Daley’s appointees ranged from good to bad to embarrassing
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com May 7, 2011 12:22AM
Richard M. Daley is Chicago’s longest-serving mayor.
Updated: August 27, 2011 12:34AM
Mayor Daley has been around so long and shuffled the deck of his City Hall cabinet so many times, he was bound to draw some bad hands.
That’s the way it goes when you’re Chicago’s longest serving mayor. Some of your appointees make you look like a genius. Others make you look like a fool. Or even worse, they embarrass you by resigning in scandal.
Daley has experienced his fair share of good and bad over the last 22 years.
He’s had some inspired choices — like the dynamic pairing of Paul Vallas and Gery Chico that kicked off Daley’s risky takeover of the Chicago Public Schools and continued for five headline-grabbing years before Daley pulled the plug.
The mayor took a chance on neophyte Arne Duncan as Vallas’ successor and watched Duncan perform so well, he was President Obama’s choice to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education.
Mary Dempsey is a perfect fit as library commissioner. The unlikely partnership between Daley and Chicago Tribune reporter Jacquelyn Heard turned Heard into a trusted confidante who functioned more like a chief of staff than the mayor’s press secretary.
But the mayor has also made some lousy appointments. The scarred-by-scandal list is a particularly long one.
Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez was forced out after reports of the superintendent’s longstanding friendship with a convicted felon.
Purchasing Agent Alexander Gryzb was dumped amid reports of his long friendship with the politically-connected fencing contractor who made millions from Daley’s affinity for wrought iron fences.
Patronage chief Robert Sorich and Streets and Sanitation boss Al Sanchez were convicted of rigging city hiring and promotions to benefit the Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.
Daley plucked City Treasurer Miriam Santos out of obscurity, only to have her accuse a troika of top mayoral advisers — Ed Bedore, Tim Degnan and Frank Kruesi — of pressuring her to grease deals with politically-connected pension fund investors.
Daley ultimately got the last laugh when Santos — who went to prison, then reclaimed her office briefly when her conviction was overturned — plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud stemming from fund-raising tactics she used in a failed campaign for attorney general.
Jim Laski was chosen to fill an aldermanic vacancy in the 23rd Ward, only to lead a City Council rebellion against successive Daley property tax increases.
Laski rode his newfound independence into the city clerk’s office, where he became the highest-ranking official caught up in the Hired Truck scandal.
Budget Director John Harris left City Hall to become chief-of-staff to Rod Blagojevich, then got caught up in the mess that brought down the governor.
Budget Director Bennett Johnson pushed through a $293 million tax package, then installed a $5,400 shower in his City Hall office.
Two of the mayor’s appointees as school board president — Michael Scott and Rufus Williams — ended up embarrassing the mayor by allegedly abusing their expense accounts. Scott, a close personal friend of Daley, later committed suicide.
Choosing outsiders has almost always failed miserably for Daley.
The mayor’s decision to hire career FBI agent Jody Weis as police superintendent —and pay him $310,000-a-year — is the most notorious flop for the morale problems it caused. But there were other, earlier examples.
Daley recruited New Yorker Robert Penn to serve as Park District superintendent only to force him out amid complaints about a shortage of recreational programs and after the Park District had settled a sexual harassment complaint against Penn.
Daley inherited and retained outsider Al Savage as CTA president, then replaced him with developer Robert Belcaster, who turned out even worse.
Belcaster resigned in tears after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed that he had purchased $200,000 worth of stock in a CTA supplier.
Some of Daley’s best appointees have been treated the most shabbily.
After running airports in Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Denver, Mary Rose Loney served two terms as Chicago’s aviation commissioner. But she was forced out because she dared to do battle with clout-heavy contractors feeding at the O’Hare Airport trough.
Environment Commissioner Bill Abolt was a rising star promoted to budget director, then was unfairly forced to wear the jacket for the Hired Truck scandal.
Daley deserves credit for appointing two hard-charging federal prosecutors to clean up the mess caused by the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals.
But both David Hoffman and now Joe Ferguson have encountered resistance from the mayor’s office.
Dempsey served a temporary stint as chief procurement officer to clean up a minority contracting program beset by scandal. But she didn’t get the mayoral backing she needed when she took on powerful targets.
Over the years, Daley has had a progression of fair-haired boys — from Ron Huberman, Forrest Claypool, David Doig, Harris and Abolt to Vallas, Rich Rodriguez, John Roberson and David Mosena — who hop-scotched from job to job before falling out of favor with the notoriously demanding mayor.
In the end, Daley trusted fewer and fewer people and ended up recycling the same small group through virtually all of the top jobs. In that sense, it’s probably a good thing he didn’t run again. He seemed to be running out of people.