Monday, April 8, 2019

Just Checking Boxes Isn't Enough

I applaud the election of the first African-American (and lesbian) woman for Mayor of Chicago. Obviously, the race came down to two African-American women, so breaking this ground was a foregone conclusion.

I’m always happy to see ceilings being shattered in this way and I hope she’s the right person for the job. Because if living in Baltimore has taught me anything, it’s that corruption comes in all persuasions.

The last three Mayors of Baltimore have been African-American women and the terms of all three have ended (or will end soon) in disaster. All started with great promise but were brought down by either greed or ghastly lapses in judgment.

Sheila Dixon was mayor was elected in 2007 and served until February of 2010. Before she left, she was indicted on twelve felony and misdemeanor counts, including perjury, theft, and misconduct. The “marquee” offense was the theft of gift cards her office had obtained, which were meant for underprivileged kids. (And the fact that some of them came from her real estate-developer boyfriend made it all the juicier.)

She was convicted on one count of fraudulent misappropriation and resigned as part of a plea deal.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served out Dixon’s and won re-election in 2011. She was a decent and dedicated mayor; decidedly low key and businesslike.

She probably would have been re-elected again but her handling of the Baltimore riots over the Freddy Gray killing made it impossible. Critics say she waited far too long before asking the Governor to call in the National Guard. The Governor said he couldn’t get her on the phone.

And then at a press conference, she made the statement that destroyed her career:

"It’s a very delicate balancing act. Because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.

There was more to it than that, and context to be added, but all anyone ever heard after that was “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

That was basically her epitaph. She might as well have said, “Let them steal cake.”

She opted not to run for re-election in 2016.

That election came down to former City Councilwoman and State Senator Catherine Pugh against, of all people, Sheila Dixon, who was trying to come back from the dead. The race was closer than it should have been, but Pugh won out.

She also began her tenure as someone who was getting shit done.

As you may or may not have seen in the national news, Pugh is now embroiled in a book publishing scandal, wherein she wrote a series of self-published "Healthy Holly" children’s books and conjured an insider deal to sell them to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which operates 13 hospitals across the state. But no one can account for all the books. They know of almost 9000 sitting in a Dept. of Education warehouse, but that’s it. There were around 90,000 copies printed. (To give you a sense of scale, the first run of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was only 50,000.)
See, Pugh is one of 30 board members at UMMS. And as the Baltimore Sun found out, there are eight other board members who have contracts between themselves or their businesses, with UMMS.

Note: The Baltimore Sun basically broke this whole story. Because that’s what good journalism can do… And if I were them, I’d be digging into some of the other “corporate boards” and see who else is working insider contracts.

Mayor Pugh has temporarily stepped aside, for medical reasons*, with the current president of the city council stepping in as acting mayor.

*Mayor Pugh was hospitalized with pneumonia for 5 days, a week ago, so there are legit health issues. But the timing sure makes it look fishy.

Meanwhile, the story keeps getting worse. Other city power players have come out and said they each paid the Mayor $100,000 for a run of books, yet no one ever took delivery. It seems apparent that these book deals are a way to raise campaign funds while getting around donation limits and disclosures. (If there are any left, that is.)

It also came out that Mayor Pugh had her house renovate without obtaining any of the necessary permits. This, despite a city official visiting the site and handing her a list of permits she’d need.

Every time some new twist comes to light, they report that she now has to go back and edit her ethics forms for the last seven years.

I want to know one thing: what good is an ethics form if you can just keep adding shit to it every time you get caught? Why even bother? I say, you file your ethics form and if you omit something important, you lose your job. Period. Maybe if we stop playing around with this corporate and governmental graft and start putting some white-collared butts in jail, maybe we’ll see a higher degree of public service.

Isn’t how they handle the petty crimes of the working class?

So it’s only a matter of time before this next groundbreaking leader disappears with a whimper and wisp of smoke.

Baltimore also has a vast policing problem, as if that wasn’t laid bare by the Freddy Gray case. I’ve written about it before but the Baltimore police department is so corrupt, they don’t even recognize that what they are doing is wrong.

In one of the more egregious episodes, a sergeant sent a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American men, question them and order them to disperse.  When the officer said he had no valid reason to do so, Sarge told him “Then make something up.”

All this happened with the DOJ agent right in the car with them.

There was also a scandal with what was called the Gun Trace Task Force. This was a group of cops who shook down criminals, drug dealers, and completely innocent people, just because they could. They stole confiscated money, they padded their time sheets with unworked overtime, falsified police reports and generally committed more mayhem than the actual street gangs. And as a side effect, everyone these guys arrested or testified against had to be set free, because everything about these cops was now tainted.

All up and down the food chain, people who could have stopped it looked the other way.

This city has eaten up police chiefs left and right. They all come in looking to change the culture and keep order, but nothing ever changes. And the last candidate, one Mayor Pugh recruited and hired from Fort Worth, hadn’t filed a tax return in several years. So he got booted before he could even get started.

Now we have a police chief who last ran New Orleans. I hope he’s got his dress beads on because it’s like Mardi Gras out here every day. I truly wish him all the best.

My point today is not to throw stones at African-American politicians, women, cops or other public servants. I’m just saying that electing a female or person of color is not a magic potion for Chicago. The real challenge will be doing honest work and serving the public. History is littered with people who couldn’t pass up enriching themselves in underhanded ways if their lives depended on it. (One such piece of litter is our current White House occupant.)

If Baltimore serves as an example of anything, it’s that greed and graft are not bound by race or gender. It seems to be universal. As Dilbert author Scott Adams frequently says, (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here,) when there is a high reward for doing something wrong and low risk of getting caught, people will usually go for the reward.

Maybe we should be happy that a new subset of people is now privy to the self-enrichment schemes previously used exclusively by white men.

So congratulations to Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot. I wish her and her staff all the best. 

Maybe when she’s done cleaning up Chicago, she can send a few pointers our way.


Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

WOW. I did not know all this in your fair city. I don't see much news about Baltimore down here and come to think of it why not? Sister city and all. Hmm...I wouldn't want that job for anything in the world.
I saw the new Mayor of Chicago with the opposing candidate prior to election. They were so professional, kind, and they never belittled the other or took anything away from the other. They just seemed to talk about themselves and let the voters make the decision. Everything I saw seemed so civilized and to be honest, it was odd to see, because we don't behave like that anymore.Sad really. Sad when behaving like a good person is so shocking.

Anonymous said...

I loved and respected her too....Just a very bad decision! We forgive..we all make them...but we are not the leader of a city. Still I forgive her. But she gotta go.

bluzdude said...

That's an awesome way to run a campaign.