Category Archives: Commentary

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Dangerous Political Terrain in Maywood?

Check out the following “musing” by Maywood Village Clerk Gary Woll, a veteran political figure in the near western suburb.

We knew Maywood was hairy in various ways, but politics is literally a blood sport in town, it seems.

Below is an edited excerpt from Woll’s most recent village newsletter, which is called “Gary’s Musings” and is sent out to hundreds of residents and others via email.

Stranger than fiction:

My endorsements come later but let me start my “memoirs.” I will begin with the negative. The following are some of my worst personal memories of being a local elected official and/or candidate. Violence seemed, at times, to follow me. When I was running for re-election one year. The daughter of my opponent was arrested, with two friends, having been caught spraying three of our large yard signs with some horrible filthy words. Shortly after being bailed out, someone threw a brick through the back window of the car in our driveway with a “re-elect Woll” sign on it, but not the other car. Why did I stop anti-crime patrol and making lists of street lights out? The last time I went out a couple of years ago, I slowed down, stupidly, to urge some middle school kids to stop their fighting. A kid jumped in the car and hit me in the face with a baseball bat!! Fortunately it struck exactly between the jaw line and the cheek bone! Once, in a closed session of a board meeting, a trustee got so mad at me, that he started choking me up against the wall but Trustee Casteel came to my rescue (my knight in shining armor). Another time I was conducting a hearing of the Law Enforcement Committee regarding our local gun laws and a neighbor came in with his tape recorder (that’s fine) but he stood up and shouted out physical threats against me if we banned gun shops in Maywood. The police had to escort him out when he started to accost me on my way out. Many years ago I saw someone breaking into [a home] when I was driving around (middle of the day!) and when I got out to investigate, remember this is before cell phones, he ran away with me huffing and puffing after him. In a back yard on the 600 block he turned and pulled out a long knife. I kid you not that I backed up and let him run out to 4th. As a note, I got in my car and went over to 5th where I saw him enter [an apartment building] which is no longer there. I got the police and they arrested him.

For the most part, I have not been the “victim” of hate campaign literature. But, during the same election where my signs and car were vandalized, on the Friday before the Tuesday election, an unsigned campaign piece arrived in the mail delineating a case, where I had been falsely accused, then found innocent of hitting a woman. Of course the literature did not mention the “not guilty” verdict. Another time similar literature was distributed to the audience at one of our board meetings. Am I a third rail?

Once when the elected officials first started insisting that our employees do random drug tests a rumor circulated that I was a “coke” user!! Interesting since what really happened was that my doctor had prescribed, for a bad cold, the use of a cough syrup which contained a tiny amount of codeine. Let me close this with funny one. A 5th avenue neighbor was threatening to call a TV station if we, the village, did not get a cat down out of a very high tree at 5th and Walton. The high ranger was sent over there but the public work’s employee was afraid of cats so I went up in the bucket with him, got scratched but got the cat down to safety. All of the above are true stories but stay tuned to the many, many more positive experiences I have had.

We look forward to the next entry – if Woll makes it that far in this rough-and-tumble business.

This blog post was compiled by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth, who can be reached at rherguth@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9030.

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As Relationship Simmers Between Chicago Fire Commissioner and IG, Management Questions Persist

(remixed image, original courtesy mhowry/cc)

In the opening scenes of the 1991 Ron Howard film “Backdraft,” two young brothers are horsing around in the Chicago firehouse where their father works when an emergency call comes in. As firefighters ready their engine to answer the call, the younger brother beams when his dad asks if he wants to ride along.

They reach the scene with sirens blazing, and the son watches his father pull a child from the top floor of the burning building. But then a tragic turn: A gas leak leads to an explosion, and the boy’s father dies in the blaze. From there, the film flashes forward decades when both brothers are Chicago firefighters.

The movie is loosely based on the lives of Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff and his older brother Raymond Hoff, third-generation Chicago firefighters whose father was killed fighting a fire in a South Side apartment building in 1962, according to media reports.

