Chicago Political Turf War Heats Up
A political turf war in Chicago, pitting the old Machine against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new regime, is underway.
The power configuration of the old Machine will be realigned by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. That means shifting loyalties. One such shift involves a major Chicago news outlet.
In a December 22, 2011 ChicagoBusiness.com article entitled "Rahm has deep financial ties to new Sun-Times owners," in the context of profiling the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times (sold December 2011), the article noted:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure will have a ton of buddies in one key local media outlet, because virtually every one of the Sun-Times' new owners has been a major contributor, business partner or civic ally of his.
For instance, at least eight of the 12 board members of the new company, Wrapports LLC, have donated to Mr. Emanuel's campaign fund in the past year, collectively plunking down $241,000 that I found in a quick survey of Board of Elections disclosures.
So the Sun-Times is even now more deeply entrenched in Rahm's camp, since his supporters own it outright. Could that have anything to do with why the Sun-Times last year resurrected a cold homicide case allegedly involving a member of the Daley family?
A sign that Rahm is enjoying favorable treatment from the paper may have surfaced back on February 28, 2011. That's when staff reporters Tim Novak, Chris Fusco, and Carol Marin -- byline, "WATCHDOGS" -- revisited a murder case dating back to 2004 that allegedly involved a Daley relative in the death of 21-year-old David Koschman. Here's how their February 28 piece began:
Like a lot of suburban kids, David Koschman wanted to get a taste of Rush Street, Chicago's fabled adult playground.
So he and four friends - all freshly turned 21 - headed downtown for a Saturday night of bar-hopping. Around 3 in the morning, they decided to call it a night.
As they were leaving Bar Chicago on Division Street that spring night in 2004, they crossed paths with three men, all about 10 years older, and a woman - a group, it turned out, with ties to some of the most powerful people in Chicago. Among the group was then-29-year-old Richard J. "R.J." Vanecko, a nephew of Mayor [Richard M.] Daley.
According to his friends, Koschman bumped one of the men, and the two groups - both later described by a detective as "drunk" and "plastered" - began trading insults and obscenities.
The confrontation ended with a punch. Someone - the police have never said who - hit the slightly built, 5-foot, 5-inch Koschman in the face. Koschman fell backward and hit the back of his head on the street. He died 12 days later from a brain injury.
The Cook County medical examiner's office called it homicide. No one has ever been charged.
Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune reported the incident shortly after Koschman's death and mentioned Vanecko's possible involvement.
The Sun-Times revisited the story nearly seven years later, stating that "a Sun Times investigation has turned up problems with the way the police and prosecutors originally handled their investigation into Koschman's violent death." Again, from the February 28 article:
Still, nearly seven years after the April 25, 2004, confrontation that left Koschman mortally injured, the Chicago Police Department has decided to reinvestigate the case. Investigators began reinterviewing witnesses after a Chicago Sun-Times reporter filed a request Jan. 4 seeking copies of all police reports in the case, under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The paper also reported that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office still stood by its decision not to prosecute anyone for the murder, adding that the Koschman felony review file is missing from the State's Attorney's Office.
Does the February 28 article hold a possible hint of a motive for resurrecting the story?
The Cook County state's attorney's office, which was headed at the time of the investigation by Richard Devine, a longtime political ally of the Daley family, determined there was no evidence to charge anyone with Koschman's death, so his staff closed the investigation.
Establishing any new regime often entails eroding the aura of the old. Could this renewed interest have been driven, at least in part, by political considerations?
In March 2011, a phone conversation occurred between one of the authors of this piece and Sun-Times staff reporter Tim Novak. In that conversation, Novak said that he "wanted to write the [Koschman] story [in 2004] but couldn't."
Fast-forward to 2012.
In a January 2, 2012 e-mail sent by Novak and received by the other author of this piece, Novak confirmed his March 2011 verbal statement in writing. His e-mail reads:
Please get the facts straight.
Yes, I wanted to write about the Koschman case seven years ago, but I didn't because I was in the middle of the Hired Truck investigation, which I had broken four months before Koschman's death. In fact, the day of Koschman's death, I had published a two-page spread on Michael Tadin, the king of the Hired Truck program and a Daley crony.
For me to pursue the Koschman case, I would have had to drop my Hired Truck investigation and I had no intention of doing that. In fact, I kept writing Hired Truck stories for several more years.
My decision not to pursue the Koschman case was mine, and mine alone. I never talked with any editor about it until last January, when I decided to pursue the case.
I have never been called off any story during my 17 years at the Sun-Times. Anyone who makes such a claim is misinformed and mischaracterizing any conversations I have had regarding the Koschman case.
You can read about the Hired Truck investigation here. For all practical purposes, the bulk of it ended in 2006.
When asked as to what changed in early 2011 that led the paper to re-engage the story, Novak indicated that interest in the Koschman case was revived when Nanci Koschman, mother of David Koschman, agreed to speak with the paper. Until then, progress on the story had been hindered by (1) her unwillingness to cooperate with the paper's inquiry, and by (2) an uncooperative Chicago Police Department. In a follow-up e-mail, Novak added:
Furthermore, we received a letter in January 2011 from the Chicago Police Department, denying our request for records on the Koschman case, claiming it was an on-going investigation. Up until that point, the police department had maintained the case had been closed. It was after that letter that Mrs. Koschman agreed to talk with us.
A March 2012 hearing is scheduled before a Cook County judge to address the proposed appointment of a special persecutor to pursue the case.
Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was once "Dick" Devine's chief of staff, has not supported the move. And the Chicago Police Department* closed the second investigation of the Koschman homicide that was prompted by the Sun-Times' revisiting of the case back in early 2011.
David Koschman died on May 6, 2004. He was the only child of Nanci Koschman, whose husband Robert died when David was 12. Now, the initial question remains: why did it take seven years to revisit the Koschman case, only to have it closed a second time, with no one yet held responsible for the death of David Koschman?
*Corrected, replacing state attorney's office