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Late to the party

Monday, Jul 31, 2006

Four Tribune reporters labored for who knows how long to produce this 1500-word story yesterday.

Mayor Richard Daley’s administration has for years steered city services–new garbage carts, tree trimming, graffiti removal–to key neighborhoods to help allies win tight elections, a Tribune investigation has found.

Really? Say it isn’t so.

I’m glad the Trib is finally noticing this stuff, since it’s been right under their noses forever.

Between 1999 and 2003, allies of Rep. Cynthia Soto collected material for a book called “It Happened Four Years Ago.” The book was about Soto’s 1999 1st Ward aldermanic race against pretty much the entire Chicago Machine. The book was horribly written, filled with some pretty wild and silly conjecture and is mostly a missed opportunity (considering the source material they had to work with), but it had a few great instances of how services were traded for votes.

More interestingly, though, was a passage buried deep in the book about how sidewalk repairs were allegedly timed to hold down turnout.

According to the book, the sidewalks directly in front of several polling places in both the 1st and 5th Wards were torn up by the city the week of the runoff election. It’s one of my favorite stories about how the Machine really operates.

You can read the book for free here (pdf file). It’s a low-resolution copy, so the photos and graphics aren’t visible. For more on how the Machine used absentee ballots to their advantage in the same race, check out this very informative Chicago Reporter article from December, 2000.

Back to the Tribune article.

Using city data, the Tribune detected a particularly dramatic increase in service requests from one ward in the weeks before a heated election for alderman there.

Captains typically walk precincts with a stack of service request forms. It’s one way that the House Democrats took back several southern Cook County districts in 1996. They literally flooded the districts with services.

The city has regular ward cleanup days, and often those just happen to be right before a particularly important election day.

Again, the Trib article.

But records and interviews indicate that dispensing services in the 12th Ward was part of a political strategy that included dispatching hundreds of HDO-affiliated city workers to campaign for Cardenas. “They were using taxpayer money to beat us,” Frias said. “There was nothing that I could do.”

I wrote about this race a little back then and I knew what was going on before the election was over. It’s standard stuff and I’ve written about it time and time again, particularly with Latino legislative districts. The Tribune, all these years later, is only now catching on.

Let’s hope the paper is a bit more proactive in next year’s contests.

UPDATE: A high resolution version of the book can be downloaded here. [pdf file]

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Disgusted - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 6:43 am:

    Rich, I don’t know how old you are, but we lived in Chicago when we were first married, for about 8 years. My husband was born and raised there. This “services for votes” thing has been going on since that time (38 years ago!) and even before that. It’s chronic and incurable. It’s the way of the world in Chicago.

  2. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 6:43 am:

    “They were using taxpayer money to beat us,”…..

    The Chicago Democrat machine has installed this system in state government, too. Rod brought the system to state government.

  3. - Marta Elena - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 7:06 am:

    I liked their reference to the whole ‘Freedom of Information Act requests’ in the Chicago Tribune article yesterday.

    My only query is whether they tried to obtain this information before and was denied or whether the City of Chicago provided this information within the alloted seven day response period of the FOIA?

    From what I can see from the state level, they are rather hesitant to comply with FOIA.

  4. - Truthful James - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 8:39 am:

    The Trib is filling in the blank spaces between the ads — investigative journalism at its mewliest.

    Name me one local resident who didn’t know about services for votes.

  5. - Anon - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 9:16 am:

    Rich - I don’t understand you’re comment that “Captains typically walk precincts with a stack of service request forms. It’s one way that the House Democrats took back several southern Cook County districts in 1996. They literally flooded the districts with services.”

    In that region, services are provided by municipal governments, most of which are non-partisan or were in Republican hands when the south Cook region state rep seats went Democratic. There were certainly a lot of City patronage workers working the area doing usual election stuff - polling, door hangers, rides to the polls - but they were in no position to offer municipal services for votes.

  6. - fedup dem - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 9:18 am:

    Other shocking headlines in the Chicago Tribune (or at least as shocking as this one was):

    “Chicagoans say it gets hot in the summertime.”

    “Cub fans say ‘Wait ‘Till Next Year.’”

    I could go on, but you get the message.

  7. - Peter Zelchenko - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 10:01 am:

    Thank you, Rich, for the mention of my book. I am not sure what you mean about your comments - I’ve never heard that before. In fact, the book has been cited and mentioned by many professional writers and experts. You can see praise from Steve Neal, Jack Mabley, Leon Despres and Dick Simpson at the following Web site:

    Your readers may also download a high-resolution (40 MB) copy of the book from the Web site. Better yet, buy the book at New World Resource Center, 1300 N. Ashland Ave., and other fine bookstores.

    Incidentally, the Reporter article you refer to also relies heavily on the research I did and mentions my study. Alysia Tate cites my work confidently, and the Reporter embodies Arny Dornfeld’s great journalistic injunction: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

    If there are any flaws in the book, it might be explained by the fact that I wrote it in a three-week period, during an election cycle where I brought in 73% of the vote - the top precincts in the city - for Manny Flores. I still don’t know how I managed to do all that without falling apart.

    Incidentally, I am running for 43rd Ward alderman against Vi Daley. You can see my blog at and also my resume at

  8. - Garp - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 11:33 am:

    If anyone ever wanted to write a book about how the machine gets people elected, they should study how Walter Burnett was first elected alderman. That would truly be an eye opener even for the most hardened and cynical of pundits.

