The attorney whose anti-patronage campaign has led to four decades of federal court oversight of hiring at City Hall declared Thursday that the city has made significant reforms and outside supervision is no longer needed.
In a legal motion, Michael Shakman said City Hall was in “substantial compliance” with the court order banning the consideration of politics in most hiring, firing, promotions and discipline for the first time since the order was issued in 1972.
“The city has done what it was required to do to get into what is called substantial compliance, which isn’t perfect compliance,” Shakman said after his motion was filed. “It’s so substantial that it’s time to end the oversight of the city.”
Over the years, Shakman’s last name has become shorthand for the federal court ban on patronage hiring in Chicago, where public jobs have long been used to build political armies. According to local folklore, patronage bosses didn’t want “nobody nobody sent” – they wanted only job-seekers and campaign workers who had political sponsors.
If a federal judge agrees with Shakman, federal oversight will be lifted for Chicago only. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department and Forest Preserve District already have been removed from court-ordered supervision, but several other arms of county government and the governor’s office would still be under oversight.
The motion filed Thursday is a victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose predecessor, Richard M. Daley, tried and failed to get out from under federal oversight during his 22-year tenure.
Shakman’s move was praised as well-earned and appropriate by David Hoffman, a former city inspector general who grappled with Daley over the issue. But Hoffman also sounded a word of caution.
“The external monitoring is going to be lifted, and therefore I would say extra vigilance is required going forward to make sure things stay where they are now,” said Hoffman, who endorsed Emanuel three years ago. “And everyone should keep an eye on that, I would say.”
Former Ald. Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago said the current mayor has not built patronage armies like Daley, and also has taken steps to improve city ethics, but “that doesn’t mean all corruption is gone.”
Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier will consider Shakman’s motion at a scheduled June 16 hearing. His approval would bring an end to a case that has cost the city tens of millions of dollars, brought untold damage to its reputation and led to a handful of convictions.
Just since 2005, when the court stepped up its oversight regime, the Shakman case has cost the city $22.8 million paid out for settlements, legal costs and consultants, according to a city accounting.
When Shakman brought the case, he was a 27-year-old Hyde Park resident who realized he was on his way to losing his bid to be a delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. He alleged that the patronage armies backing his Cook County Democratic Party opponents gave them an unfair advantage.
Shakman filed suit in 1969. Three years later, then-Mayor Richard J. Daley and other officials signed off on a judicial decree ordering the city to stop firing employees for failure to raise campaign money or get out the votes for the elected officials who controlled their livelihoods. Over the years, that ruling was expanded to other aspects of government employment, with the courts maintaining oversight authority.
Not all city jobs fall under the Shakman rules. Certain employees in executive and policymaking jobs are exempt because the courts recognize that elected leaders need trusted and loyal staffs.
During the years Richard J. Daley was in office, he also served as chairman of the county Democratic party and oversaw a vast patronage army that controlled the elections of officials from City Hall to the General Assembly. Although his son, Richard M. Daley, did not command such large patronage troops, some of his top lieutenants at City Hall were convicted of job rigging on behalf of political foot soldiers.
Some of those soldiers, working for city water official Donald Tomczak,, helped Emanuel when he first ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002. Emanuel has maintained that he didn’t know Tomczak, who was later convicted of taking bribes from trucking companies hired by the city.
Despite the attempts by Richard M. Daley to get the federal court to declare his administration in “substantial compliance,” oversight instead was significantly stepped up because of city hiring practices.
In 2004, during Daley’s tenure, top aide Robert Sorich, often called the mayor’s “patronage chief,” was indicted with two other men on charges of “honest services fraud” for dispensing thousands of jobs to pro-Daley patronage troops and, when the investigation began, shredding documents and erasing computer data.
They were convicted two years later in the precedent-setting prosecution that criminalized the type of patronage practices Shakman had by then been battling for more than three decades. Sorich’s conviction was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the Sorich case was playing out in 2005, a frustrated federal judge overseeing the Shakman case put a monitor in place to keep track of city hiring. In 2007, a plan was set out to bring the city into substantial compliance.
While under the oversight of monitor Noelle Brennan, the city in 2008 set up a $11.9 million fund to compensate employees who lost out on jobs or promotions because of the city’s illegal hiring practices. The city also has paid out $10.9 million to pay for Brennan’s work, consultants she hired, lawyers for plaintiffs against the city and other costs.
Since taking over City Hall in May 2011, the Emanuel administration has disciplined several employees allegedly involved in the wrongdoing that took place when Sorich worked in Daley’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Those punishments mostly involved suspensions, although one worker was fired, another who was fired for other reasons was placed on the city’s do-not-hire list and one was simply reprimanded, according to a May 2 report by Brennan.
Emanuel also stepped up cooperation with Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who is the city’s internal hiring monitor.
Shakman said Emanuel also has made the city Human Relations Department “robust and active, with a good commissioner who came out of” Ferguson’s office.
“I think this mayor’s been good in terms of taking seriously the requirements to straighten out the city’s practices, and some of those efforts began under Daley, but they became much more robust under Emanuel,” added Shakman.
Brennan, in a memorandum filed Thursday, agreed with Shakman. “The steps taken by Emanuel “should both avert widespread hiring irreuglatities today and prevent the re-emergence of the patronage practices of the past,” she wrote. “To say the city has totally revamped its hiring and employment practices would be an understatement.”