February 28, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Shortly after legendary Chicago slickster Edward R. Vrdolyak walked out of federal court Thursday like a cat with 10 lives, my cell phone rang.
It was Grace Slattery, the 70-year-old mother of imprisoned ex-city worker Patrick Slattery.
"I'm looking for someone to explain justice," she said quietly.
This was going to be hard.
Mrs. Slattery's son is serving a 27-month sentence. He was convicted with Daley patronage chief Robert Sorich and two others of conducting "an illegitimate shadow hiring scheme" at City Hall. In other words, rigging hiring to reward political supporters.
Unlike Vrdolyak, none of these four was a multimillionaire political operator. None had been censured three times by the Illinois Supreme Court for scamming legal clients and/or the courts. None, in the commission of their crimes, had schemed to make money beyond keeping their city jobs.
So, when U.S. District Court Judge Milton Shadur shocked everyone by ruling that Vrdolyak wasn't going to spend a day in prison even though he plotted to pick up a $1.5 million fee by rigging a real estate deal through an unknowing medical school board in concert with crooked pal, Stuart Levine, well, Mrs. Slattery was staggered. "You feel," she said, "like you've been hit by a truck."
Federal court is not a proportional universe. Judge Shadur had reasons for ruling as he did, some of them good.
Federal prosecutors do, at times, overreach. And in the Vrdolyak case, there was a sense that the feds wanted to put him away for 41 months because of all the things they never could indict him on before.
Then again, federal judges can, at times, fail to understand.
Even fine ones like Shadur, who was a little too moved by all the heartfelt letters that poured in recounting Eddie's good deeds.
A cunning, very rich man like Vrdolyak -- who has made millions "consulting" with mobbed up suburbs -- can afford to be a generous patron of the needy.
True, Vrdolyak pleaded guilty and "took responsibility."
But he didn't deserve to walk.
True, Patrick Slattery should have pleaded guilty.
But does he deserve two years -- or Sorich four -- and Vrdolyak none?
Maybe someone smarter than I can explain this to Mrs. Slattery.
Memo to Fritchey about Quigley
Fifth Congressional District candidate John Fritchey sent a note of apology.
Fritchey quoted me in a campaign mailer but misspelled my last name in the attribution.
No problem, John.
The problem was the selective use of my words regarding your opponent, Mike Quigley, about whom I have written a lot.
Yes, I did say in March of 2007 that Quigley was being viewed as "the Benedict Arnold of county politics, the turncoat who keeps turning, reform one day, un-reform the next."
But that's far from the whole story. The criticism of Quigley at the time was that despite his long history of reform as a commissioner on the Cook County Board, he had tried to find common ground with its hopeless president, Todd Stroger, exacting promises of more transparency in return. It didn't work out the couple of times Quigley tried, and he quickly went back to being the ferocious voice of opposition.
But make no mistake: Quigley is a reformer.
And if State Rep. Fritchey, who also properly lays claim to some reform credentials, is going to throw stones for working with un-reformers from time to time, he better be careful. After all, one of his big backers in this candidate-clogged race for Rahm Emanuel's old seat is none other than Dick Mell, the alderman, ward boss and infamous father-in-law who was instrumental in giving us Rod Blagojevich as governor before he later turned on his ingrate son-in-law.
So for the record, no candidate in this race survives living in a glass house. But Quigley has been the real deal.
And you can sign that anyway you want -- Martin or Marin.