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Patronage in Illinois

The culture of patronage thrived in the U.S government system right from the start of the republic. When a political party candidate won an election, the newly elected official had the right to appoint persons of his choice to jobs in the government. Patronage is not new in U.S politics but it has existed at all levels of government since independence. Patronage refers to the practice of giving people government positions on the basis of political affiliation other than merit. From the 1890s, the numbers of positions open to patronage decreased substantially at all levels of government. It only remained very prevalent in Chicago during Mayor Richard J. Daley tenure until the late 1970s. This paper will evaluates dilemma faced while fighting patronage in Illinois with Chicago City as the case study. The paper concludes that patronage is still prevalent in Chicago City and Illinois at large with supporters and opponents alike.

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As aforementioned Chicago remained heavily patronized until the late 1970s. Though this has since reduced mainly due to intervention from the judiciary, Chicago retains the title of the patronage capital of the world. It is not a wonder therefore that the first five Supreme Court decisions restricting patronage centered on Chicago. The first of these cases was Elrod vs. Burns in which the Cook County sheriff purportedly acting on orders Mayor Richard J. Daley had sacked Republican appointees working in the sheriff's office and in their place employed Democrats (Hamilton 2010). This was after the election in which Democrats won. In the ensuing court case, Justice William J. Brennan of the Supreme Court held that political patronage violated both the first and fourteenth amendments. These are the amendments that guarantee the freedom of speech and association.

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The Supreme Court held this precedence in cases that follows such as Branti v. Finkel (1980) and Rutan v. Republic Party of Illinois (1990). Awarding of or rescinding contracts based on political affiliations was also outlawed as is evident in the cases of Board of County Commissioners, Wanhausee County, Kansas v. Umbehr (1996); and O'HareTruck Service v. City of Northlake (1996) (Hamilton 2010). However it would be na‹ve to expect that these Supreme Court cases would stop political patronage. Recent events would prove otherwise.

Patronage especially pinstripe patronage just got bigger and better fuelled by the rising costs of political campaigns, the need for wealthy campaign donors and the increasing power of government and financial deals available to reward campaign financiers. Recent cases include that of former Governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother Robert Blagojevich both of whom were charged with attempting to sell the Senate seat formerly occupied by President Barrack Obama and that of former powerful Streets and Sanitation boss Al Sanchez who is charged with participating in a rigging tests scheme engineered towards securing jobs for members of the political group Hispanic Democratic Organization in the City.

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It is important to emphasize that these cases have occurred after the establishment of the Shakman Decree in Cook County and Chicago that provided for the establishment of an anti-patronage staffing system to curb political interference in hiring (Hamilton 2010). Following constant violations of the Shakman Decree, Judge Wayne R. Anderson seconded attorney Noelle Brennan to the City of Chicago to monitor personnel practices on behalf of the court. The same Judge assigned Mary Robinson to oversee Cook County personnel practices as a Compliance Administrator and Honorable Clifford Meacham Compliance Administrator for the County's Sheriff Office. In 2009 the University of Illinois was on the limelight due to patronage related corruption that involved senior politicians in the state and senior university staff. The scandal involved securing university vacancies for unqualified but politically connected persons. Nine University trustees resigned from their positions following the revelations.

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Patronage has its defenders too. Jeffrey Coleman, Governor Edgar's lawyer argues that it is only logic for a political leader to prefer working with friends rather than foes. According to him, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson and every other administration before and after for more than 200 years since independence has used political consideration in hiring. To him patronage has been and if it has not been a question then, it should not be now. He further states that it is rather ironic that nine judges who were themselves appointed to the Supreme Court through political considerations would turn around and say that politics should not play in role in the selection of public employees. Patronage is also a way of rewarding past political supporters and securing future support since the beneficiaries will campaign for the office holder so that they too can continue holding unto their offices (Hamilton 2010).

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Patronage defenders also argue that it is responsible for maintaining the American democracy. It is argued that patronage has played a major role in advancing the American two party democracy by offering rewards to campaign workers (Hamilton 2010). Even more importantly it puts people in government who are in agreement with the political agenda of the winner. Loyalty, trust and cohesion are achieved this way. Patronage ensures also that there is labor turnover; previous public officers are replaced by new ones. This turnover brings in new people and with them new ideas. This revives the system giving it new impetus for further growth.

Opponents of patronage agree that it is acceptable for the highest positions in government. The President, governors and mayors are free to select persons of their choice into their cabinet and department heads. However, past experience has shown that a patronage system that goes beyond the high positions is susceptible to corruption and inefficiency.

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On whether patronage works for the City of Chicago, the answer will depend on personal opinions. Chicago as a City is billed as being better managed than the State of Illinois itself. Garbage is collected; the streets are clean and lighted far better than many other states where patronage is lesser. Chicago is variously referred as the 'City that works'. Mayor Richard J. Delay often seen as the head of the political patronage system was quite popular throughout his helm as the mayor winning re-elections easily (Hamilton 2010). On the other hand, patronage has been blamed for violating civil rights and denying people who are qualified jobs on account of their political affiliations. It breeds corruption and with it inefficiencies. Connections other than merit becomes the basis of employing which in most cases may lead to the more gifted being locked out and less qualified people getting the jobs. One question that is worth pondering over is whether it would be alright to employ a qualified and talented individual through patronage.

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