A reader asked how dare I compare Austin King, the Madison City Council person to Mayor Daley. The point being, we need to be careful of what we define as corruption and do not think, as progressives, we have the power to do that without calling out the corruption first. I recall the left was good at this at one time...
I think the corruption issue will come front and center by 2008 and I think we need to address this internally, especially because Barak Obama has so many relationships with problematic politicians. We cannot let the right run with this issue, which is why I hammer it. In naming who is actually corrupt and separating them from the pack, we create broader avenues for reform.
I should add, my opinions regularly flop on specific people because I am simply trying to think objectively from both sides and in some cases, like the other side.
We need to be aware that these investigations are selective, political -- as great as Patrick Fitzgerald is -- and need to say so. EVERY person involved in policy has done something illegal trying to get things done, including myself, without being aware of it. Could someone say Austin King is corrupt or Corey Booker? Yes. They have both engaged in the same behavior that Daley is being looked at for but whether or not it is investigative material depends on how corruption is framed. Should Austin King be called under the microscope for working so closely with one development entity? Of course. But we in the media should give him ample platform to respond robustly.
As someone who has been inside journalism, there is what I call the Next Watergate problem. Journalists are so ready to find the next big corruption scandal and attach a name to it they forget to explain to readers how things work and why mistakes are made. In this, latent corruption - for example, widespread false reporting to the Department of Education about Talent Search funds emerging out of unrealistic quantitative service goals - goes unexamined. I would assert this has spilled over into the way Patrick Fitzgerald's staff and Federal law enforcement agencies are conducting his investigations and I think this may affect the Dems as a whole.
In my former position with a clothing company, we tried to create a training program with the City of Chicago that would have hired 10 people in an economically depressed area with health insurance. A small company often does not have the resources to seek out where to situate such projects on their own so historically, industry would turn to a city government. With the microscope on ethics, the city could not help because it would have looked like favoritism even though WE WOULD HAVE BEEN SEEKING HELP IN TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EXISTING CITY PROGRAMS that were hard to navigate. The mayor's office couldn't even give us information on programs created by their own office because of possible accusations of favoritism that could have arose.
Along those lines, and per the Chicago Reader article on Daley, big companies take advantage of TIFs because they have lawyers to do exploratory research and the legal work. That gives them the ability to approach elected officials and municipalities with ready proposals. What happens in the end, it is often not elected officials who make the bad deal, it is the company presenting bold-faced lies to the elected officials they engage.
That said, I'll address the devils-advocate comparisons between Corey Booker, Austin King and Daley.
First of all, Austin King is a major force behind development in the City of Madison. He was, at one time, going to present a proposal to change zoning laws on the Isthmus to allow downtown buildings to be built higher than the capital. Considering his relationship with certain investment entities, such a proposal could have been seen as corruption and in the interest of development interests he knew wanted to build high-rises. However, King only engaged one developer on a regular basis because no one else stepped up to the plate. He was placed in a position of trying to hold back a Tsunami waterwall of development that would have displaced affordable housing in downtown Madison.
So what did he do? He acted fast and in ways that I do not agree with. HOWEVER, does that make him corrupt? His voiced, off-the-record intent to me as a reporter covering Community Block Development Grant issues was that in changing zoning laws, and in building up, you control sprawl and create concentrated blocks of a wealthy tax base. These are, in fact, Harvard Business Review published best practices for sustainability.
Had King been older, he might have been resistant to think of such a proposal because he would have thought about his own hide and questions that might have been raised. This is what eventually makes older, seasoned elected officials ineffective.
Do I think King gets a little drunk on power? Yes. That is my opinion and I can voice it. Do I think he is effective? Yes. Very much so. If I were a Madison resident would I vote for him for Mayor as much as I dislike some of the ways he operates with developers? Yes. Because I think he doesn't care if he walks fine lines as long as he is effective and even though I am absolutely sure he has a great deal of mirror-gazing, self-interest in his career, I think he genuinely cares about poverty issues in Madison as well as sustainability.
That does not mean, however, that I cannot raise issues. I present the problem with King and Corey Booker for progressives to think about what 'corruption' means.
As for my own mistakes, I procured a job for a former girlfriend in a program of the Department of Cultural Affairs through a friend of Mayor Daley who I knew through being active with Democrats in Philly. Was my girlfriend unqualified? No. Would I have done it for her again knowing what I do now? No, and that would have been sad. Who would have lost out? This former girlfriend did not have family connections and with a name more attributed to Black women than white women, she had a harder time finding a job through fielding resumes than I did, an actual half-black Latino man. Five years later, her whole prospering career and ability to be a cultural activist has come out of this opportunity.
