Tuesday, October 5, 2010



The big news in the Chicago papers this morning is the arrest of Carla Oglesby, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s Deputy Chief of Staff, by investigators from the State’s Attorney’s office as Ms. Oglesby pulled out of a downtown parking garage. The arrest stemmed from charges that Ms. Oglesby routinely authorized county contracts awarded to companies that were controlled by, among others:

--Ms. Oglesby herself

--Mark Carter, a West Side activist who did extensive campaign work for Todd Stroger in the 2006 election, including distributing fliers and other advertising that depicted 4th ward alderman, and eventual winner of the 2006 primary for County Board president, Toni Preckwinkle, as “Aunt Je’Mamie.”

--Members of the rap duo Dude ‘N Nem, who may or may have not worked with Ms. Oglesby in her former career as a promoter of sports notables and hip-hop “artists.”

The contracts in question were uniformly for just under $25,000; one, to Ms. Oglesby’s CGC Communications, was for $24,975. That $25,000 is the threshold for full Board approval might have something to do with the dollar amounts of the contracts Ms. Oglesby either approved or was instrumental in approving. There is also a question as to whether any actual work was done in exchange for the payments, but one wonders how anyone could tell, given that the contracts were for such vital government functions as, according to the Chicago Tribune, informing residents about federal flood relief grants, “build(ing) awareness of the (county’s) composting and electronic collection programs,” and “building awareness of (county) energy and conservation programs.”

One might ask, with a degree of legitimacy, what Ms. Oglesby and, by implication, Mr. Stroger did that is outside the proud tradition of Chicago politicians’ securing comfortable positions at the public trough for their friends and supporters. Why did State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez decide to go after Ms. Oglesby and Mr. Stroger when, seemingly, “everyone” does it in Chicago? Doubtless, charges of racism will fly.

But Mr. Stroger and his pathetic cast of characters are not getting in trouble because of their race. They are getting in trouble because of their incompetence. The old hands, the real pros, the seasoned lifers in the politics of our city manage to filter money to friends, supporters, relatives, and themselves with a degree of aplomb and sophistication that Todd(ler) Stroger and his sorry pack of minions cannot even approach. Perhaps given enough time in office, Mr. Stroger and his henchpeople, like Ms. Oglesby, would have developed into skilled practitioners of the open palm, but they were impatient and impetuous, not waiting to artfully employ the Chicago Grab but, out of a lack of experience, maturity, or confidence, stealing all they could as quickly as they could. The consequences have been predictable.

Readers who are interested in the techniques of public thievery, and the consequences of those too obtuse to master them, are directed to my books, The Chairman, A Novel of Big City Politics and its sequel, The Chairman’s Challenge, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics. Both are available at Amazon.com, numerous independent bookstores, and for order virtually anywhere books are sold. The theme of the amateurs vs. the professionals, and the fate of the amateurs, is a recurring one in both books, but is especially highlighted in The Chairman’s Challenge in the figure of Ron Milovanovic, a fictional governor who is clearly in over his head and hence out of favor with the people who really run the state. It’s a great read.

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