Mayor Rahm Emanuel, shown at a City Council meeting on Feb. 22, 2017, has had some odd initiatives, like the ones on Redflex and Uber. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)
Forget everything your parents told you about crime.
Crime does pay.
Especially in Chicago.
And there it was, in two excellent stories on the front page of my Chicago Tribune, Chicago politicians with supreme Democratic Party mojo, slapping hapless taxpayers in the face:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Jackson Jr., mocking the taxpaying chumbolones, slapping them again and again because they can.
One story was about the former congressman and convicted federal criminal Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat — he of the stuffed elk heads — pulling in a juicy $138,000 a year, most of it tax-free, in federal workers’ compensation benefits claimed for bipolar issues and his anguish over a messy divorce. That story was written by Katherine Skiba in Washington.
Many Americans go through messy divorces. Some suffer bipolar disorder. But they don’t loot their campaign funds and buy stupid elk heads and other junk with money that’s not theirs and then sit back and draw $138K on the taxpayer’s dime.
Nice one, Triple J. Who’s your daddy?
The other slap involved Emanuel’s decision to reinstate Redflex, the notorious red light camera company that made millions catching drivers going through red lights. The firm had bribed and schemed its way into City Hall. The CEO was convicted, along with two others, including former city official John Bills, political lickspittle of Illinois Democratic boss and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
Redflex settled, recently paid the city $20 million, and Emanuel’s government reinstated the company, allowing it to bid on future city contracts. The Tribune’s David Kidwell, who has done great investigative work on Redflex, wrote the story.
I called the mayor’s office, convinced this was a mistake. Rahm was too smart to do something as idiotic as absolving a crooked company while trying to rebuild his battered image.
I was wrong.
The city’s Law Department tells me that since "this misconduct was uncovered" — they forgot to mention Kidwell uncovered it — "the company has cooperated with all investigations" and has purged itself of executives who participated in the schemes.
Oh, happy days. But that’s angels-on-the-heads-of-pins lawyerly gobbledygook.
Redflex was involved in corruption and bribery. Now the mayor lets it back in line? Who is Rahm, just another tiny, 9.5-fingered version of a Daley? He could have told the company to take a walk. But instead, he gave it a lawyer’s version of a wet kiss.
A mayoral spokesman assured me that if Redflex ever did bid and "hypothetically win a city contract in the future," the company would undergo "great scrutiny."
I felt sorry for the spokesman. Rahm is the boss. So he should scrooten the next few paragraphs.
If there’s one elected official who can put the mayor’s Redflex reinstatement in proper context, it’s Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, the liberal Democrat and honest reformer.
"Crime pays? I don’t think you’re too far off," Waguespack said. "It’s tone-deaf. You look at this and think, ‘What’s in your core to think in any way that reinstating Redflex is a good idea?’ He didn’t have to let them back in, but he did.
"Why does he make this decision? I don’t get it. He fired them (Redflex), he draws a red line, and then he brings them back in and tells them to get in line? It’s not only bad policy, it looks bad to the people of the city."
Like other odd Rahmian initiatives, including steamrolling the City Council to support Uber — his brother Ari is reportedly a major investor — the mayor’s Redflex absolution smells. And not like Grandma’s lavender powder-room candles that she never lights.
"It’s as if there’s a wall with the people on one side, and Rahm and these companies on the other," Waguespack said. "It leads to an erosion of trust, not only in him, but in the institution of government.
"And it erodes confidence, and the people ask, ‘Where are we going? What kind of city is this?’"
Where are we going? What kind of city is this?
The city is broke, the schools are in chaos, Emanuel’s working his cops to the bone, he doesn’t have a real plan to deal with the gang wars and summer’s coming. I appreciate Rahm’s wicked wit and drive, and I know he inherited a mess at City Hall. But after he reinstated Redflex, I wonder about the guy.
Is he running the city, or merely running for office? Or is somebody running him?
And Waguespack asks, "What kind of city is this?"
I’ll tell you. It’s the city that isn’t smart enough to elect a man like Scott Waguespack to the fifth floor of City Hall. That’s the kind of city this is.
It’s the city where the mayor can send out his spinners to discuss how he’s rehabilitating his image before the re-election campaign, defend Chicago as a "sanctuary city" to scoop up the Latino vote, and reinstate Redflex.
It’s also the city where Jesse Jackson Jr. — a political princeling — can pull in all that cash and sit on his porch with a cigar, as Chumbolone Nation pays taxes and gets zip.
Chicago should hold a parade in their honor, Triple J on a float, pulled by a Lexus fitted with elk heads and horns, his daddy with a bullhorn shouting "I am somebody!" and "Keep hope alive!" and Rahm perched on a Redflex camera, throwing fake Redflex refund coupons to the crowds.
They wave and shout, "Your parents were wrong! Crime does pay!"
And chumbolones? You’re paying.
Listen to "The Chicago Way" — radio free Chicago in podcast form — with John Kass and Jeff Carlin at http://wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/category/thechicagoway.