Does the Mayor's office of Chicago hire by six-degrees? Yes. But if one really examines hiring practices, you will find far less real problematic hiring than you will in other Democrat-dominant cities. Philly politicians hire their kids, unabashedly then ask others to do the work for their kids. Maritza Reveron got her job with Tierney Communications on a press release for a McDonald's Donavan MacNabb bobble-head promotion that I ghost wrote for her. She had no PR background. I was asked to do it -- asked meaning demanded to -- by a member of the Ortiz/Hernandez circle.
Here is another problem to present in thinking about how corruption is framed and how investigators get choosy. When I worked at the New York Sun, many young journalists would leave to work for Mayor Bloomberg's office and other city offices. The New York Sun and Mike Bloomberg represent a particular configuration of strong-tie support in the Republican Party. Were these former Sun staffers the most qualified? No and most did not grow up in New York. Was there competition for the job? No. The jobs went unposted to the public, including positions in the administrative offices of the New York public school system.
Isn't it, in fact, worse when such programs present opportunities for those who already have a competitive edge and family name advantage? Not by the letter of the law but because these people were less likely to make gross mistakes and there was a tinge of credibility to the hiring, based on having gone to good schools, I believe these instances are overlooked.
My point being, if Federal investigators are going to overlay such massive investigations into historically Democratic cities, as progressives, I believe we, as Dem related people, must push for the investigation to be consistent and look at every major city equally so what emerges are better practices and more opportunities for fair access.
At the same time, members the media should not just look for one Watergate after another, a practice which promotes lopsided investigations that look for a morning-headline perp walk of a pubic figure not a better public interest. The purpose of citizen journalism in achieving this end is to present a discussion about it where our elected officials feel as if they can provide transparency for their actions and we can hear their side of the story.
There is another side to the Daley corruption investigation that is not being told. There is another problematic side to the administrations of many reform candidates that is not being told.
If we as progressives keep silent, we run the risk of presenting a political opportunity to link unrelated investigations in different cities. This will allow the right, come 2008, to ask people like Barak Obama, elected at the Federal level, questions about local problems he would have no idea about or no power over changing. Can you imagine a Guliani vs. Barak September where Obama is blamed for the almost-uncontrolled gang problems in Chicago? I can absolutely imagine such nonsense. I would rather call my own out than wait for my enemy, using their own editing software, to call the candidate out who has only a loose connection to the actual violator of the public trust.
Let's think for a moment about the courtesy we extend to Republicans in their major problems and not using them as political footballs. Personally, like a lot of progressives, I would like to see an investigation into the educational shortcomings of home schooling and evangelical Christian schools that are not forced to report to the state like public schools. It is well known in policy circles children schooled in both arenas often perform much lower than even students from the worst inner-city schools in math and reading. I think shortchanging a child's adult life to imbue dogma is child abuse. I speak from personal experience and from quiet conversations with Democrats who do not support vouchers based on this knowledge. Do we take the lawnmower to the dirty carpeting? No. We address it as a public discussion that leads towards an election where the public can make decisions about the agenda.
We have not been extended the same courtesy and have a right to speak to this in the configuration of ongoing corruption scandals.
In conclusion, in calling out our own, I believe we create a bully pulpit for asking the following questions of ongoing investigations:
1) why these investigations seem to be dragging on slowly towards presidential election year. It gives time for real culprits to bury things and pass up blame to people in higher positions who simply were not paying attention.
2) why evidence turned over to Federal investigators has been pursued selectively and certain people have been pursued selectively.
3) why the focus has been on figures and not on fixing broken programs (HUD and Department of Education funds being misused and the reverberations of the problem on the targeted client being ignored).
4) Why hasn't Bloomberg been investigated for things? To add to this informational ball-of-wax I've presented, I share an experience from the New York Sun. While I was working at The Sun, after the newspaper ran the infamous Danish cartoons of the prophet with a bomb on his head, the paper got 24 hour protection by NYPD officers in flak jackets (I was the Gawker tipster on this) after Ira Stoll called in a request to Mayor Bloomberg's office, as an almost favor. There was no real threat to the office which Stoll was pressed to admit after staffers asked. So, in the end, the Sun simply got expert security guards at the taxpayer expense. (Not to mention, running the cartoons twice, if there was indeed a threat,Stoll's actions displayed disregard for the safety of the Sun's neighbors). Can the average citizen call and get NYPD bodyguards because there 'might' be a threat from a former angry boyfriend or crazy neighbor?
If we don't do this rooting out, we risk corruption being the Willy Horton of 2008, especially if Obama wins the nomination.
Besides, Think of the opportunities weeding people out presents for grass roots candidates.
Do I know a bit more about these investigations I'm not divulging. Yes.
Again, the so-called left ( I consider myself post-left) used to be good at this thing. I'd like to see us get good at it again. it would give us more proactive legs.