Saturday, August 02, 2014

Friends In High Places

In 1889, Daniel Coughlin went to prison for a murder he did not commit. You can read all about it here, courtesy of a free book promotion from Newcastlewest Books.

Over 125 years of political corruption and still going strong
He was a politically connected police detective in Chicago, but his clout was at war with another faction seeking control of the city. Not to spoil the ending of the novel, but it's already written in the history: when his appeal was heard, there was talk that political trickery had gotten him back into court for a second chance.

The more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same.

Chicago alderman Patrick O'Connor is descended from the proud tradition, a product of the Irish diaspora that settled in the city and promptly exercised their rights to vote and run for election and then take over the town via the ballot box. Which is often stuffed, but that's as much a part of tradition as the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

Like the council members in Coughlin's day, all the way back in 1889, Mr. O'Connor sees nothing wrong with helping himself and his family. He's working hard there at his ward office, making sure the garbage is picked up for those who toe the party line and vote for O'Connor. Surely a man is entitled to some compensation.

And if a man can't give his poor sister a hand, what sort of man is he?

Catherine Sugrue is Alderman O'Connor's sibling and she wanted to be a principal in a Chicago public school. Principals make more money. They have better perks. They have more power. Who wouldn't want to advance? It isn't as if she wants to spend the rest of her working life in a classroom with obnoxious, disrespectful kids who aren't learning much of anything anyway.

But alas, she didn't have the skills needed to be made a school principal. She failed the test. Twice. And having failed twice, she was barred from taking the test again for a three year period, during which time it was probably assumed she'd study hard and find success.

That's three years without all the benefits accruing, and Alderman O'Connor wouldn't hear of it.

Ms. Sugrue had been the assistant principal until the school board promoted her, despite the fact that she was not qualified. And in true Chicago fashion, when next the Chicago Board of Education met, they approved a change in the law that would allow Ms. Sugrue to be made an interim principal, even though she had failed the test to become a school principal. She can be the interim principal ad infinitum. There is no term limit. So that puts an end to worrying about that test that she failed twice already.

Corruption, the cry went out, but Alderman O'Connor would not hear of it.

Corruption? he asked. As for that, well, he just pushed through an ordinance at the last City Council meeting that strips the city's official Legislative Inspector from inspecting the very charges of corruption against the alderman that the inspector was in the process of investigating.

They said that Dan Coughlin won his appeal because strings were pulled in high places, to change the rules that put him in jail in the first place.

One hundred twenty five years ago, citizens saw political corruption put to work to help those in power. Funny how it hasn't changed a bit in all that time. Except maybe now it's a lot more blatant than it used to be.

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