Trusting Mayor Daley

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Mayor Richard Daley traveled to Springfield on Wednesday to push an important agenda for Chicago. He wants more money for his schools and for his transit authority.

But when Daley asks for cash, many legislators likely are thinking about all the news they're reading from Chicago. Reduced to three, action-packed paragraphs, that news is pregnant with dark possibilities:

- Federal corruption probers have all but opened a satellite office in Chicago's City Hall. On Monday, Gerald Wesolowski, a former Water Department official, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy--a coup for a government probe that so far has led to charges against 27 people.

- Why is that a coup? Because Wesolowski admitted he solicited trucking companies seeking city business to give money to the mayor's re-election campaign, and to the 11th Ward Democratic Organization of his brother John Daley, who chairs the Finance Committee of the Cook County Board. Wesolowski also said city workers won promotions and raises by campaigning for Daley, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and others.

- The cliffhanger: Wesolowski says unnamed officials told Donald Tomczak, his boss at City Hall, which campaigns were to get help from his political army. If Wesolowski is telling the truth, Tomczak can put those mysterious officials in a world of hurt if he ever talks to the feds. Finally: Tomczak's attorney has said he is negotiating a possible plea deal with ... federal prosecutors.

The Daleys and Emanuel say they didn't know of any wrongdoing. But the charge is out there that City Hall corruption was tailored to directly benefit the political campaigns of the mayor and his allies. You didn't know? Then who did? This case is moving far beyond "fixing" the Water Department or the purchasing department.

For some legislators, trusting Mayor Daley may not be as easy as it was when he boldly seized control of dismal public schools or flattened squalid public housing high-rises.

He didn't help his cause Wednesday when, at a news conference in Chicago, he said he still doesn't know--15 months after the question surfaced--who in his own administration promoted Angelo Torres to run the city's Hired Truck Program.

Many Chicagoans may view that question as a preoccupation of reporters, political junkies--and all those feds. Barely two weeks ago, this page said the mayor should have done much more through the years to root out the culture of clout that unfairly denies jobs and contracts to those who don't play politics at City Hall. But we also acknowledged it may well be Daley's wisdom that Chicagoans care less about hired trucks than about such issues as the quality of their schools.

Unfortunately for Daley, it's not those friendly, forgiving Chicagoans who will decide whether to give him more state money for his city's schoolchildren and transit riders. Those decisions will be made by legislators in Springfield.

Not that they're all paragons of virtue. Some would trade their aged mothers for campaign contributions--three days before Mother's Day.

But by permitting the culture of clout to endure, by failing to name (and denounce) names, Daley makes it tough for legislators outside of Chicago to sell their constituents on giving Chicago more money.

For many of those legislators, the issue likely won't be just more money for schools or mass transit. The issue will be trusting Mayor Daley.