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Corruption fighter calls it quits in a town not quite ready for reform

 David Grossman  Chief Investigator office Inspector General 2006. (Phoby John H White/Chicago Sun-Times)

David Grossman, Chief Investigator, office of Inspector General, in 2006. (Photo by John H White/Chicago Sun-Times)

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Updated: February 24, 2013 6:21AM



David Grossman is hanging up his badge.

He put his gun away a decade ago when he left a stellar career in the FBI to work for the city routing out corruption at a succession of agencies.

But Grossman, 63, has one final shot to fire as he walks out of the Chicago office of the inspector general at the end of this month and into retirement. And it’s at mayors named Daley and Emanuel.

But first, a bit about Grossman himself, a man who spent a career avoiding the limelight.

“People don’t know him,” said his boss, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, “by design.”

Nobody knew him when he worked undercover in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. The result was Operation Greylord, an epic investigation that took down 15 crooked Cook County judges, including a chief judge. And 40 attorneys.

They didn’t “know him” in Operation Gambat either. That probe broke open the secretive, mobbed-up 1st Ward, convicting an alderman, a state senator and another chief judge.

Since this is a column, not a book, I can’t list everything he did for the feds. He probably prefers it that way. Let’s fast forward to his work for the city at the inspector general’s office (IGO).

Mayors and aldermen despise the IGO, but given Chicago’s sordid history (insider deals, bribes, phony minority contracts, cover-ups, waste, fraud, abuse), then-Mayor Richard M. Daley was forced to create an independent investigative agency.

And, ultimately, he was forced to appoint real corruption-busters to run it. Such as former feds David Hoffman and, then, Ferguson. Each relied on Grossman as their director of investigations.

Remember the parking meter privatization deal Daley rammed through the City Council?

“By the city doing it the way that it did, it lost over a billion dollars [immediately],” said Grossman on Monday.

Did Daley ask the IGO to vet the deal first?

No.

“Parking meters was a done deal before we could even get a chance to look at it,” he said.

Daley and now Rahm Emanuel have been very big about talking about ethics in government, appointing commissions, praising “transparency” and “oversight,” but honestly, it’s pretty much baloney.

The IGO — Ferguson, Grossman and a highly skilled team — work every day in spite of City Hall. It’s always a fight.

Examples?

You’ve read some of them in this column before.

Like the city’s Law Department withholding documents from the IGO by claiming “attorney-client privilege.”

Like creating quasi-governmental entities such as the Infrastructure Trust, a public-private partnership, over which the IGO has no statutory oversight.

Like ignoring IGO recommendations to fire employees found stealing from the city.

If the mayor is serious about privatizing Midway Airport, he could ask the IGO to vet the deal. I’m betting he won’t.

Grossman is betting that too.

“I’m throwing my lot in with Paddy Bauler,” he said, “that Chicago ain’t ready for reform.”

David Grossman’s leaving is our profound loss.



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