  9. - Anthony - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 12:30 pm:

    I first met Pete Zelchenko on the 1st ward campaign against Jesse Granado, He is a good person who cares about the community. I know some other candidates are running against Mayor Daley’s sock puppet Vi Daley but I think Pete has earned his stripes in the independent community. Rachel Goodstein who has been a vocal critic of Daleys corruption is also thinking about running. I know the son in law of Mary Miglan the cosmetics queen is running too but I think Pete has a good chance unless this becomes a money race. BTW Rich you commets “The book was horribly written, filled with some pretty wild and silly conjecture and is mostly a missed opportunity” is off base, I read the book when it came out and I think it was a good window into the world of Chicago Politics.

  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 1:00 pm:

    Thanks for the nuts and bolts on corruption. If 60% of vote fraud is absentee, what’s the other 40 percent?

    With such apathy about corruption, it’s no wonder the polls still show the Governor in a comfortable lead.

    If journalists don’t educate the public and make a huge stink about corruption, our government won’t get better. The evidence is as clear as the almost non-existant reform promises from all three parties.

  11. - babs - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 2:01 pm:

    Any ONE person who says he/she personally brought in more than half the vote in any district - other than the actual candidate - is someone without a grip on reality.

  12. - i know - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 5:28 pm:

    I read the book, but other places are much wilder and more corrupt during the election cycle! The accounts of the book make machine politics in the city to be tame just likedisney world, in comparsion to Cicero or Berwyn poltics, or Melrose Park elections or Proviso Township elections.

  13. - Silas - the assassin opus dei monk - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 5:49 pm:

    Cardenas beware! better not get used to your comfy raise b/c HDO troops are reneging on you. BEWARE!! Don’t worry you can move back to the Northwest side where you came from right after the election.

  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 8:13 pm:

    Sock Puppet? Ald. Daley is one of the minority of council members who doesn’t owe her job to the Mayor. Goodstein has no support whatsoever, Egan has more baggage than a luggage store, and Zelchenko less support than the two of them. The last challenger is already bought and paid for. Say what you will about Lincoln Parkers, they are smart enough to know when they’ve been getting good representation.

  15. - yet another anonymous - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 10:33 pm:

    Zelchenko is a sincere and honest man, who has spent most of his life in Lincoln Park, and who only has a genuine commitment to improve the lives of its residents and try to judiciously balance the needs of different elements of the community. By contrast, Vi Daley is literally married to the real estate interests.

  16. - Tom - Tuesday, Aug 1, 06 @ 9:39 am:

    Unless I’m missing something there hasn’t been one instance where Vi Daley openly disagreed with Rich Daley. Not a single mention of corruption in the Daley administration. I’d agree she’s a sock puppet. Her first campaign signs in ‘99 featured a miniscule “Vi” and a huge “Daley”.

    On another note I wonder how many ‘07 campaign signs will feature Rich Daley’s name prominently above the aldermen’s names.

  17. - Peter Zelchenko - Wednesday, Aug 2, 06 @ 8:14 am:

    I brought 73% of the vote in the southeast corner of the 1st Ward, while the ward average was close to 50%. This happened in four or five election cycles. But you can verify that with CBEC; don’t take it from me. Check the 36th Precinct of the 1st Ward. Nobody did better citywide. This means I know how to motivate precincts. That is something my competitors will have to pay for.

    My career has been in high technology. I didn’t “invent the Internet,” but for years I was cubicle-mates with a lot of people who did. Think Adobe, Akamai, Apple, BSDI, Lotus, Microsoft, TiVO, and others. Top executives and founders of those companies have known me for 30 years. My “big money” funding will come from there, from a place where there is no political axe to grind. The rest will come from thousands of friends in the city and suburbs. I’ve been cultivating my network all my life, have never asked anyone for anything, and I don’t forget a name (after it’s been pounded into my head two or three times).

    In contrast, the money from two candidates is coming chiefly from big Chicago developers, and the third has been a diesel-fuel lobbyist for years. That’s easy to get, but hard to justify.

    But I also need volunteers and other resources to help in the campaign. Please contact me as soon as possible at if you are interested in helping.

  18. - Silas - Opus Dei Monk - Wednesday, Aug 2, 06 @ 6:23 pm:


    A little too cocky there. I know several captains across the city that can probably match your numbers. Your attitude/cockiness may be your downfall.

  19. - Patrick McDonough - Wednesday, Aug 2, 06 @ 8:13 pm:

    Many people are greatly underestimating what the Chicago Tribune knows. Many City of Chicago workers contact the Chicago Newspapers as we wish to make a better Government. We are met with militant resistance from the City of Chicago Mob Management Mentality. Many people in Chicago City government are brain washed into thinking “it is the way it is”. Slowly it will settle in we must change to a form of government which will serve, we just get away with lousy government because we can afford it and we are afraid of change. The FEDS must continue to help Chicagoans know that some day it will be better. Let us televise the Corruption Trials (Sorich, ect.) that might get the point across quicker. Also we need a complete and open online contract revelation the Daley people refuse to provide. Patrick McDonough.

  20. - Peter Zelchenko - Thursday, Aug 3, 06 @ 1:25 am:

    Maybe in one of your status-quo precinct-captained wards. Not in a contested race, my friend. I already looked at some of the numbers. Why don’t you tell me what precincts you’re talking about, then I’ll go downtown and do a little research and we’ll compare numbers. I’m pretty confident.

    And to the comment that Mrs. Daley doesn’t owe her job to the mayor, I’d have to say she must, else why does she act as though she does? She and her ward organization appear to have “sent” quite a number of people to the mayor for jobs, judging from the Clout list. Any organization that is sending people to the mayor is complicit in not speaking up.

    She has voted consistently with the mayor, except for once or twice in her career.

    It seems people on this blog are long on rhetoric, short on facts.

  21. - Bullet - Saturday, Aug 5, 06 @ 1:35 am:

    To: Anthony - Get the MIL’s name right and then you can say whatever you want.

    To: Anonymous - What’s the bagage? Besides your being Anonymous.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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