five terms,
has not been charged with any crime, but his name, and what a
prosecutor called the "mini-armies" of political workers that
serve him, came up in court on Monday.

The mayor, who is on an Olympic fact-finding trip to China,
gave a deposition in the case but he is not expected to testify
at the trial.

Thomas Durkin, a defense attorney for Sorich, said the case
brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office was "an
attempt to embarrass, and perhaps unseat, the current sitting
mayor. ... This is an attempt by the federal government to
impose its will on the city of Chicago."

Daley has not said whether he will seek re-election next

Fitzgerald, who made a brief court appearance before
opening arguments, is also leading the CIA leak case in which
Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, has
been charged.

While the Chicago case involves members of Daley's
administration, prosecutor Collins reminded jurors that the
mayor is not on trial.

"Whatever you think about Mayor Daley and what he's done
for the city is not a part of this case," Collins said.

Collins recently won a guilty verdict in the corruption
trial of former Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan.