The big corruption story out of New Jersey last week sounds, in broad strokes, eerily familiar -- lots of people, in and out of government, in a state famous for corruption, rounded up on charges of cheating the public. I can't think of a public corruption case in Illinois involving religious leaders and kidney traffickers, but the point isn't to see which state is worse, but rather to ensure good government. Neither state is doing well on that score.
What struck me were the follow-up stories. From New Jersey came widespread condemnation of the alleged corruption. One story quoted Gov. Jon Corzine as saying, "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."
Compare that with the normal reaction from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when corruption is found in his town. Rather than broadly condemning corruption, he has tended personalized the response, blaming "a few bad apples," or blaming the people who were convicted for “disgrac[ing their own] name.”
This focused response results in public messaging which is ambiguous at best, or tolerant at worst, as when Robert Sorich, head of Daley's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, was convicted in 2006, and Mayor Daley announced, "I am saddened by the verdict for these men and their families," while his brother and top political advisors feted Sorich with a fundraiser at a local Bridgeport church.
Clarity counts for a lot. Even, especially, from those in charge, in a position to set the tone by saying clearly and simply what's right and what's wrong.