Mayor for rent, cheap
today at 12:47 am
Illinois has a well-earned reputation for sleazy politics. We had a good run of Governors going to prison for corruption. The standard joke with Gubernatorial Candidates was to ask them, “who do you hope to draw as a prosecutor?”
Unfortunately for the taxpayers, prosecutors tend to go after the high-profile offices. There is a glaring hands-off policy in Illinois of prosecuting elected officials lower on the totem pole. With Chicago news gathering budgets cut, financial turmoil in the big city, and small-town newspapers, it is a golden era of anything-goes with politicians on the take.
Today is part II of a three-part look at the shenanigans of the race for Mayor in Bradley, Illinois, just an hour south of Chicago’s loop. Read Part I here.
Small towns are fertile land for those who ignore political ethics laws. Who’s going to stop them? The local prosecutor is part of the club. Thanks to slick writing of the Illinois Constitution, it is nearly impossible for the State Attorney General to convene a grand jury. Add to the problem that small newspapers tend to be public relations organs of the dominant political party.
The clubby political atmosphere of Kankakee County, coupled with a weak Democratic Party, creates perfect conditions to ignore state statutes. It would be unfair to single-out Interim Bradley Mayor Mike Watson for questionable behavior. He has much company in a County that is a grifter’s paradise and has been for decades. If I were to turn my attention to corruption in Kankakee County, this would be a series of books and not three articles.
“What I am saying is, we have now what we have always needed, real partnership with the government…”—Gangster Hyman Roth, portrayed by Lee Strasberg in The Godfather II.
A local businessman owns a Hotel a stone-throw away from the mall of Mr. Watson’s proposed convention center. The interim Mayor held a fundraiser recently, and the hotel owner gave the maximum amount under Illinois law to Mr. Watson’s campaign.
It is not unusual for business executives to max-out, as the saying goes, for cooperative politicians. The problem comes when the quid-pro-quo is flagrant. A significant donation came at a fortuitous time, as Mr. Watson’s political organization was facing fines from the State of Illinois for reporting violations.
I am sure many will wave their hand and proclaim, “the State fines a lot of people.” Yes, they do, and that is not a good thing. There is a message in all the fines regarding the epidemic-level lack of compliance with the law.
A large donation is not significant. The behavior by the donor and the Interim Mayor is noteworthy and flagrant. I found information from two sources who confirm a meeting in which the Hotel owner couldn’t attend. What would another businessman do? He would have a subordinate participate in the discussion to represent his interests.
That is not how it works in Bradley. No, the interim Mayor was sent to represent the hotel at the meeting.
Can you imagine the howl that would go up if Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt Hotels, couldn’t attend a meeting and summoned Mayor Lori Lightfoot to represent his interests? I need to pull Watson’s records and see if he is cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping for his other big donors?
Mr. Watson has a challenger in the election in less than two weeks. The Kankakee County Recorder of Deeds, Lori Gadbois, is challenging Mr. Watson. Ms. Gadbois is everything Mike Watson isn’t: well educated, articulate, understands governing, and management, and above all has high-ethics.
Mr. Watson is in a panic about her challenge and is taking the only road he knows running against her, the low road. Tomorrow, we get into the dirty campaign that Mr. Watson is mounting against a credible opponent.