A fresh era of Chicago politics dawned this week with new city council members, new department heads and a new mayor.
But this is the City of Big Shoulders and bigger scandals. Changing careers or moving to Chicago from places afar doesn’t mean the past has passed. Just ask these five officials.
Click each photo to view YouTube interviews with the official. Click the red text to read related news articles.
Rahm Emanuel — Mayor
Chicago’s 55th mayor may have rock star celebrity and a winning mix of national credentials and local connections, but he also has his share of noteworthy scandals in the past.
Emanuel served from 2000-2001 on the board of Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage firm embroiled in the housing meltdown. The Securities and Exchange Commission later said the firm misreported profits during that period, according to ABC News. Emanuel was not named in the SEC investigation. Emanuel made more than $300,000 on the job, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Emanuel’s sometimes abrasive personality and his encyclopedic knowledge of four-letter words have not always earned him fans. After calling a group of liberal Democrats “retarded” (in conjunction with one of his signature f-bombs) in 2010, he later apologized to the head of the Special Olympics.
But perhaps it is what Emanuel won’t say that has driven the most speculation. His relationship with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the scandal to sell Obama’s senate seat remains unknown.
Garry McCarthy — Superintendent of Police
The former NYPD cop reportedly came highly recommended to Emanuel, although McCarthy’s troubles were no secret. In fact, some of them were laid out in reality TV docudrama Brick City, which aired on the Sundance Channel.
Recently it has been reported in the Chicago press that the Newark (N.J.) Police Department, where McCarthy was formerly director, is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for civil rights violations that allegedly occurred over several years. According to the Chicago Tribune, most of the incidents predate McCarthy’s tenure, which began in 2006. The allegations, which include use of excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure, led the American Civil Liberties Union to file a complaint and request for federal oversight of the department.
This year the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition led dozens of civil disobedience protests to point out violence among minorities and to call for the firing of McCarthy. At the same time, Newark’s police union voted “no confidence” in McCarthy’s leadership over disagreements about officer layoffs and demotions. He did, however, retain the support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who said McCarthy had the “ability to excel and succeed in very difficult times.” Booker credited his former police director with “bringing down crime” in the city.
It was a rocky year for the veteran officer. In January 2010, McCarthy publicly admitted errors on the part of his department when the body of a bystander killed in a shooting was not discovered until a day into the investigation. McCarthy said policies were not followed and vowed to discipline those responsible.
Off the job, McCarthy hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2005, he and his wife were arrested after a confrontation with officers issuing a parking ticket to his daughters at a New Jersey rest stop. He was charged with illegally obstructing traffic and fined. McCarthy maintained that the other officers involved lied.
Perhaps his biggest challenge is that McCarthy joins the Chicago Police Department as an outsider after several high-ranking officials had speculated that Emanuel would choose from within the force. The insider-outsider debate rankled officers during former Superintendent Jody Weis’ tenure. Weis took the job after leaving the FBI.
Jean-Claude Brizard — Incoming CEO of Chicago Public Schools
Although he hasn’t been sworn into office yet – that could come at the May 25 school board meeting – he’s already on the job and his infamy precedes him.
As superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y. schools, Brizard had a contentious relationship with those around him. The Rochester Teachers Association collected grievances based on increased staff layoffs, decreased student suspensions and Brizard’s push for a longer school year. Eventually the union voted “no confidence” in his leadership.
Parents joined teachers in their complaints that Brizard left them in the dark in deciding to close schools in the district. They also accused him of favoring privatization. Although he had no control over charter schools in his position, his wife was a charter school administrator.
Brizard was also involved in two federal lawsuits, one of them regarding the firing of an elderly teacher who claimed age discrimination and the other for questionable punitive tactics. That case regarded the use of “rubber rooms” (immortalized in a “Law & Order” episode) for staff facing disciplinary action. They were placed on paid administrative leave and reported to what were essentially off-campus study halls until their cases were heard. After multiple union grievances, the practice has subsided, a union rep told the Tribune.
Chicago teachers union members complained that Emanuel did not examine the lawsuits closely enough in considering Brizard for the CPS position.
