Storm clouds gather over mayor of the Windy City
Chicago — Just when the sun was about to shine on Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's reelection prospects, a new cloud has cast a shadow on them. The good news for the mayor was a federal judge's approval a few days ago of a redrawn map of seven of the city's 50 political wards. The new map should reflect the increasing number of Hispanic and black voters in Chicago. A federal judge was expected to decide yesterday whether to order new special elections in those wards. Mayor Washington, whose forces are traditionally in the minority on City Council votes, could gain as many as three or four new council supporters with the change. That could help his 1987 reelection prospects.
The cloud over his prospects has come in the form of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) undercover probe of corruption among Chicago's political leaders. Most experts agree that Washington will suffer some degree of guilt by association, even if the probe does not pinpoint anyone high up in his administration. News of the probe surfaced a few days ago, but it has been under way for more than a year.
The mayor, who has ordered his own probe through the Office of Municipal Investigations, is not directly implicated. But a handful of the City Council minority bloc and a few members of the mayor's administration have admitted being approached by a FBI undercover ``mole'' seeking business contracts or FBI agents.
Michael Raymond, the ``mole,'' introduced himself as Michael Burnett to Chicago politicians. Carrying a concealed tape recorder, he said he was a representative of Systematic Recovery Service Inc., a New York collection agency that has the contract to collect Chicago's delinquent water bills and is eager for others. Described as smooth-talking, charming, and a gourmet cook, Raymond has been convicted of securities fraud and a number of other crimes while serving as a government witness over the years.
Alderman Wallace Davis, who accepted $1,500 as a freely given campaign contribution from Raymond, terms the FBI probe an attempt to embarrass the mayor. ``Washington can't help but be harmed by this,'' observes veteran Chicago political consultant Don Rose.
But for Chicago itself, long a reputed hotbed of political corruption, the current probe is generally applauded as a positive, long-overdue move. ``They're opening up some windows in City Hall that haven't been opened in 30 years -- it's a breath of fresh air,'' says Patrick Healy, executive director of the Chicago Crime Commission.
``The only thing that hurts the city is to allow corruption to continue,'' adds Thomas Roeser, president of the City Club, a civic group. But Mr. Roeser admits to concern that a man who appears to be linked with so many serious crimes, including the disappearance of three Floridians presumed dead, was the FBI's chosen vessel. ``If what I read about him is true, it's really getting a shotgun to kill a gnat,'' he says.
Federal officials will say nothing about the probe, which came to light in the course of a recent article in a Florida magazine on Raymond's activities.
But it now appears the the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is working with the FBI and that the charges may range from the taking of bribes to tax evasion. As many as three dozen people may be investigated, including several businessmen and at least three aldermen who vote with the council's majority block. The two factions have even fought over an ethics code.
Mr. Healy says he is disturbed that the probe had to be undertaken at the federal level and blames the lack of any state and local laws allowing wiretaps.
And Robert Starks, a political scientist at Northeastern Illinois University, says he finds it suspicious that the federal probe, as approved by the US attorney general and FBI director, appears to have an anti-Washington tilt. ``I don't know if it's political, but it certainly appears that way. . . . It seems odd to me that in a city where for 30 years some of the staunchest machine people have gotten away with all kinds of things, there have been very few indictments of aldermen or city of ficials [until now].''
Evidence in the case has yet to be presented to a grand jury and indictments may still be some months away.