Collision of Chicago Corruptocrats

Obama's guys vs Daley's guys.

The city of Chicago and its environs have been famous for corrupt politics for generations.  My mother was in grade school in the 1920's.  As a kid, she remembers her elders speaking of "crook county" instead of referring to "Cook County," the official name of the county which encircles Chicago.

Richard Daley was Mayor of Chicago from 1955 until 1976.  After a non-Daley held the office for a term, his son won the office and has kept it ever since.  Between them, these two Daleys have run Chicago for more than 50 years.

Mayor Daley the First gave us the formula for keeping peace between various ethnic groups and other potentially warring factions -"Nobody gets everything but everybody gets something."  Making sure that enough people got enough of what they wanted from the city treasury helped him stay in power, of course.

Although he didn't give rise to Chicago's reputation for crooked politics - it was "crook country" long before he assumed office - he perfected the techniques that had been developed by the Tammany machine in New York City.  One of the elder Daley's most pithy sayings was, "I don't care who votes so long as I get to count them" and count them he did.

Being able to count the votes is handy, of course, but it's even better if you can keep your opponent from getting on the ballot in the first place - that makes his votes easier to count because there won't be any.  Mr. Obama used this technique to good effect when he first ran for the Illinois Senate - enough of his opponent's nominating signatures were somehow invalidated to throw her off the ballot, leaving him to cruise to office without a serious challenge.

When the current Mayor Daley announced his retirement, the end of the long Daley era made Chicago politics interesting for the first time in decades.  There was no possibility that the election would be honest, of course; the question was, which of the local crooks would "win" and take over the money and mantle of the Daley machine?

Rahm "Deadfish" Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, announced his candidacy early.  Having been a US Representative from a district near Chicago,  Mr. Emanuel has a long history of association with Illinois and Chicago.

Given President Obama's support, he anticipated no problems winning the upcoming "election," but he's well versed in the Chicago way of doing politics.  One of his more famous and least illegal shenanigans was sending a dead fish to a pollster who'd displeased him.  In a scene straight out of the Godfather movies, he also blew up at a dinner shortly after the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign, ranting off a list of the President's enemies while stabbing a knife into the table and shouting "Dead!" for each one.

Unfortunately for Mr. Emanuel, his sponsor wasn't the only experienced and corrupt Chicago politician with an interest in the outcome.  Others who had positions in the Daley administration want the office.  They sued to block Mr. Emanuel from the ballot on the grounds that, having lived in Virginia for the past two years while serving as Mr. Obama's chief of staff, he's not a resident of Chicago as required of candidates for mayor.

Although the local Board of Elections said he could run, the appeals court ruled against him.  The New York Times reports:

CHICAGO — With only a month to go until Election Day, more than $10 million in campaign money and an overwhelming lead in the polls, Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, was disqualified on Monday from appearing on this city’s ballot for mayor.

To many observers, this was simply another maneuver in the longstanding drama to determine which band of crooks would run Chicago until the next mayor dies.  Some patriotic Chicagoans begged to differ:

"Everybody thinks everything is bought and paid for in Chicago, but lots of judges are quite above all that," said Dawn Clark Netsch, an emerita professor of law at Northwestern University and a longtime figure in Democratic politics in the state.

Note that he didn't say, "our judges are quite above all that," or "all judges," he said "lots of judges."  Having been a figure in Democratic politics, Mr. Netsch knows full well what's bought and paid for in Chicago - i.e. not everything and everybody, but enough.

By not ruling in his favor, the appeals court missed an opportunity for some of Mr. Emanuel's $10 million campaign fund to come their way.  No doubt some heated phone calls burnt the circuits over the next few days.

The next level of justices saw the light - or perhaps the green - but either aren't sure what they can get away with or are driving up the price, as the Chicago Defender reports:

The Illinois Supreme Court has halted the Chicago board of elections from printing any mayoral ballots without Rahm Emanuel's name on them.

The high court is still determining whether to consider an appeal filed by Emanuel after a state appeals court ruled that he could not run for Chicago mayor because he didn't live in the city for a year before the Feb. 22 vote.

On Tuesday, the high court said that if any ballots are printed, they must include the former White House chief of staff's name while the court decides whether to take the case.

