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Out of bounds with a name like Daley

Updated: September 12, 2013 6:35AM

Bill Daley is right on the money when he criticizes Gov. Pat Quinn for putting self-serving politics above good government in appointing a powerful Democratic township boss to Chicago’s transit board.

Like Daley, we find it hard to believe Quinn can’t do better than his choice of Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli for the CTA board. Zuccarelli’s strongest qualification seems to be that he’ll help Quinn nail down a key vote — south suburban Democrats — in the governor’s bid for re-election.

But talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Talk about pretending your name’s not Daley.

Bill Daley’s indignation over Quinn’s old-fashioned cronyism would go down a lot easier if he would acknowledge he’s been the blessed beneficiary of political favoritism his entire life. If now, in Daley’s first bid for elected office — he’s running against Quinn in the Democratic primary for governor — he intends to disavow all that unseemly backscratching, terrific.

But he should at least ’fess up.

William M. Daley, the seventh and youngest child of the most powerful mayor in Chicago history, Richard J. Daley, all but grew up in the backrooms of local politics, with doors of opportunity and influence magically opening every step of the way. To believe otherwise — to believe Bill Daley climbed that ladder from lowly Bridgeport to the highest ranks of JPMorgan Chase almost solely by dint of his own brains and hard work — is more than naïve. It is to deny how the game works.

As if brother Richie’s powerful position as mayor of Chicago never entered into the thinking of those who brought Bill along at Chase. As if the Daley clan’s importance to President Barack Obama and his administration mattered for nothing when Obama named Bill Daley his chief of staff. As if Bill Daley would even be a serious contender in this race for governor, for all the impressive notches on his resume, were his name not Daley.

Bill Daley says the days when political favoritism was acceptable are long gone — a generation or two gone. Not so. Cronyism and political hiring were a hallmark of his brother’s tenure as mayor, which ended all of two years ago. We can’t recall Bill Daley even once speaking out against it then.

Bill Daley wants to be seen and judged entirely as his own man. But that flies in the face of the obvious. He’s the product of the most powerful political family in Illinois, a key decision-maker within that family, and its most fortunate beneficiary. He can’t shrug off his family name while capitalizing on it too.

That said, Daley gets it exactly right when, in letter he sent Thursday, he calls on a state legislative committee to oppose Zuccarelli’s appointment to the CTA board. As Daley points out, a state law governing the CTA reads that “no member” of the CTA board “shall hold” any other federal, state or county paying job. And while technically that does not disqualify Zuccarrelli, who holds a township job, his appointment to the board “violates at least the spirit of the law.”

“For the governor to assert that Zuccarelli is entitled to this position because the authors of the law meant to exclude township officials from this prohibition is ridiculous on the face of it,” Daley writes. “The riders of the CTA and the taxpayers of Illinois deserve better.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s a reformer and who’s not without a scorecard.

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