Legislative Lovefest Far From Picture Perfect

There are public servants in the trenches who deserve our gratitude and respect.

In a somewhat literal sense, think about the American troops who risk their lives on a daily basis.

In a figurative sense, think about the inner-city cops, teachers and child-welfare workers who help the forgotten, the abused, the poor, the underprivileged, and who often get little pay and recognition.

This came to mind when we heard that former Illinois House Republican leader Lee Daniels was recently “honored” in Springfield, as his official portrait was unveiled in the legislative chamber he briefly ran in the mid-1990s.

Bear with us as we recount a 2009 story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Daniels, whose legislative career dates to 1975, left the Illinois House in late 2006 after being ousted as chairman of the state GOP and leader of the House Republicans because of the federal investigation into the caucus’ political organization.

“In 2006, Daniels’ former chief of staff, Michael Tristano, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for illegally steering $120,000 in state funds and resources to GOP campaigns between 1998 and 2001. In his plea deal, Tristano said that he ‘reported to and took direction from Lee Daniels,’ but Daniels was never charged. . . .

“Daniels also took significant contributions from convicted influence peddler Stuart Levine, who was a star witness for the government in Tony Rezko’s corruption trial. Levine contributed $347,650 to Daniels during a 10-year period, state campaign records show.”

And there’s this tidbit from a 2006 Chicago Tribune story:

“And an affidavit from one FBI agent . . . states ‘there is evidence that Daniels and supervisory personnel’ were participants in ‘a scheme and artifice to defraud the people of the State of Illinois. . . .’”

So, it’s logical to ask if this is really a guy we should be “honoring”? Should taxpayers really be spending upwards of $2,000 so this guy’s image can be hung majestically in the Illinois Capitol or the Illinois House chamber?

We’re not saying Daniels did anything illegal; he was neither charged with nor convicted of a crime.

And we’re not saying he hasn’t done good things in his career. A recent Daily Herald story noted that Daniels is “known for his work on issues to aid the developmentally disabled.”

We understand it’s tradition to hang portraits of legislative leaders – just as it’s tradition to name public buildings after less-than-perfect government officials such as late Cook County Board President John Stroger and late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

But there are public servants out there who work hard, honestly and selflessly – and who have never been implicated in a federal investigation.

They won’t have their pictures displayed in public buildings. In fact, they’re faceless to the masses. But they truly deserve our appreciation.

This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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