City Council’s ‘Clouseau’ makes some interesting hires: Dan Mihalopoulos
BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS December 17, 2013 8:22PM
Dan Mihalopoulos | Rich Hein-Sun-Times
Updated: January 19, 2014 11:54AM
When the City Council’s internal investigator made allegations of wrongdoing against aldermen earlier this year, one council member derided Faisal Khan as an “Inspector Clouseau.”
That may sound harsh. But if two of the aides Khan has hired are any indication, he might have trouble living down the nickname.
Khan could have hired experienced corruption fighters. Instead, he chose two people with deep ties to Chicago politics, among other interesting experiences.
One just returned to her city job after taking leave — to work on a campaign. The other lists working for shock jock Mancow Muller among her qualifications.
Khan’s chief of staff is Kelly Tarrant. She worked for more than 11 years as executive director of Citizens for Jesse White, the secretary of state’s campaign committee.
Tarrant was listed last year as the organizer of a fundraiser for State Rep. Derrick Smith, the West Side Democrat who since was indicted by the feds.
Her other employers in recent years included Scott Lee Cohen. He made headlines in 2010 for abandoning his campaign for lieutenant governor amid a flurry of allegations ranging from spousal abuse to steroid use.
Tarrant has also worked as a fundraiser for Bob Fioretti — one of the 50 aldermen that Khan’s office is supposed to keep an eye on.
Another of Khan’s six assistants is Kathy Posner. Like Tarrant, Posner also has worked in politics here in Chicago.
Posner’s online resume says she came to the business of investigating alleged City Hall corruption in March after a five-month stint as a senior consultant to “The Mancow TV Show.”
Khan, now in his third year on the job, defends Tarrant and Posner as just the help he needs. Their political experience, he argues, “works in our favor, not against us,” and he singles out Tarrant as “the perfect hire.”
“I want this kind of staff, providing insider knowledge I don’t have,” says Khan, who moved here from New York City. “Aldermen are really complex characters.”
What if Tarrant or Posner walked into an interview and knew the person to be questioned from a campaign? Khan says the investigator would be pulled from the interview — if not necessarily the case.
Tarrant says she has recused herself in some instances, although Khan can’t reveal specifics without improperly disclosing ongoing investigations, he says.
Khan cleared Tarrant recently to take a 10-week leave of absence to work on the state House campaign of Eddie Winters. She came back to work at Khan’s office on Monday.
“There’s no one better to be investigating corruption than someone who has been in the arena,” Tarrant said this week. “I’ve seen the right, I’ve seen the wrong. I’m able to identify pretty quickly what’s acceptable.”
Going back out on the campaign trail briefly, she says, gave her “the opportunity to sharpen my knives, so to speak.”
She was so proud of her involvement with Khan that she wrote a 4,000-word blog post in October announcing the start of her leave of absence and lauding her boss.
The post on her “Chicago Democrat Examiner” blog was titled “A Tale of Two IGs” and ripped Joe Ferguson — the inspector general who polices the rest of city government, besides the aldermen — for allegedly not helping Khan. Tarrant claimed Ferguson’s office would not let Khan’s staff use its official city seal to stamp documents.
The photo gallery with Tarrant’s blog post included a picture of her shiny silver “Assistant Legislative Inspector General” badge.
Khan took the newly created job in 2011 and immediately faced great skepticism. The aldermen who chose him had refused to let Ferguson’s office have the power to investigate them. Instead, they created their own inspector general, with a puny budget.
Chicago’s hacks often love to speculate about the alleged hidden political agendas of federal prosecutors and Ferguson’s team. It’s highly unlikely, though, that either the U.S. attorney in Chicago, the FBI or Ferguson would hire anybody with the pedigrees of Tarrant and Posner, or let their investigators go on leave to work on campaigns.
The possibilities for conflicts of interests, especially in Tarrant’s case, seem endless.
That Khan has chosen to spend some of his office’s scarce taxpayer funds to hire political insiders — and doesn’t get why this only tarnishes his office — casts him as more Clouseau than corruption-buster.