In April, with rumors swirling he was leaving Rochester, Brizard was out of touch with his school board, according to Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle, leaving some members to say they felt “betrayed” and accuse him of bailing. He left the Rochester schools nearly $80 million in debt and with half of the schools failing, the Tribune reported.
Matthew O’Shea — 19th Ward Alderman
Although a newcomer to City Council, O’Shea is no stranger to Chicago politics. Formerly a Democratic Ward Committeeman and administrator at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, O’Shea has seen the seamier side of the electoral process.
In 2010, the Tribune’s Clout Street blog pointed out O’Shea drew a $29,000 salary in the first half of 2009 from then Ald. Virginia Rugai for his role as committeeman, circumventing the city’s political hiring ban. Typically a committeeman who is not an elected official is an unpaid political advocate, although O’Shea listed his job title as aide to the alderman.
In adding to Chicago’s storied rough-and-tumble campaign history, O’Shea was accused of playing dirty politics for allegedly masterminding a mailer from the Democratic committee that accused a fellow Democratic candidate of not voting for Obama. The opponent said the mailing targeted black voters. O’Shea’s rep denied that in an interview with The SouthtownStar, but did not deny sending the item.
And in the kind of squabbles that embroil local candidates, O’Shea was targeted on election night for hosting a celebratory party outside city limits. His reps called the complaints “silly,” though they irked several other candidates.
Debra Silverstein — 50th Ward Alderman
The councilwoman is coming straight from the private sector, where she is an accountant, but she has the backing of a close political ally: her husband, state Sen. Ira Silverstein. According to WBEZ, that had some residents wondering: How much power is too much in one household?
Unseating long-time Ald. Bernie Stone was no easy feat, and the battle put Silverstein in the trenches. Silverstein accused Stone of running a shadow campaign committee (it’s against election rules to have more than one committee) to smear her and Stone countered that Silverstein was an ageist “housewife” whose campaign was masterminded by her husband.
After Jewish Chicago, a local publication, attacked the Silverstein family realty business and Silverstein’s appearance, the couple threatened legal action against the publisher for defamation, the Chicago News-Star reported.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Chicago government?
This week, Chicago Loopster collected 47 responses in this one-word association game about the system and figureheads that run the city. Among the array of answers stood a few common threads. Check out the collection of words Chicagoans spewed out about city government in the image below. (The prominence of the each word directly correlates to its frequency as a response).
To see some of the faces and hear voices of respondents view the presentation below, which also gives more context to the one-word responses.
The re-trial of Rod Blagojevich began Monday, with the prosecution leaving behind much of the fanfare found in the first trial that resulted in mistrials on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor.
Blagojevich was tried for racketeering, among a host of other related charges, in 2009. There were many others who were also brought up on charges in the original trial, including some of Blagojevich’s advisors and his brother. This time around, however, the prosecution shed many of the original charges in an attempt to streamline its case, due to complaints from jurors that it was too confusing.
Blagojevich’s defense gears up to begin calling witnesses next week, and in order to parse out the details of the case and to see how it has changed from the first trial, we are providing the affidavits and several motions proposed by the defense for suppressions, and even an acquittal.
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The Blagojevich scandal first broke when federal prosecutors, led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, charged 16 felony counts against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich during the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 2008. Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder, and charges included racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. In Feb. 2010, a federal grand jury in Chicago re-indicted Blagojevich on eight new charges, including racketeering and bribery, bringing the total number of charges to 24.
Immediately after the arrest, prominent Illinois lawmakers, including then Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, attorney general Lisa Madigan and state Republicans called for Blagojevich’s resignation. Democrat State Rep. John Fritchey told CBS News he thought impeachment proceedings should begin if Blagojevich did not step down.
Blagojevich emphatically maintained his innocence and refused to resign. This led the Illinois House of Representatives to impeach Blagojevich by a vote of 114-1 on Jan. 9, 2009, making him the first Illinois governor to be impeached. The House took action for Blagojevich’s “abuse of power” in “a plot to obtain a personal benefit in exchange for his appointment to fill the vacant seat in the United States Senate,” according to a MSNBC article. The trial was then taken up by the Illinois Senate, which came back with a guilty verdict with a vote of 59-0. In a public response, Blagojevich said he knew he would be impeached.