The film came to mind recently because Commissioner Hoff—presumably depicted as the younger brother in “Backdraft” who rode along with his firefighter-father – is now at the center of a controversy involving fire department “ride alongs.” Continue reading

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The Charmed Life of Rahm’s Chief of Staff

Theresa Mintle, chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

The BGA and Crain’s Chicago Business recently published the findings of an investigation into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top aide, Theresa Mintle, who stands to gain from a pension perk that she had a hand in crafting while at her last job, at the CTA.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Mayoral Chief of Staff Theresa Mintle helped enact a special early-retirement plan at her former employer—the Chicago Transit Authority—that entitled her to a $65,000 annual pension she wouldn’t have qualified for otherwise.”

“Official records obtained in a joint probe by Crain’s and the Better Government Assn. indicate Ms. Mintle . . . is eligible for a pension of $64,908.53 at age 65, based on just eight years of service at the agency. The early-retirement sweetener passed in 2008, when she was chief of staff to then-CTA board Chairman Carole Brown. Ms. Mintle resigned from that job last spring to assume similar duties for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

The mayor’s office ultimately told us that Mintle won’t be taking this pension perk after all. We hope she puts that in writing.

But there’s another angle that was lost in the shuffle, something we figured still was worth mentioning: Mintle’s CTA pay hike.

While serving as the CTA board chairman’s chief of staff, Mintle somehow ended up with a pay raise—even though there was supposed to be a pay freeze at the time for all CTA employees.

What’s more, that pay hike increases the amount of her pension payout, at least on paper.

A CTA spokeswoman, via email, explains and justifies Mintle’s salary hike this way:

“She joined CTA in 2003 as GM, Gov’t Community Relations at salary of $105,000. At the time of promotion to Chief of Staff in 2007, she was making $126,000. Her new salary as COS was $145,673. In 2008 there was an across the board pay increase which brought her to $154,544. As you and I have previously discussed, the 2008 raise was to balance a new 6% payroll deduction (3% increase in pension deductions and a new 3% deduction for retiree healthcare fund) so actual take home pay did not increase.”

“She received her last increase in July 2009. As I previously told you, when she was hired she was paid significantly less than her predecessor ($17,426 to be exact.) She received a raise after being in the job two years because she was given additional responsibilities. After the Chief Financial Officer (Dennis Anosike) left in February 2009, Theresa was asked to assume his place on key boards and committees. She served as the Vice Chair of the Retirement Allowance Committee, a trustee for the Retiree Healthcare Trust and Chairman of the Deferred Compensation Committee. At the same time, the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Chairman’s office left and the position wasn’t filled due to a hiring freeze so she had to handle those responsibilities as well. The raise she received brought her to $175,000 (a 13% increase) but she wasn’t actually paid that amount since she was also subject to 18 unpaid days this year and last. Her actual pay this year would have been $162,884.”

It’s worth noting that lots of people got additional work thrown at them at the CTA as the ranks shrank, and lots of employees there were subject to furlough days. Why was Mintle so special as to be compensated for it?

Meanwhile, we also learned through well-placed sources that, as word spread that Mintle might get her final CTA pay raise, some agency executives were so aghast they actually signed and circulated an internal petition opposing the move.

Some rare dissent—which ultimately proved unsuccessful.

We wondered if the current mayor—who has advocated for a more business-like approach to government and an end to “business as usual” favoring the insiders over everyone else—knew about all this, and if so, when he found out?

According to an Emanuel spokeswoman, the mayor “found out when I told him about the press story that you were running” with Crain’s.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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Shady Associations: Mayor Daley Held to Lower Standard

To read the main story, and to see the 600-page FBI file, click here.

John F. "Jack" Duff Jr. (shown at left in a 1960 photo) headed a politically connected family that won $100 million in city business. Mayor Daley acknowledges he knows the Duffs but also says, "I know a lot of people." | Sun-Times Library photos

Under a long-standing consent decree between the federal government and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, union members are barred from “knowingly associating with any member or associate” of organized crime.

So if, say, a Teamster truck driver for the City of Chicago has drinks with a Paulie Walnuts type of guy, and investigators for the union find out, bada bing! That truck driver can hit the road—meaning he or she will likely be kicked out of the union.

But there’s no such restriction placed by the city on the ultimate boss of those municipal truck drivers: the mayor of Chicago.

Which is interesting, because it just so happens that the outgoing Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley, has over the years “knowingly” associated with at least one reputed organized crime figure: John F. “Jack” Duff Jr., a convicted union embezzler and an admitted mob associate who died in 2008.

