- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — For a century or more, a note from a ward boss or a campaign donor’s whisper into the right person’s ear has been enough to land a job on the city payroll in Chicago. The practice is so well-known that people elsewhere call it Chicago-style politics.

Here, they sum it up in a word: clout.

But under the heat of a federal investigation, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration suddenly is swearing off that elixir of Chicago political life.

“City hiring will be on the square,” Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara Georges announced this week. “We’re putting in place a process where clout cannot enter into it.”

Could this be Chicago, home to the last of America’s big-city political machines? The town where journalist Len O’Connor wrote a biography of the mayor’s father, the iron-fisted Mayor Richard J. Daley, that was titled “Clout”?

What made the announcement more surprising was that city officials have long denied that political favoritism or patronage had anything to do with who was hired.

“What you just heard was the sound of jaws dropping on kitchen tables when people picked up their newspapers this morning,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “It’s like saying you just discovered there’s snow in Chicago in the winter.”

No one is willing to bet that clout is gone for good. But just pronouncing it dead may help Mr. Daley, who in his 16th year as mayor finds himself presiding over a city government awash in scandals and criminal investigations.

Federal investigators raided City Hall on April 29 and carted off personnel files from the water and intergovernmental affairs departments. They came back days later for streets and sanitation department files.

The investigators are thought to be looking for evidence that would show whether people received jobs, raises and promotions for working on political campaigns.

Several former city employees are under federal indictment on charges of taking payoffs from trucking companies seeking city business.

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