Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Da Mare, Listlessly

Yesterday’s revelation that the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs kept a 60-page clout list, detailing over 5,000 applicants and their political sponsors, has provoked outrage and indignation in the press and even around the water cooler (and not just at our office). In size and scope, this list dwarfs any previously disclosed lists maintained by either Gov. George Ryan or Gov. Rod Blagojevich. While there is broad consensus that patronage hiring and civil service should not mix, maybe it’s worth exploring why.

Mark Brown’s column today notes that patronage hiring “gives political leaders too much power.” Without disagreeing, I think that condenses the effect too much. Here’s my unpacking of the problems of patronage (in no particular order):

* Telling staff that the quality of their work is meaningless cheapens their labor and their lives. This is equally true of front line workers and supervisors.

* Putting workers in a position where they believe that their jobs depend on political work coerces them to forfeit their political independence

* Showing taxpayers that government will waste their money for private, electoral gains fuels backlash at government efforts for the common good.

* Locking a block of voters and campaign workers to a particular candidate dilutes the deliberative function of elections.

* Giving one set of candidates ready access to campaign cash and workers (I won’t use the euphemism “volunteers” in this context) disadvantages competing candidates and ideas and perverts the outcome of elections.

I’m sure there are other reasons, that’s what I came up with in 15-minuts of keyboarding. And we should distinguish between a system of tracking all applicants and their rec. letters from what we seem to have here, which tracks only those applicants with politically-connected sponsors. Handing the public payroll over to political insiders is a horrible idea for many, many reasons.

On an unrelated note, I would hope that Corporation Counsel Mara Georges will finally stop saying that the Shakman Decree is outdated and should be dumped, and that the aldermen will stop complaining about the cost of the Shakman monitor. At the very least, the list shows that the City needs a refresher on Shakman compliance. If Chicago's aldermen really want to stop acting like sheep, they'll demand an end to these abusive hiring practices.

UPDATE: The Tribune has posted the list here. (pdf; zoom in 200% to read the names)

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