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EDITORIAL: An alderman, another conviction and the Chicago Way

Ald. Willie Cochran, left, walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday morning. Cochran pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for spending money from a ward fund meant for charity on personal expenses. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

As our city nears its April 2 runoff election, residents were treated — one more time — to the spectacle of an alderman leaving the 50-member City Council after being found guilty of corruption.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), who did not run for re-election but whose term was not yet up, is the 35th alderman since 1973 to be found guilty of a crime or crimes.

It’s a sorry statistic. Evidently, the Chicago Way doesn’t come equipped with stop signs.

Cochran’s guilty plea set off few shock waves because he was seen as a run-of-the-mill offender compared with the wide-ranging federal investigation swirling around Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Burke stands charged in a federal public corruption case but denies wrongdoing. Solis hasn’t been charged but admits he’s cooperated with federal authorities investigating City Hall deals.

In Cochran’s case, prosecutors dropped the most serious charges against the South Side alderman in exchange for a guilty plea to wire fraud for dipping into campaign funds for gambling, his daughter’s college tuition and other personal expenses.

Cochran at first proclaimed his innocence, and even on Thursday the proceedings dragged on before he and prosecutors could arrive at a final agreement. Cochran bristled at the bribery charges, and for whatever reason the prosecution was willing to drop them. But as a former cop and an alderman since 2007 who had witnessed the conviction of two of his 20th Ward predecessors, Cochran ought to have known the law and the risks of breaking it.

Chicagoans are tired of the incessant news of aldermanic malfeasance. They shake their heads over the cost of a “corruption tax.” They don’t want more evidence that insiders are profiting at the expense of everyone else.

But, as we have written in our endorsements, Chicago has an opportunity after a new Council is seated to at least start moving in a new direction.

We’re hoping for a new day — and less of the Chicago Way.

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