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.