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Aldermen Tue Feb 02 2010

The 29th, the 31st.

The snuggly looking West Side Alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers plead guilty yesterday to corruption charges for fixing a zoning case in favor of a developer who literally put a new wing on his house. This makes 29th Ward Alderman Carothers the 31st Alderman since the 1970s to be convicted of public corruption.

Ike simultaneously resigned his position as Alderman, creating a second vacancy in the City Council (with a potential third if Alderman Preckwinkle should win her race for the Cook County Board Presidency). Should that happen, Mayor Daley will have directly appointed 20 of the sitting 50 alderman in the City Council*. For those of you who work for the Mayor's Asset Leasing Financial Analysis Task Force, that's 40%. Now, some of those appointments have gone rogue--Ricky Munoz and Freddy Lyle, mainly--but generally it's a list of Mayoral deputies.

But back for a moment to Carothers--a man so closely allied with the Mayor that His Elective Majesty once had to calm him down while attacking a Mayoral gadfly. The West Side boss' political operation is influential throughout the West Side, most specifically in the neighboring 37th Ward, which is a contiguous neighborhood (Austin). He was, as Mick Dumke points out at the Reader, a useful bulwark against reform generally, for one thing by reinforcing an already existing splinter between the South and West Side black communities.

Carothers chaired the important Council committee with jurisdiction over the police department. Police oversight is a particularly sensitive issue in the black community, which has a historically painful and adversarial relationship with the CPD. The Mayor, as keen as he is on identity politics, would never have put an old white dude in that spot. Instead, Carothers served as a watchdog who, despite his bulldog jowls, neither barked nor bit. This dynamic is another example of how Machine Lite, with its blending of old-school patronage and identity politics, manages to hold off all comers.

Before Ike departs this political realm to join the Oxford Quorum, though, let's remember that his sentence may be lighter than it could have been: because Ike flipped and wore a wire. In a society where we're supposedly able to know all about our government's activities thanks to shiny, happy Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws, professional investigators had to put the screws on a guy to surreptitiously tape his colleagues. Which makes the local government seem an awful lot like a racketeer influenced and corrupt organization.

Why? There are lots of reasons: the institution of aldermanic prerogative, for one, which gives local aldermen executive-type control over local land use decisions. TIF funding is another, as, again, it concentrates power in fewer and fewer individuals. Ultimately, it is the lack of neighborhood democracy. Developers bribe aldermen exactly because they know no matter how much residents piss and moan, as long as the local boss is behind them, they'll get their relief. So instead of trying to win over the neighborhood by building something people will like--or put up with--or something that is by-right harmonious with its surrounding uses, they can build whatever they want--so long as one of those whatevers is a wing on the boss's house.

*Freddy Lyle (6th), Michelle Harris (8th), James Balcer (11th), Frank Olivo (13th), LaTasha Thomas (17th), Lona Lane (18th), Ginger Rugai (19th), Danny Solis (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Carrie Austin (34th), Tom Tunney (44th), Marge Laurino (39th), Emma Mitts (37th), John Rice (36th), Tom Allen (38th), Mary Ann Smith (48th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd). The Mayor would go on to replace Carothers, Flores, and Preckwinkle.

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