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Mayor Defends Chicago as Fraud Allegations Mount

Daley refuses to answer questions about a federal investigation of city hiring practices.

April 12, 2006|Dan Mihalopoulos and Gary Washburn | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Stung by fresh claims that aides covered up a political hiring system that rewarded clout over qualifications, Mayor Richard M. Daley on Tuesday refused to answer questions about the federal investigation but assured taxpayers that City Hall workers were doing a good job.

"The integrity of the city of Chicago is very solid," Daley said. "This government is running smoothly. It is running very well in regard to the citizens."

But Daley and his chief of staff declined to respond to new allegations from federal prosecutors, who said Monday that the mayor's patronage chief tried to cover up the illegal hiring scheme that rewarded pro-Daley political workers with city jobs and promotions.

And Daley would not answer questions about whether he knew of systematic patronage and alleged attempts to conceal it. Prosecutors say the coverup efforts included deleting evidence of political hiring from the city's mainframe computer.

The mayor in the past has denied personal knowledge of allegedly fraudulent personnel practices such as sham job interviews and falsified documents.

"I am not going to be commenting on anything in regard to this investigation -- simple as that," Daley said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum at Tribune Tower. "I am very proud of what I have accomplished as mayor and as a private citizen. I have no problems about that."

But the Daley administration did attempt to counter the impression left by federal allegations that the hired workers "did not know what they were doing" but had clout.

Daley's chief of staff, Ron Huberman, acknowledged that the criminal charges against former Daley aides made it seem "that a large percentage of city employees are corrupt or a large percentage of city employees are not qualified for their jobs."

Huberman said that was not true: "The majority of the workforce is honest."

He held a news conference Tuesday to announce "very preliminary" plans for an internal review of how city employees whose credentials were questioned by federal prosecutors were performing. He provided few details of how the review would be performed and said he did not yet know how many employees might be affected.

The new allegations stem from the federal government's case against former city officials Robert Sorich, Tim McCarthy, John Sullivan and Patrick Slattery. Their mail fraud trial is scheduled to start May 10.

Sorich and McCarthy worked in the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Authorities alleged that officials in the office orchestrated a "massive fraud" in City Hall hiring.

In a 98-page court filing released Monday, prosecutors highlighted several instances in which they said poorly qualified but politically connected city workers did shoddy work. In one case in 2002, Sorich allegedly arranged the hiring of a house drain inspector who later failed to check a sewer connection, sending sewage into a home.

The federal government cited the testimony of at least five current and former city officials who are cooperating with the investigation in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Daley's Personnel Department allegedly was instructed by mayoral aides to ensure that favored applicants appeared on lists of eligible candidates for openings, even in cases where they were unqualified.

"I just cannot comment on that," Daley said when asked about the corruption charges centering on the department. "I wish I could."

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