Law & the Courts

Chicago and Rahm Emanuel: Partners in Corruption

Emanuel (left) with police superintendent Garry McCarthy, February 2013. (Scott Olson/Getty)
The city and the pol deserve each other.

It is difficult to believe that Rahm Emanuel is in it for the money, but he is. Just not in the way that one usually means by that expression.

Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and former right hand to President Barack Obama, doesn’t need a Chicago salary or a check from the city’s already overburdened municipal pension system. Political animal that he is, he has had excellent luck finding paydays on Wall Street: After leaving the Clinton administration, Emanuel, who holds no relevant degree and who had no experience in finance, was hired by Wasserstein Perella, where he was paid approximately $450,000 — per month. He had previously enjoyed a generous retainer from Goldman Sachs, which paid him “to introduce us to people,” as one executive put it. On the precipice of 60, Emanuel remains admirably thin, but it isn’t because he’s missing any meals for want of pocket money.

Mayor Emanuel is in a tough spot just now: A Chicago police officer was involved in a controversial shooting, and the mayor appears to have been involved in a cover-up, delaying the release of a video of the incident and a $5 million pay-off to the family of the deceased until after his reelection, which was a historically close one. The calls for his resignation are coming not from the pages of National Review but from those of the New York Times, where Bernard E. Harcourt is demanding a show of accountability. As the critics called for his head, the mayor reiterated that he remained loyal to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and continued to insist upon his loyalty to the man as he demanded his resignation. McCarthy, who once policed the pacific streets of elegant Newark, N.J., wasn’t ready for Chicago-style politics.

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Chicago is corruption itself. If Bill de Blasio’s Manhattan is Dorian Gray, Chicago is the picture: 2,700 shootings already this year, neighborhoods entirely lost, a public-school system that is so deep into piddling corruption that it doesn’t even know what its dropout rate is. In a low blow for the ages, comedian Sherrod Small sneered about another city: “Philadelphia is nothing but Baltimore with electricity.” Perhaps. What is Chicago?

Port-au-Prince, eventually.

Faisal Khan — who was hired by the Chicago City Council to investigate municipal corruption and then was nearly chased out of office by the Chicago City Council for doing his job — was flabbergasted by what he saw: “Thirty aldermen over 40 years have gone to jail,” he said in an interview with Politico. “We are the third biggest metropolis in the country. I would describe to you that the oversight in Chicago is comparable to the Wild West — anything goes. I will be honest with you — I could never have envisioned a city like Chicago being so devoid of ethical morals and values when it came to our elected officials. I could not believe how backwards the city was when it came to ethics. It needs to be blown up and started all over again.” Faced with an indictment like that, the Chicago City Council did the only thing it could do when Khan’s term came to a close: It declined to replace him. Khan instead handed over his files to the FBI, which will be taking it from there — with all the rigor that one might expect of Barack Obama’s Justice Department investigating the city run by Barack Obama’s former chief of staff.

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Why do they do it?

The Clintons, who have made some $100 million since leaving the White House, do not need money. They already have plenty to fund Chelsea’s grandchildren’s Senate campaigns, and they’ve put seed money into their super-PACs. But still they thought they needed to put their daughter on NBC’s payroll to the tune of $600,000 a year in return for approximately nothing. Why?


#share#Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Al Gore, and the rest of that sorry lot aren’t trying to get rich — they’re already rich, some of them wildly rich. They are building a patronage society. And building a patronage society costs a lot of money — more even than Goldman Sachs and Al Gore put together have at their disposal.

The horrifying fact is that Barack Obama can make you a rich man — if you’re the right kind of man.

The horrifying fact is that Barack Obama can make you a rich man — if you’re the right kind of man. If you operate a politically connected business, the government can direct the better part of $1 billion straight into your coffers ricky-tick, though there might be some blowback if your largest shareholder is dumb enough to tell the local Rotary Club, “There’s never been more money shoved out of the government’s door in world history, and probably never will be again, than in the last few months and in the next 18 months. And our selfish parochial goal is to get as much of it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can.” At the other end of the spectrum, a federal tormenter can be the end of your enterprise: Ask those Tea Party groups illegally targeted by Barack Obama’s IRS. Ask a voting-reform advocate who was targeted by the ATF in spite of not being in any business related to A, T, or F.

Private wealth is child’s play. Bill Gates is the world’s richest man, but his net worth doesn’t even amount to two-tenths of a percent of the household wealth of the United States. The Clintons’ game isn’t enjoying the $100 million in their checking account — it’s making use of the $44 trillion in American-owned assets as if they owned them themselves. Barack Obama doesn’t want a garage full of Rolls Royces — he wants a world in which Rolls Royce has to ask his permission before building a car or selling one.

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But you cannot build a patronage society on patrons alone: You need clients. And that’s where the ever-growing public sector comes in. I have had many thoughts upon walking out of government offices (most of which are not printable here for reasons of good taste and possible criminal prosecution), but I never once have thought about the clerk with whom I was dealing: “Man, I bet that guy took a big pay cut when he took this job.” There is effectively no one working at your local DMV, public school, police station, or IRS office who could earn even 80 percent of his government compensation in a private-sector job. As I have argued at some length, the really nefarious dependency agenda isn’t focused on the people who cash welfare checks, but on the people who write them, the vast bureaucracies of overpaid functionaries whose main purpose in life is to stand between citizens and their objectives with their hands out saying “Pay me!” Get enough of those and you have effective control over the entire economy — Chávez-style socialism without the nasty business of formal expropriation.

RELATED: The Public Sector: Standing in Our Way until We Pay Up

Consider that the average front-office employee of the Baltimore (!) public schools earns $107,000 a year, with splendid health and retirement benefits on top of that. For what? The excellence we all associate with Baltimore public schools? They do a criminal disservice to their young, mainly poor, mainly black wards, but there are a lot of Clinton voters there, so Baltimore’s schoolmarms must be kept fat and happy, the kids be damned. If “reform” means that those $107K paydays would get linked to something like (horrible thought!) performance or outcomes, you can bet that the reformers will be dead in the water before they get started. That’s the power of the patron–client model.

In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel may very well end up losing his job. Ill-tempered, accustomed to getting his way, and arrogant as Pharaoh himself, he’s not much of a patron to begin with. But the model of public life he stands for will survive him. It may even get worse. People in Chicago may be unhappy with their schools, their police, their public finances, their roads and sidewalks, and the 2,700-and-counting shootings in their streets, but they are not victims of corruption at city hall: They are partners in that corruption. And they’re getting what’s coming to them.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent and the author of The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.



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