Patrick Slattery kept his mouth shut as tightly as a cell door while he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for his role in former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s political machine.
He stayed silent and let his lawyer do all the talking again on Tuesday — pressing a city panel to return him to his public payroll job with back pay.
The board’s hearing officer had opined, incredibly, that Slattery deserved to return to work at the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department because, well, pretty much everybody was doing the same thing back in the day.
Fortunately for taxpayers, who want at least a semblance of reform in local government, the city’s Human Resources Board disagreed with its hearing officer. The board members upheld Slattery’s firing a few hours after hearing arguments from his attorney and from a lawyer for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, which doesn’t want Slattery working at City Hall again.
Now 51, the beefy son of Bridgeport was convicted along with his best friend, Daley patronage chief Robert Sorich, and two other city officials in a 2005 corruption case that dismantled the then-mayor’s patronage machine.
RELATED: Nov. 21, 2006: Daley’s former patronage chief Sorich gets 46 months Nov. 29, 2006: Mayor Daley stands by ‘fine men’ Sorich, Slattery
The scam worked like this: Daley aides, including Slattery, fixed city hiring and promotions to reward those who proved their use to the boss on the campaign trail.
Daley was far from the only one helped by the loyal patronage workers who were deployed at election time and who got rewarded later on the taxpayer’s dime.
As in the times of Daley’s father and others who ran the original Cook County Democratic machine, the revived machine’s greatest value was in punishing elected officials who got out of line and supporting reliable allies — among them, a 2002 congressional hopeful named Rahm Emanuel.
Now, the era of “blessed” lists of city job-seekers apparently is over. Slattery is on a very different list — the Emanuel administration’s “do-not-hire” spreadsheet.
A lawyer for the city argued to the Human Resources Board members on Tuesday that they must reject Slattery’s bid to get re-hired to preserve “the integrity of the city.”
Slattery’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen, fired back that his client was in the company of “hundreds of other city employees” in the fraudulent hiring scheme.
“The hiring procedure was an institutionalized practice,” Blegen told the board. “Every single commissioner, every single personnel director . . . followed this same practice and procedure.”
Starting in 1983, the city had promised in federal court that it would not hire and fire or promote and demote based on political considerations.
But the federal corruption case against Slattery and his co-defendants revealed how the personnel process was secretly rigged to favor the clouted from the time Richard M. Daley took office.
Mara Georges — the top Daley administration’ lawyer who works now with Daley’s brother Michael — testified in Slattery’s Human Resources case. Although the judge in the 2006 federal trial of Slattery and the other defendants found her testimony to be “incredible,” Blegen cited her more recent comments Tuesday.
“She essentially felt bad they had not trained people better” in obeying anti-patronage hiring rules, Blegen said.
Besides being the victim of “misdirection from his superiors,” Blegen said, Slattery also was targeted unfairly by federal authorities “because he happened to grow up next to Robert Sorich.”
“They try to flip people on other people,” Blegen said of the feds. “They have bigger fish in their sights.”
That no doubt was true in this case and many other relatively recent federal probes in which underlings of governors got flipped faster than a grilled pork chop.
It didn’t happen with Slattery and Sorich when they felt federal heat, so the bigger fish continued to swim free.
Few knowledgeable observers of local politics were surprised.
Slattery grew up on the same block as Richard M. Daley’s brother, the Cook County Commissioner and 11th Ward Democratic boss John Daley. Slattery’s sister, Maura Slattery Boyle, was elected a Cook County judge with John Daley’s help. And John Daley described the Slatterys as “great friends of our family — very, very close” after Patrick Slattery was criminally charged.
Slattery could continue to wage his fight in Cook County Circuit Court. His lawyer did not return calls after the board’s ruling Tuesday afternoon.
At the hearing earlier, though, Blegen had said he was offended because Emanuel administration lawyers referred to Slattery as trying to “slink away” from responsibility for his crime.
“He’s not slinking away from anything,” Blegen said. “He stood up from Day 1, and he’s standing here now.”
It’s hard to see what Slattery stood up for, except in the sense that he’s been a stand-up guy, refusing to turn on those who were higher up the political food chain.
Maybe they could pay him back somehow, rather than soaking the taxpayers again.
Slattery’s setback Tuesday also is a win for the true victims of clout: The regular folks who stood in line during many of the Richard M. Daley years to apply for city jobs, based only on their merits. They were looking only for a fair shot, but were without a real chance to get the kind of job Slattery feels he still deserves.