Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Corruption

Living in Chicago, I've been hearing and reading about political corruption all my life. These days it has become somewhat fashionable to talk about Chicago corruption. I don't think that anyone in Chicago, myself included, was hugely surprised by the recent scandal with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat. Shocked by the shamelessness and brazenness of the attempt sure; but not surprised. There was a reason why the guy's approval rating was down to 13% before the scandal broke.

And this is the part that fascinates me about the whole scandal. It seems to me that while corruption has long been tolerated in Chicago, incompetence is not. Chicago mayor Richard Daley isn't exactly known for honest and open government. In fact the Daley name is widely regarded as synonymous with big city corruption. But Daley still enjoys relatively high approval ratings despite having been repeatedly battered by scandal. The difference is that Daley actually gets things done. When I think about Daley, I think about Millenium Park and the renovation of Navy Pier, huge projects which Daley used to beautify Chicago. When I thought about Blagojevich, if I thought about him at all prior to his current scandal, I usually thought about his last big scandal involving his father in law Richard Mell or of his mishandling of the Chicago Transit Authority's budget crisis. I literally can't think of a single positive thing to say about Blagojevich right now.

And in the end, that's the difference in the fate of these two pols. One is barely hanging on to his career and will likely be gone in a few months, the other is merely "vulnerable" despite repeated scandals. My brother is a suburbanite who loves right wing talk radio and a few years ago local talk show hosts were frothing at the mouth about the Daley Machine and why he kept getting re-elected. Any Chicagoan could have told them why—for all of his flaws, Daley has actually done a pretty good job as mayor—at least from the perspective of a city resident. While it may not seem like the best way to pick a local leader, it beats picking a guy who gets beaten by a snow storm.

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