Wednesday was the first full day of summer, but the wholesale spring cleaning at City Hall continued, with Mayor Richard Daley shedding two more top figures. Gone are Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, whose department is one of those at the center of the Hired Truck scandal, and Inspector General Al Vroustouris, who was supposed to be rooting out corruption but wasn't doing a great job of it.
The pace of the administration purge has accelerated in recent weeks as subpoena-waving federal agents continue to bore in on city operations and a Tribune poll shows public confidence in the mayor drooping to the lowest point since he took office. Sanchez is the fourth Cabinet official to be shown the door of late, and there are so many new faces in other top administration positions that they may have to wear nametags for a while.
The departures Wednesday are a positive sign that the mayor understands he has a deep problem and genuinely wants to resolve it.
Sanchez is the most clout-heavy of the recent departees, a key figure in the Hispanic Democratic Organization, the army of political foot soldiers who have proved instrumental in propping up Daley's power in recent years.
But it's the ouster of Vroustouris that may prove more important to Daley's quest to regain public trust in his leadership, which has withered with the steady drumbeat of scandal. Daley's new no-nonsense chief-of-staff, Ron Huberman, pushed Vroustouris to quit because the inspector's office was doing flimsy investigations. Vroustouris' personal honesty was unquestioned, but there was a broad belief that his office had concentrated on small fry while the feds were uncovering major-league pilfering of city resources by workers and contractors.
Daley has been in office for 16 years. For much of that time, it seemed he had dragged his feet on cleaning up City Hall, despite embarrassments like the Tribune's 1999 disclosure that the politically connected Duff family had perverted a minority set-aside program to gain contracts for their janitorial business.
So the temptation has been to dismiss Daley's new reform fervor as an act of political survival. The breadth of changes at City Hall give more confidence that this effort is sincere.
Now Daley has a spectacular opportunity to prove the skeptics are wrong. He can take a page from the playbook of former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.
When Fitzgerald had a vacancy to fill in the U.S. attorney's office here, he scoured the country to find a relentless prosecutor who had no stake in the indolent and grime-encrusted culture of City Hall and Springfield. The search that plucked U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald from New York should serve as the model for Daley and Huberman as they look for an inspector general.
If they can find one who has no ties to Chicago and no designs on his next job, they will go a long way toward showing they want to break the cronyism culture at City Hall--and aren't worried about who will turn up in the next sweep.
"The taxpayers must know that their dollars are being spent wisely, that their communities are represented fairly and that government is not run to serve the interests of a few," the brand new Mayor Daley said when he appointed Vroustouris in 1989. Still holds true today.