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]