Rahm's race politics showing
Now that he is running Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanual apparently finds it necessary to play race politics. A scandal in Chicago Fire Department has him downplaying fraud, and suggesting that it would be more expensive to fire the alleged miscreants than the thievery uncovered so far -- a total of $100,000 stolen from Chicago taxpayers. It just so happens that 83% of the accused are black or Hispanic.
Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune does an admirable job of explaining the complex situation:
...city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson found 54 employees in that division had submitted more than $100,000 in bogus expense claims in a single year - a brazen alleged theft of scarce public resources.
Yet instead of vowing to make an example of the offenders to underscore his commitment to high ethical standards, Emanuel fretted that the expense of trying to fire them would likely exceed the amount of the loss, at least for that one year.
"I've talked to the (fire) commissioner about dealing with this systemically, culturally and then, if we need to, on a personnel basis," he told reporters. (snip)
...the Fire Prevention Bureau is at least 70 percent black and Hispanic, according to Gregory Boggs, president of Chicago's African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League.
The bogus expense claims were for mileage on personal cars used by fire inspectors in the Fire Prevention Bureau. Investigators compared actual mileage on routes followed by inspectors with the distances reported on their expense reports, and discovered widespread inflation, resulting in excess amounts of money received as reimbursement.
Zorn also reports that:
Boggs said Russell and the others implicated in the investigation were merely following the long-standing practice in the bureau of inflating mileage reports to compensate for the actual expenses of insuring and operating personal vehicles on city business.
It may well be that this is a longstanding practice. Public employees can indeed find it easy to conclude that they deserve more than the statutory amount of money due them, and simply help themselves by lying. If that's the case, then the CFD needs a big shake-up, and probably the rest of Cook County and Illinois, for that matter. That's too much to hope for, but at least a few more people will come to realize that government employment stopped being "public service" and started morphing into "help yourself" about the time unionization was allowed.
But Zorn also presents the context here, that might indicate some element of retaliation in launching an investigation of what might have been a widespread practice, actively or passively tolerated by upper management. He cites:
... a federal appellate court ruling in May that the city must pay some $30 million in damages to blacks who applied for Fire Department jobs but were denied based on the results of what courts have found to have been a discriminatory entrance exam.
Additionally, the court ruled the city must hire 111 new African-American firefighters.
Boggs said the perspective of the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League is that the investigation was at least in part retaliation for the prolonged legal action.
Whatever the motives for exposing possible widespread public employee fraud, Mayor Emanuel needs to react strongly, not somnolently. Tolerating corruption and vague allusions to "cultural" factors (as if minorities can only be expected to be thieves) will brand Rahm Emanuel forever, if the world starts paying attention.
Hat tip: Peter von Buol