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Hired Truck Investigation Reveals Political Ties

By vouchey in News on May 3, 2005 8:37PM

Gerry Wesolowski from NBC 5
It's the biggest political story of the day, but Chicagoist has waited until the late afternoon because we needed to mull this over a bit. It is just too damn big, and some very important reputations are at stake. So, take a deep breath and take this story in a couple of bites.

Gerald Wesolowski Jr., a top Chicago Water Department official became the sixth person to plead guilty in the U.S. Attorney's Hired Truck investigation. In the most explosive parts of his guilty plea (read it here), Wesolowski stated that he:

  • Collected nearly $200,000 in bribes from trucking companies and passed it on to his boss, Donald Tomczak, with the understanding that these companies would get city Hired Truck contracts;
  • Solicited many of these same trucking companies for campaign donations for Richard M. Daley's mayoral campaign, the 11th Ward Democratic Organization, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, and others; and,
  • Participated in an organized system where Donald Tomczak would receive direction on city time from unnamed "City officials" to direct up to 100 Water Department employees to campaign for various political candidates, including those mentioned above.

There was no indication that the named candidates had any clue the donations or campaign "volunteers" were tainted.

The first set of wrongdoings were always expected, the second two, something everyone in Chicago politics knows goes on, but just didn't talk about. Why don't they talk about it? Plausible deniablity. If you don't ask where it came from, you don't have to know. Besides, Mayor Richard J. Daley (the old man) once said something along the lines of, "I don't trust anyone who's job isn't at stake." He knew what every political professional knows, people tend to work harder for a campaign if the candidate isn't the only one who could lose their job.

What makes this charge such a big deal is that it is the first time a truism of Chicago politics has emerged from the deep: City workers are regularly used in campaigns all over the Chicago area, and they put pressure on companies to give money to candidates -- a blantant violation of the Shakman decree. It is such a regular occurance that nobody complains, you just shrug your shoulders and move on. But if the U.S. Attorney is able to get additional witnesses to corroborate this kind of activity -- in detail -- it just might change how Chicago-area politics are done forever.

And the names involved in the story are big. One expects a U.S. Attorney to tread carefully when moving near elected officials, but yesterday's plea statement from Wesolowski, as well as Friday's late night raid of the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (the most important office outside the Mayor's Office itself) seem to be pointing a big finger at the big guy himself. Not to mention the implication of Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the number four ranking Democrat in House leadership, is mighty bold. U.S. Attorney Peter Fitzgerald better have something strong in his back pocket if he plans to keep his job.

Image via NBC 5.