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Judge lifts federal oversight on Chicago hiring

Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 1:04 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO — Who you know may not be enough to land a job at Chicago's City Hall, at least not anymore.

A federal judge on Monday lifted federal oversight of Chicago hiring, agreeing the nation's third largest city has put effective mechanisms in place to stamp out illegal patronage.

"I'm speaking to the people of Chicago that this is a big day for you," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in court, telling the judge it was one of his priorities to fix Chicago's hiring system because it had eroded public confidence.

The decision comes nearly a half century after crusading attorney Michael Shakman launched his attack on Chicago's age-old practice of hiring based on who you know and not on what you know.

Shakman took on the practice — once an accepted part of the way things work in The City That Works — during the reign of Richard J. Daley. The legendary Chicago mayor used his patronage to help cement his unrivaled power.

But in a motion last month asking U.S. District Judge Sidney Schenkier to end the federal oversight, Shakman praised Mayor Emanuel's administration for complying with bans on doling out jobs based on political connections.

"The chapter of the saga involving the city has drawn to an end," Schenkier told the courtroom when making his ruling.

Shakman's civil litigation led to orders, known as Shakman decrees, for the city to halt the politically driven hiring that led to a popular laugh line about what Chicago officials say about job seekers — "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."

In 2005, however, a federal judge went further after finding the city administration under then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley appeared to be flouting the prohibitions, and the court ordered the federal monitor.

Emanuel, mayor since 2011, has said illegal patronage has been "a stain" on the city. He has said that his administration, among other things, has given an inspector general the independence and teeth to crack down on patronage hiring.

While the federal judge has taken Chicago off the hook, the state of Illinois itself is facing fresh scrutiny.

Shakman recently filed a complaint alleging some workers in Gov. Pat Quinn's transportation department were patronage hires. In response, Quinn has said he has "zero tolerance" for any wrongdoing in his administration.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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