Emanuel won't make the mistake of declaring patronage dead

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 06/13/2014, 05:00pm

Former Mayor Harold Washington used to brag about “stomping on the grave” of patronage, only to have it rise from the dead.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not about to make that same mistake after a hiring scandal that has cost Chicago taxpayers $22.9 million over the last decade. Not even if, as expected, a federal judge releases the city next wek from the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.

“Do I think…political hiring influencing the city is all over? No, because this is Chicago. Do I think that we have shown that we have professionalized our hiring on the best practices? Yes. And I think we have to stay vigilant on that effort,” the mayor said.

Federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan was appointed in 2005 by a federal judge furious with City Hall for making a mockery of the 1969 Shakman decree that was supposed to ban city hiring and firing.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s former patronage chief, streets and sanitation commissioner and two others were subsequently convicted of rigging city hiring to benefit the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

Last month, attorney Michael Shakman and Brennan filed a joint motion in federal court arguing that the city had reached the “substantial compliance” needed to be released from federal oversight.

If a federal judge agrees, the long-running case will be dismissed on Monday and so will Brennan. That will leave the job of policing city hiring, firing and promotions to Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who has decided to stay on — and possibly serve out his new, four-year term — after dramatically improving his once-contentious relationship with Emanuel.

Emanuel said he considers it a “milestone for the city that, after 40 years and twenty-odd million dollars,” Chicago has finally graduated to the point where it doesn’t need federal oversight.

“I hope it begins, and I do believe, it begins the process that it’s not who you know. It’s what you know that will determine how you get hired in the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

“But, I also know it’s not just about the court order. It’s about the people I’ve put in charge, that they carry that value every day and execute it. This is a milestone to be recognized. But how you execute it going forward is also important and that you stay vigilant to both the letter and the spirit of that accomplishment. It’s significant that we accomplished it. It will also be significant that we stay true to it going forward.”

Former Inspector General David Hoffman was hired by Daley when the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals were going full-bore, only to encounter resistance from the mayor’s office at virtually every turn.

One of the “biggest moves” Emanuel made to turn that around was the promotion of Soo Choi as Human Resources commissioner, said Hoffman, who hired Choi to work under him in the inspector general’s office.

“The idea of hiring someone from the IG’s office to run such a critical function for the city would have been a non-starter in the past,” Hoffman said last month.

“To satisfy the court and the monitor, you needed to make hard moves like bringing in a new kind of person to head the HR department. That was a very big move. What we’re seeing now is a true commitment to do what’s necessary to take politics out of employment actions.”

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