CHICAGO — The Windy City's corruption-stained political history added a new page Wednesday when a councilman was escorted from a federal jail by four U.S. marshals to attend the regular meeting of Chicago's governing body.
"It's very, very humbling," said Wallace Davis, a flamboyant council member who now resides just four blocks from City Hall in the ultramodern federal Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Davis, under indictment for extortion, fraud and racketeering in a government investigation of municipal corruption, was jailed last week after his former City Hall secretary accused the councilman of pistol-whipping her. After that assault allegation, a federal judge revoked Davis' $4,500 bond.
The secretary reportedly is a government witness against Davis, who now also faces a separate trial on assault charges. He is the 15th City Council member to be indicted in the last 15 years. So far, 13 have been convicted of various federal crimes, and Davis and a colleague await trial.
"There's nothing wrong with work release," Mayor Harold Washington said of Davis' unusual break from prison. "He has an important job," said the mayor, who counts on Davis' support in the usually contentious 50-member City Council.
The council is generally evenly divided between Washington supporters and foes, and it had appeared, before Wednesday's council meeting, that the mayor would need Davis' vote to help pass a $100-million community development program. But the plan to divide federal money among the city's neighborhoods passed with votes to spare.
Center of Attention
Still, the unusual circumstances surrounding Davis' appearance made him the center of attention at Wednesday's council meeting. For example, when Davis presided over a meeting of the claims and complaints committee before the council met, there were more reporters present than government officials or citizens. The committee debates matters like how much to pay for a car damaged by a city pothole.
Nattily dressed in a blue double-breasted suit, with a light-blue silk handkerchief in his breast pocket, the lanky Davis conferred with other council members but gave no speeches. It's "business as usual," he told reporters, as his federal guards, three men and a woman, watched from a distance. "I don't even know where they are," the unshackled Davis said.
Davis has a turbulent and troubled past.
In 1976 he was wounded by a Chicago policeman who mistook him for a burglar. He received $352,000 as a settlement in a lawsuit he filed over the incident.
In 1983, the councilman reported his Cadillac Fleetwood stolen and said that it contained a plastic garbage bag with $3,000 in $50 bills, which he said he needed to pay contractors working on his house. When the damaged car was found, the money was missing.
Davis was acquitted of battery charges in 1984 after a fight with two men. He explained that he thought they were attacking a woman on the street. The woman turned out to be a prostitute and the two men, detectives who were arresting her.
Davis also recently settled a lawsuit against a New Orleans funeral home that had cut the legs off the councilman's dead brother to make the corpse fit into a coffin.
Times researcher Wendy Leopold contributed to this story.