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The Mechanics
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Machine Lite Tue Feb 16 2010

Debbie Downer Returns

So having recovered from spending the last couple weeks shaking and crying in a dark corner somewhere in Pilsen after the Hoffman defeat, and bringing all of you down with me in my last post, I'm back to depress the masses yet again with a Chicago tale.

I was reading this article today, written back in January, about state House speaker Michael Madigan. It was filed in the Tribune's "Watchdog" category, which I was browsing in need of some civic inspiration--something I've been severely lacking as of late. It's about Madigan trying--and, of course, succeeding--in using his influence to drum up business for his tax law firm. See, after a developer sought and received zoning changes for his newly acquired downtown property, Madigan swung by his office to see what other properties might need his firm's services.

"When Mike Madigan calls and asks for a meeting, you meet with him," the developer says. "I mean, I was born and raised in this town."

Being a man of the Internet Age, I of course did not make it entirely through the article without checking my email twice. Half way through I got a letter from the BGA announcing a "BGA/Chicago Sun-Times analysis of political influence and lobbying." It was about Dan Burke, a state rep that is also running a lobbying firm, whose office is in Alderman Ed Burke's ward--his brother. The Burke's, of course, say there is no conflict of interest. I'll let the BGA's Andy Shaw lay it out:

"Illinois may be the only state in the country where the brother of Chicago's most powerful alderman can collect a city pension and a state legislative salary-while he lobbies his brother (and others) on behalf of businesses that want help from the city and will happily contribute to politicians, including Burke's brother, to get that help. Meanwhile, Dan Burke gets free office space from that same brother, and Dan Burke's business partner is free to lobby on behalf of state clients who may need Dan's vote to further their aims. And by the way, Dan will eventually get a second pension from the state for serving in the state legislature. It goes without saying that Illinois MUST eliminate pension double and triple-dipping. One public pension is enough for Dan Burke and everyone else. Burke's activities may not violate the letter of the law, but it violates the spirit of the law-it's a conflict of interest and it's inside dealing at its worst. It's time for a ban on public officials lobbying any branch of Illinois government. Somewhere down the line clout for hire increases the cost of government-and that's a bill taxpayers can ill afford to pay."


Speak it, brother.

What's so grating, and so quintessentially Chicago, about the whole thing is how openly it's done. The developer was "born and raised in this town," he knows how it works. It's no secret. The Tribune report is more lapdog than watchdog, and the BGA analysis didn't take much analyzing to know; they both just showed evidence of what Chicagoans say on the street every day. There are large groups of people--progressives, goo-goos, republicans, whistle-blowers and former city workers--that know all of this. It's not privledged or hidden information. I get emails from a former city worker every other day saying what the BGA email said. There are yahoo and facebook groups dedicated to this stuff.

I don't know if it's apathy or indifference. Young people stopped caring about politics once they got Obama into office, and the fight ended there. Not continuing to advocate for the issues they were so passionately supportive of in that race, the same young people are now the ones losing faith in their guy, saying he hasn't done anything in his first year, that he's capitulating to the demands of the right and the far right. Maybe so, but it might have been easier if he had had some more of your support throughout the year--vocal, organizational, etc.

But that's national politics, and now I'm just ranting. People never cared about the local stuff. Which is why this can all happen so openly. Chicago built a booming economy, which drew in hordes of kids from the Midwest, who probably have vague plans of going back from whence they came when it's time to settle down and buy a home, and pay taxes on that home, and enroll their kids in public schools that still function.

I'm proudly from Detroit, (a city whose politics have nothing to boast over themselves), and I know I'll be back there too some day. Maybe I shouldn't care so much; my best of friends don't.

For the new year, I promise to stop being such a downer and reiterating the same point.

 
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Steve Brown / February 16, 2010 5:47 PM

The Tribune feature on Madigan confirmed that the law firm and its clients received no special favors from assessment officials. That was encouraging.

Akc / February 21, 2010 8:11 PM

Well the first sentence of this article caught my attention- I've also been hiding out in Pilsen, disappointed and discouraged after the Hoffman defeat- so I decided to read on.
I will say that not every young person is apathetic and indifferent- I'm 22 and care. Unfortunately I can't speak for every one my age, but I can promise that I will continue to push for reform in local and state government in Illinois (and as realistic as a person I can be) my idealism has taken over on this and keeps me optimistic that you will not have to be a Debbie Downer for too much longer.

But you always have Detroit.

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