So the Supremes said that the city can't print ballots without Emanuel on them, but can't use ballots with him listed - without even deciding whether to take the case?

Something smells as whiffy as Rahm Emanuel's outgoing mail.  We're reminded of the Old West judge who said, "The court has in hand $15,000 from the defendant and $10,000 from the plaintiff.  The court will return $5,000 to the defendant and try the case on its merits."

Or not - just last night, they abruptly ruled Rahm eligible, claiming strictest adherence to 150 years of law while flying in the face of every definition of "resident" known to man.  Quick, some attorney-general subpoena their bank statements!

Of Kings and Emperors

Thus far, the Chicago mayoral shenanigans may seem a source of amusement but no particular concern to the rest of America.  After all, as we've seen, Chicago has been "crook county" for a century and done no particular harm - has it?

Indeed it has, and at the highest levels.  It's well know that the first Mayor Daley stole the 1960 election for Democrat John Kennedy.  Although Nixon nobly chose not to make a stink at the time, is it any wonder that he reached the conclusion that "anything goes" when the Oval Office is at stake?  Our political culture has been in an unceasing downward slide ever since.

This slide has culminated in our current President, who is the very first Chicago machine politician to hold the highest office.  We've documented any number of examples of his administration's thuggery - from crony capitalism to corrupt unionism to bald-faced lies told the assembled Congress and national TV.  Clearly, Obama doesn't believe that he really answers to anybody; what he says is so is, and that's that.

Unfortunately for his self-esteem, however, he's running headlong into a fundamental political truth of human nature: No one individual can have all the power.  There will always be lesser powers jockeying for control who, in their own domain, may actually have more power than their nominal superiors - much as the kings of Europe and lesser lords often could defy the Holy Roman Emperor without penalty, even though theoretically he outranked them.

A wise emperor knows the unwritten limits to his authority and never publicly crosses them, thus maintaining the illusion of omnipotence.  This keeps his minions in the dark as to exactly what he can and can't enforce.  Doubt makes them less likely to have a go at defying him.

Obama, having never had a serious challenge, doesn't seem to have learned this lesson.  By sending his own guy Emanuel to take over a territory currently controlled by Mayor Daley, a lesser, but quite powerful, lord, he's set up a collision of Corruptocrats that can't come out well regardless of what happens.

If Emanuel wins, the ex-Daley machine will attempt to torpedo his every move, sending him down in disgrace, indictment, and doubtless criminal conviction.  It's inconceivable that Daley operatives don't have evidence against Emanuel and perhaps even Obama himself that could tie them up in court for years to come, smearing their names and legacies forever.

If Emanuel loses, that won't happen, but the entire country will have watched Obama very publicly lose a political battle with his own side and against a local lord of far lesser nominal rank.  Once everyone sees that Obama is not the godlike, omnipotent figure the media has made him out to be, other power centers may suddenly see opportunities to take a chunk out of his hide.  Thus are lame-duck presidencies and collapsed imperial administrations made.

How will the Chicago election shake out?  Not having to live under that city's corrupt misrule, we don't really care: we're simply rooting for maximum casualties on both sides.

As Donald Rumsfeld once said of equally-corrupt but somewhat more bloodthirsty Iran and Iraq when they were at war in the 1980s, "It's a pity they can't both lose."

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

Once again, as if we needed more evidence, America's nose is rubbed in the fact that bigshot Democrats simply don't need to follow the law. Emanuel should be looking at ten years in prison for tax and voting fraud, not anywhere near an official ballot.

January 28, 2011 10:53 AM

Mr. Offensicht, it's obvious that you are not a Chicagoan. Some basic facts you have wrong:

There were FIVE mayors between the Daleys.
Rahm's former congressional district is IN, not just NEAR the city.
Dawn Clark Netsch is a WOMAN.

Lastly, the basis for this entertaining Obama vs. Daley feud scenario is called into question a bit by this bit of history: Emanuel was a major player as an employee for Richard M. Daley's first mayoral campaign.

February 3, 2011 1:35 PM

The Times says he is in like Flynn

The One-Man Political Machine
Rahm Emanuel's hard-won campaign to reclaim his Chicagoness.

February 20, 2011 2:55 PM
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