Albert Alschuler on Why Chicago Shouldn't Have Part-Time Aldermen

Part-time aldermen are no bargain for Chicago taxpayers

Last week federal prosecutors charged Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, with attempted extortion. They alleged that Burke obstructed a construction project while pressuring a restaurant owner to hire Burke’s law firm to do tax work. If the government’s allegations are true, Burke made the mistake of talking on a wiretapped line about the sort of transaction that usually is left to winks and nods. When left to implication, transactions like his are nearly impossible to prosecute, and they have enriched many Chicago politicians.

One of these politicians was George Dunne, an associate of Mayor Richard J. Daley who succeeded Daley as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Dunne held public office from 1955 through 1991 — as a state representative, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and then, for 21 years, as the longest-serving president of the board.

Dunne’s governmental positions were part-time (in theory), so nothing prevented him from establishing the Near North Insurance Brokerage in 1962. Lacking any business or insurance background, Dunne spent little time managing his business, but he prospered. (When he decided not to run for re-election, he sold the brokerage to its CEO, Michael Segal. Segal’s 2004 racketeering conviction led to Near North’s forfeiture to the government. By then, the business had more than 800 employees, occupied a full floor of the John Hancock Center and earned more than $100 million a year in commissions.)

How did Dunne convert his public offices into cash? Near North’s services were as good as those of other brokerages, and it cost no more to buy insurance there. If you just might want a favor from Dunne someday, why not patronize his brokerage?

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