With notorious gang leader, two officials showed miserable judgment
By ANDY SHAW September 28, 2013 10:20PM
Updated: September 29, 2013 12:30PM
They called Larry Hoover “Chairman,” but he wasn’t your traditional business executive.
For decades, though he was behind bars on a murder rap, Hoover ran the Gangster Disciples street gang, directing its drug trafficking and other illicit activities, according to law enforcement authorities.
And Hoover was no two-bit hustler. Back in the 1990s, his Chicago-based operation was making an estimated $100 million a year.
Around the same time, Hoover was trying to reshape his and the gang’s public image.
“GD” no longer stands for “Gangster Disciples,” Hoover’s people preached. It’s now “Growth” and “Development,” meaning jobs, pride and political empowerment for the black community.
Hoover, according to this “urban legend,” gave up his thug lifestyle to become a change agent who could lead young men on Chicago’s South and West sides out of their dead-end lives.
But he couldn’t tend the flock from prison — he needed parole.
So his allies organized a furious lobbying campaign to spring him, and some mainstream leaders and groups, including ex-Mayor Eugene Sawyer and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, supported Hoover’s release.
But not only was Hoover’s parole denied, it turns out he hadn’t changed his ways.
The feds unleashed a slew of new indictments charging him with continuing to run the gang from prison, and debunking his so-called good deeds and intentions as a charade.
Hoover was convicted a second time and transferred to a federal “super max” prison in Colorado, where he presumably will spend the rest of his life.
We’re going down Memory Lane here in light of a couple of BGA investigations the Sun-Times published recently, including one about an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, who appears to have backed Hoover’s parole push back in the 1990s, when Peterson was chief of staff to then-Ald. Allan Streeter.
The BGA obtained a letter to that effect with Peterson’s name, and a corresponding signature.
Peterson wouldn’t talk to us but said via email that he knew nothing about the letter and somebody else must have signed his name.
An aldermanic chief of staff who doesn’t know what’s going on in the office?
A second BGA story raised questions about Larry Huggins, who runs a construction company that reaps millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts.
He was also a long-time Metra board member who chaired the agency briefly.
Huggins’ business, Riteway-Huggins Construction, employs Hoover’s “common law” wife, who was implicated but not charged in the federal indictments.
Huggins also helped Hoover’s son break into the construction trades.
Huggins said through a spokesman that he doesn’t know the elder Hoover, but he believes in providing guidance to inner-city residents looking for options to the gang life.
That’s commendable, and there’s no doubt Huggins is a generous supporter of many charitable causes in the black community.
But why has the Hoover family been blessed when so many others are in need?
As for Peterson: Yes, that letter was written 20 years ago, and he may have been one of the many public officials who were fooled by the promise of a reformed Hoover.
But let’s talk about it.
Peterson and Huggins have been entrusted with positions of power and control over our tax dollars, so we have a right to raise questions about their judgment.
After all, Hoover is arguably the most infamous Chicago gangster since Al Capone.
At one time his GDs were believed to be 30,000 strong in more than 30 states, and he reportedly had the power to start and stop prison riots with the wave of a hand.
These gangs have terrorized Chicago’s streets for decades.
And they’ve contributed to the social ills that have kept minority neighborhoods from enjoying the legitimate growth and development Hoover claimed to be delivering.
Public officials and community leaders should have thought long and hard about supporting him or his cohorts directly or indirectly.
If they didn’t, they owe us an explanation.
The Illinois Prisoner Review Board understood that in 1992, when they denied one of Hoover’s numerous parole requests with this comment:
“The file reveals some positive aspects regarding Resident Hoover, but . . . [we] feel that parole at this time would deprecate the serious nature of the crimes and indeed promote disrespect for the law.”
The board, thankfully, wasn’t fooled.
They got it.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.