The Better Government Association recently obtained the FBI files on Duff, and Daley is mentioned more than 20 times. The mayor is not accused of doing anything illegal—but the indication is that he and Duff were quite friendly.

Daley’s press secretary excused the FBI report away by saying the mayor knows a lot of people.

Indeed. Among his other long-time pals: Fred Barbara, a trucking magnate who once was arrested in an organized crime extortion case, but later was acquitted. More recently, Barbara was accused by a witness at the Family Secrets trial of participating in the mob bombing of a suburban restaurant in the 1980s. Barbara wasn’t charged in that case, and in a past interview has denied involvement in organized crime.

Either way, we’d like somebody to clear this up for us: Why is it alright for an elected leader to associate with allegedly shady folks, but it’s not alright for worker bees to do so?

Yes, we understand we’re mixing apples and oranges here a little. After all, unions are private entities, and city government is public. And elected folks ultimately answer to voters, unlike rank-and-file workers.

But when talking principle, should those distinctions matter?

Or should we just fuggedaboudit?

This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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Blago 2.0: To Watch, or Not to Watch?

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

(Image courtesy of Andrew Ciscel/Flickr)

One of our BGA interns, Emily Jurlina, ran the Boston Marathon on Monday. Folks in the office tracked her progress online, and at about the halfway point, her digital blip stalled. She ended up finishing in just over 5 hours, way off her typical pace of around 3 1/2. So what happened? Here’s what she told us last night, over Facebook: “Today I ran my slowest marathon time ever—but I’ve never been more proud of myself. Excruciating leg cramps would not defeat me. I write you now as a BOSTON MARATHON FINISHER.”

We say Good for you, Emily, you made us proud.

Emily’s story is timely, and poignant, because here at the BGA we’re feeling a bit cramped and fatigued from the marathon that is the Blagojevich case, and we’re unsure whether we have the juice to track it through to the “end.” Continue reading

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Legislative Lovefest Far From Picture Perfect

There are public servants in the trenches who deserve our gratitude and respect.

In a somewhat literal sense, think about the American troops who risk their lives on a daily basis.

In a figurative sense, think about the inner-city cops, teachers and child-welfare workers who help the forgotten, the abused, the poor, the underprivileged, and who often get little pay and recognition.

This came to mind when we heard that former Illinois House Republican leader Lee Daniels was recently “honored” in Springfield, as his official portrait was unveiled in the legislative chamber he briefly ran in the mid-1990s.

Bear with us as we recount a 2009 story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Daniels, whose legislative career dates to 1975, left the Illinois House in late 2006 after being ousted as chairman of the state GOP and leader of the House Republicans because of the federal investigation into the caucus’ political organization.

“In 2006, Daniels’ former chief of staff, Michael Tristano, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for illegally steering $120,000 in state funds and resources to GOP campaigns between 1998 and 2001. In his plea deal, Tristano said that he ‘reported to and took direction from Lee Daniels,’ but Daniels was never charged. . . .

“Daniels also took significant contributions from convicted influence peddler Stuart Levine, who was a star witness for the government in Tony Rezko’s corruption trial. Levine contributed $347,650 to Daniels during a 10-year period, state campaign records show.”

And there’s this tidbit from a 2006 Chicago Tribune story:

“And an affidavit from one FBI agent . . . states ‘there is evidence that Daniels and supervisory personnel’ were participants in ‘a scheme and artifice to defraud the people of the State of Illinois. . . .’”

So, it’s logical to ask if this is really a guy we should be “honoring”? Should taxpayers really be spending upwards of $2,000 so this guy’s image can be hung majestically in the Illinois Capitol or the Illinois House chamber?

We’re not saying Daniels did anything illegal; he was neither charged with nor convicted of a crime.

And we’re not saying he hasn’t done good things in his career. A recent Daily Herald story noted that Daniels is “known for his work on issues to aid the developmentally disabled.”

We understand it’s tradition to hang portraits of legislative leaders – just as it’s tradition to name public buildings after less-than-perfect government officials such as late Cook County Board President John Stroger and late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

But there are public servants out there who work hard, honestly and selflessly – and who have never been implicated in a federal investigation.

They won’t have their pictures displayed in public buildings. In fact, they’re faceless to the masses. But they truly deserve our appreciation.

This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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