Friday, December 10, 2010



New Cook County Board Chairman Toni Preckwinkle has criticized newly elected Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios for hiring his son and his sister, two people had who worked for him when he was on the Board of (Tax) Appeals and apparently did so quite effectively. Preckwinkle has said that she thinks hiring relatives is “inappropriate,” abhors the “appearance of impropriety” (good to know the new Board Chairman is not given to trite phrases, eh? But I digress.), has never hired a relative to work for her in her 19 years as 4th Ward Alderman, and is “prepared to consider” (bold leadership, eh?) an ordinance prohibiting such hiring.

Two major thoughts, which in turn tend to spawn sub-thoughts, arise from Chairman Preckwinkle’s protestations.

First, why is it such a horrible thing to hire one’s relatives when one is in public life? There is no indication that either Mr. Berrios’s son or sister is unqualified; indeed, their work at the Board of Appeals indicates that they are perhaps supremely qualified for similar real estate work at the Assessor’s office. Should all relatives of politicians now somehow become automatically unqualified for work in the public sector? One shudders to think what would happen to the County Building and City Hall (the same building, really) were all of the relatives of pols to be given their walking papers. The echo of silence and the pallor of emptiness in the buildings would be, perhaps ironically, deafening.

Second, that Toni Preckwinkle, a ward committeeman, sees fit to criticize Joe Berrios, Chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization and (very) nominally head of the Party, shows how far the County Regular Democratic Organization (the Machine, in popular parlance), has descended. Can you imagine an earlier assessor, say, Parky Cullerton, castigating an earlier Party Chairman, say, Richard J. Daley, for hiring relatives? Such a scenario would indeed be a case of the pot calling the proverbial kettle black; were one to clear the County Building and City Hall of Cullertons, Daleys, and Guilfoyles in the ‘50s or ‘60s, that building would come to resemble an episode of the Twilight Zone depicting a post nuclear holocaust swath of the American countryside, but I digress. My point is that such criticism of the Boss would not even be considered back when the likes of Richard I was the Boss, and not only for reasons of avoiding hypocrisy. A committeeman in that era (Seymour Simon comes to mind.) who dared criticize the Boss would be summarily taken down about a hundred notches and would spend the rest of his life stripped of any real power and toiling away at an innocuous post in the public sector far, far removed from any proximity to the people that really matter. (See my two books, The Chairman, A Novel of Big City Politics and The Chairman’s Challenge, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics, for fictionalizations of such dressing downs.)

Notice that Ms. Preckwinkle soft-pedaled, or back-pedaled on, her criticism of Mr. Berrios. She hastened to add that, in addition to being her friend, Mr. Berrios was still chairman of the Party, of which she, as 4th Ward Committeeman, was still a part. So the protocol, if not the realities, of power still reside in the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. Also, as I pointed out on election night (See my 11/2/10 commentary SAY IT’S SO, JOE.), long before this observation was made by, let alone became conventional wisdom among, the solons of the local media, Mr. Berrios’s landslide defeat of independent Forest Claypool indicates that the Orgnaization still can crank out the vote, which holds ramifications for the upcoming real election in Chicago. Still, though, Committeeman Preckwinkle’s criticism of Chairman Berrios indicates that the Machine is pale reflection of its former self.

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