“The fix was in from the very beginning,” said Blagojevich, according to ABC News.
Since his arrest, Blagojevich and his wife Patti have been on a crusade to exonerate his name in the court of public opinion through appearances in reality TV shows and interviews with various media outlets. He has steadfastly sought his day in court to prove his innocence.
“I’m telling you now I am an honest man,” Blagojevich said in an interview with WLS-AM Sunday. “The government will not be able to show that I took one… penny that I wasn’t entitled to. Whether you voted for me or not… you should know I did not do these things and I am an honest man.”
Blagojevich isn’t the only one who has faced scrutiny in the controversy. Roland Burris, whom Blagojevich appointed after being arrested, was cleared of legal wrongdoing in the case by the U.S. Senate ethics panel. Christopher Kelly, a Blagojevich aide who was set to go to trial with the former governor, committed suicide in Sept. 2009.
With Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial scheduled to start June 3, two separate recent rulings both denied the defense team’s motions to delay the start of the trial. The latest attempt to delay the proceedings occurred May 25, when the defense team alleged U.S. District Judge James Zagel mishandled the jury selection process. This motion fell alongside a separate petition filed on May 19, currently under review with the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court must decide whether the “honest services” provision of the fraud law, which Blagojevich is being accused of, is constitutional.
“U.S. District Judge James Zagel said he was following normal procedure when he dismissed scores of would-be jurors who answered a mailing by saying they couldn’t serve on a long trial because it would be a financial hardship,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The Supreme Court also denied Blagojevich’s request the next day without comment, but is still expected to deliver a final opinion about the fraud law during the course of the trial.
Next Step: a Jury
Despite the massive amount of publicity this case has garnered over the past 18 months, Andrew Leipold, law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, does not think it will be too difficult to find impartial jurors.
“The test of course, is not whether they’ve heard about the case, but whether they could be fair,” said Leipold. “Whether they could put whatever they’ve heard aside and listen, and base things only on the information presented to them in court. How likely is that? … I think if you ask most people, they would say, ‘Well, yeah, I’ll just listen to what’s presented.’”
What to Expect
Leipold said the onus is on the government to prove its claims. Like many high-profile cases, he said, the trial will consist of long periods of legal wranglings most people will be uninterested in, punctuated by moments of high drama.
“Listening to the actual recordings of the conversations, I expect will make pretty good theater,” Leipold said. A summary of the original complaint can be found here.
The defense might try to contextualize Blagovejich’s now infamous conversations to claim he was working within the scope of the governor’s daily job of politicking on behalf of the state.
“I think they’ll try to say, ‘Look this is just politics,’” said Leipold. “‘This is how you have to get things done. You reward the people that support you because that’s the only way you have to gather support for the things you think are important for the people of Illinois. So you need to the see the governor governing.’”
Since Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell the vacant Senate seat of President Barack Obama, Blagojevich has been a staple in the media, often in front of a camera, trying to clear his name. In a series of high- and low-profile appearances, Blagojevich staked out his defense while providing some bizarre moments along the way. Here are some of the more memorable quotes and best videos featuring the former governor.
-Blagojevich on Obama’s Senate seat replacement, November 5, 2008
-On the Obama administration’s political offers regarding the Senate seat replacement, November 11, 2008
-On an attempted deal regarding the Tribune staff’s editorial team and the sale of the Cubs, November 3, 2008
-Blagojevich, The Governor: Finally, the Truth Behind the Political Scandal That Continues to Rock the Nation, released September 8, 2009
-Blagojevich, Esquire interview, January 2010
-Blagojevich, Esquire interview, January 2010
-Blagojevich, apologizing for remarks made in his interview with Esquire, January 12, 2010
-Blagojevich, giving a speech on ethics at Northwestern University, March 2, 2010
-Blagojevich, giving a speech on ethics at Northwestern University, March 2, 2010
-Blagojevich, in a press call, April 6, 2010
Before the American public saw Rod Blagojevich on dozens of talk shows, “Celebrity Apprentice” and “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here” over the past year and a half, he had a political career–filled with just as much drama as a reality TV show.
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