The only aspect of the verdict against former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez is that he wasn’t found guilty of all seven counts of mail fraud (the vague, all-purpose charge that says something improper was sent through the U.S. mail) pending against him.
He actually beat the rap on three charges. But Sanchez was still found guilty of four others, and that’s more than enough for federal prosecutors to crow about how much safer the streets of Chicago are now that another corrupt politico will be sent to prison.
THE JURY SPENT the past few days deciding they didn’t buy Sanchez’ claims that he merely was following the hiring practices of city government of the past. And if it turns out that his superiors hired people who did campaign work in order to get jobs picking up trash and spreading salt (at high union wages), then he should not be blamed.
“I just did my job the way I was supposed to do it,” Sanchez told reporter-types after the verdict against him was read.
Now this isn’t a defense of Sanchez’ conduct on the job. He probably did do things and engage in actions that prosecutors once looked the other way at. The true offense is that more political people decades ago were not prosecuted, not that Sanchez is now.
But there is one aspect of Sanchez that truly does fit into the idea of a guy just trying to do his job within city government in a way that makes him fit in.
THERE ARE THOSE who make a big deal about Sanchez’ political title, head of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, which in theory was no different than a group such as Illinois Democratic Women or the Indo-American Democratic Organization.
It was a group that tried to increase political involvement of a group that didn’t fit into the traditional Irish-American demographic that for decades has dominated activity at City Hall.
Those people with a nativist streak in them like to imply that this shows Latinos are somehow inherently corrupt that the group trying to promote their political involvement would somehow get so tainted by allegations of political hiring.
Sanchez himself tried to play off such sentiment, saying sarcastically that his efforts to hire Latinos for city government jobs was being turned into “a federal crime” by the prosecutorial crew for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.
BUT ANYONE WHO watched the Hispanic Democratic Organization at work would realize how ridiculous such claims were.
Because in some respects, the Hispanic Democratic Organization was the biggest obstacle faced by some Latinos who wanted to be involved in Chicago’s public affairs.
Sanchez used his political influence to promote the interests of Latinos who were willing to accept the idea of Richard M. Daley as the “sun” upon which all of the Chicago government “universe” rotated around.
Hispanic Democratic Organization political workers would do their bidding and turn out the vote for candidates willing to back Daley. If it happened that a Latino candidate fell into that category, then it would work.
BUT THERE WERE cases where Latinos wishing to run for office had to fight against the Hispanic Democratic Organization, which smart alecks always claimed really stood for Hispanic Daley Organization.
In some cases, the group went so far as to back Anglo candidates against Latinos, if it were told to do so to promote the Daley interests.
Of course, this really follows the general trend of electoral politics in the city wards where a predominantly Spanish-speaking population exists. It is all too typical for the local elections that too many political observers think of as being between two anonymous Latinos to actually be between a Daley-allied Latino and (in the eyes of the Democratic organization) some Spanish-speaking smart aleck who dares to speak out against Hizzoner.
This trend was enhanced by the Hispanic Democratic Organization, which gave political muscle to one side. But it is by no means brought to an end by the conviction of Sanchez.
MY POINT IS to say that in certain aspects, it is true that Sanchez and the Hispanic Democratic Organization (which has withered away in recent years and become irrelevant) was merely reflecting the general attitude of the Daley administration.
Sanchez isn’t exaggerating when he says he was merely doing things the way they are done at “the Hall.”
Does this mean that I believe Richard M. Daley ought to be facing criminal indictment himself? I’m not willing to go that far.
But the idea that a major segment of Chicago political corruption has been brought to a close by the conviction of 61-year-old Al Sanchez (who could now be looking at up to two decades in a federal prison) is ridiculous.
THE GENERAL CONCEPTS espoused by Sanchez exist in other officials currently on the city payroll, and likely also the Cook County and Illinois government payrolls as well. So the actual effect of the Sanchez verdict could be minimal, unless federal prosecutors are determined to continue their efforts throughout the City Hall culture.
Actually, there is one other potential affect of the verdict. The streets of Chicago during the winter seasons could get very sloppy.
To many Chicagoans, Sanchez was the guy from “Streets & San” who got interviewed on television newscasts whenever it snowed. He was the guy who decided how much salt got dumped on city streets, and which side streets got plowed first.
Because to many city residents, so long as he did that job competently, they were more than willing to ignore all this other political talk that came up during the trial. If anything, the willingness of city residents to tolerate such activity in exchange for a clean street or two may be the real crime.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A crook or a victim? Al Sanchez was hardly the only person behaving (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/03/al-sanchez-corruption-trial.html) the way he did while doing “the people’s business” at City Hall.
Certain Latinos benefited from the creation of the Hispanic Democratic Organization (http://www.ipsn.org/hired_truck_scandal/hdo_grows_into_political_powerho.htm), while others had their political aspirations squashed.