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EDITORIAL: When it comes to snitching, City Council does a Tony Soprano

Ed Burke, Danny Solis

Aldermen Ed Burke and Danny Solis at a City Council meeting in 2016. | Sun-Times file sphoto

What a bunch of jokers.

One alderman secretly records his conversations with another alderman to help federal investigators make a corruption case, and what do many of their colleagues do?

They go all Tony Soprano.


“Where I come from, if you wore a wire, someone’s gonna kick your ass,” Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) told Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman.

Tell that to the cops, alderman, the next time they complain that they can’t solve a murder because nobody will tell them anything. And tell it to the cops when they cover up for one of their own.

“If I was caught doing something wrong, I’d just take my punishment,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said, “and keep my mouth shut.”

Because honor among thieves matters more than honest government, alderman?

“You don’t do that,” Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said. “You just don’t.”

Don’t do what, alderman? Snitch? Rat? Squeal? Is that what you think of informants and whistle-blowers? They’re weasels who broke the code of omerta?

“I try to think that we’re a family down here,” Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said. “So I got to say it’s probably a little disheartening for me.”

To which family are you referring, alderman?

Are you talking about your City Council family, which might be the most consistently corrupt collection of elected officials in the nation? Harsh to say, but true. Since 1972, 29 aldermen have been convicted of crimes related to their official duties.

Or, alderman, are you talking about your family of fellow Chicagoans? The people who elected you and put their faith in you?

In which case, we fail to see what’s so “disheartening” about one possibly crooked alderman working with the feds — even if only to save his own skin — to nail a possibly even more crooked alderman.

The code of the playground, even in our adult lives, is forever nebulous. We get that. Tattling is not always admirable.

But when the feds persuaded Ald. Danny Solis (25th) to wear a wire to record more than a dozen conversations with Ald. Ed Burke (14th), they weren’t investigating third graders who cheated on their homework. They were looking into the secretive business affairs of a powerful alderman, Burke, who now stands accused of trying to shake down a local business.

As it happens, the Sun-Times editorial board is conducting interviews this month with dozens of candidates for alderman. So when two of them dropped by on Thursday, we asked them what they thought about Solis wearing a wire.

“Gotta point out wrong when it’s wrong,” the first candidate said.

Good answer.

“If you consider somebody a colleague,” said the second candidate, knocking Solis, “you figure you all work as a unit.”

Oh, Lord.

If you are enough of a Chicagoan to get yourself elected or appointed to the Chicago City Council, you know the institution’s sorry history going in. You know about the Gray Wolves of the sepia-toned era. You know the classic boast, quoted with a chuckle, by mid-20th Century Ald. Paddy Bauler: “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.”

You know about Operation Silver Shovel, the federal probe that led to the indictment of six aldermen, and about Operation Incubator, which led to the conviction of four more.

The point is, you know what you’re getting into.

Even if you didn’t become an alderman  just to enrich yourself, you know that others did. And you have a moral obligation, on the day you take your oath of office, to commit to a personal policy of zero tolerance — to be a snitch, a squealer, a rat — whenever you see serious possible criminal conduct.

Or go do something else for a living.

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