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Legendary columnist Mike Royko understood the inner workings of the Chicago Democratic Machine better than any before him and probably any who will come after. Royko knew that in Chicago, the Machine did political favors of all kinds, “from million-dollar tax breaks to allowing someone to slip out of jury duty, and collects its due-bills around election time,” he wrote. It was how the Machine kept power.
Royko theorized why Chicagoans put up with the corruption that came along with machine politics. He believed the first- or second-generation Americans in many Chicago neighborhoods decided a little exploitation from an alderman or ward boss paled in comparison to the power and ruthlessness of czars, emperors or other authoritative ruffians all too common in the countries they left behind in pursuit of the American Dream.
Fast forward to today, much of the Democratic Party has become the party of do-gooders, social justice warriors and suburban moms. Just how has the callous corruption of today’s Illinois Democrats been met with such a blind eye by party leaders?
Last year, petrified House Speaker Mike Madigan cut loose his longtime Chief of Staff Tim Mapes and one of his top precinct captains, Kevin Quinn, for separate, but damning, accusations of sexual harassment.
Madigan is maybe one politician that best represents the cloistered and thuggish politics reminiscent of Boss Daley in the 1950s and ’60s. Though Madigan fired his two confidantes, his reaction to the crisis inside his caucus and political organization was met with lip service. Instead, he ignored many concerns allayed by female staff, lawmakers or any of us who have seen certain current and former members at a downtown Springfield bar late at night.
Earlier this year, State Senator Tom Cullerton of Villa Park, who “served” as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee while on the payroll of a labor union, was indicted by the U.S. attorney for treating his lucrative union gig as a “no-show” job. (Coincidentally, he’s a distant cousin to Senate President John Cullerton, because, of course he is.) Tom Cullerton had his committee chairmanship yanked, but how many Democrats called on him to resign? Zero.
This spring, Chicago Sen. Patricia Van Pelt was caught red handed trying to profit off the marijuana legalization bill, running paid seminars to “ride the wave of the rich” on the back of the legalized pot bill. She was profiting on the marijuana legalization bill she cosponsored.
After public objection, she took her name off the bill, but how many Democrats called on Van Pelt to resign? None.
Now, there’s the investigation likely focused on Sen. Martin Sandoval. The powerful chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee has wielded influence in the Statehouse over the past decade, directing funding for transportation projects and practically writing the capital bill signed into law earlier this year.
Cook County Democrats don’t seem to mind the fact that his Capitol office, district office, campaign office and his home were raided by the FBI and the IRS criminal division.
After allegations emerged claiming Sandoval wrote a bill benefitting one of his biggest donors, a donor who makes asphalt out of recycled roof shingles deemed by Illinois Department of Transportation as unsafe, he stepped down as chairman of his committee. But he isn’t going anywhere until someone puts cuffs on him, if that even gets rid of him.
If Democrats were serious about good governance, they’d be pushing out lawmakers exuding the stench of corruption like moldy Brie. If rank and file Democrat legislators up to the ranks of Gov. J.B. Pritzker want to show voters there are some actual ethics behind their actions, they’d speak up, instead of paying more lip service and falling in line with bosses like Mike Madigan and John Cullerton.
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning former journalist, political consultant and public relations expert. He grew up in one of the state’s most conservative counties and now resides in its most liberal. He can be found on Twitter (@pfingsten1) or you can reach him by email at email@example.com.
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