You Get One Chance

Mayor Richard Daley caved this week on meting out a mere 3-year ban on doing business with the City of Chicago for vendor felon James Duff.

“Just a day earlier, city officials had said that a permanent ban for James Duff, the former head of Windy City Maintenance, and two associates was not allowed under city rules,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Want some background?

As a result of Jim Thompson’s going after politicians as United States Attorney, a Chicago Republican state representative named Ron Stearney introduced a really interesting bill in 1977.

He introduced it during Thompson’s first year in office because some of his friends had been convicted of taking bribes. Two others, State Reps. Louis Capuzi and John Wall, were also on trial but both eventually beat their charges in the cement weight case. For the details, read this article by Mike Lawrence.

Stearney wanted to get even. He introduced a bill that would forbid anyone or his company who had been convicted of giving an Illinois state official of employee a bribe from ever doing business with the state again.

He was aiming at Lester Crown and his Material Service Company, the giant gravel and concrete company, a company with major holdings in McHenry County, incidentally. One of its employees, Carney Gilkerson, beat me for precinct committeeman in Algonquin Township precinct 13 in 1968 when my 1966 McHenry County Treasurer election recount lawyer Stan Narusis decided to move back to Southern Illinois and I tried to replace him.

Stearney’s bill was introduced back in the time when I had time to read all the bills descriptions in the Legislative Digest.

When I found it, I asked him what he wanted to do. He told me he wanted to stop Lester Crown’s Material Service from doing business with the state ever again.

“Well, this won’t do that,” I told him.

Pretty audacious of me, I guess, because he was a lawyer. (I still find a Ronald A. Stearney listed on the Attorney’s Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s web site. It looks like his son has joined the family business.)

I pointed out that Lester Crown of Material Service fame was an unindicted co-conspirator. He had been given immunity from prosecution, much as many of the witnesses in Tony Rezko’s trial. Material Service had been given corporate immunity. I believe that is the first time in the nation’s history such sweeping immunity had been granted.

Since Stearney’s original language would have required that one or the other be found guilty of bribing an Illinois official, the bill would simply not accomplish what he wished.

I suggested an amendment to which he agreed.

We added that the lifetime prohibition would apply to those who admitted under oath that they had bribed a public official, as well as those who were convicted of the crime.

This bill had the good government types behind it, as well as the friends of those less savory legislators who had been convicted in the legislative bribery case.

When the bill came to the floor it slid through like a greased pig slipping out of a medieval peasant’s arms.

Illinois State Senators were defendants in the cement weight truck trial, too. Needless to say, it passed the senate.

I had forgotten about the bill until I got a call from Basil Talbott, the political editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. It was fall, right before the deadline for then-Governor Jim Thompson to sign the bill.

Talbott decided to give Thompson an incentive to sign the bill and wrote a story whose headline covered the top of one of the inside pages.

Thompson signed the bill.

The first to be caught in the trap was Secretary of State Alan Dixon’s license plate maker, a firm in Arkansas, I think. The first sued when it couldn’t get the contract.

The appellate court agreed with the firm and I tried to craft language to meet the decision’s objection. It didn’t pass.

The bill finally was decided upon by the Illinois Supreme Court and, guess what?

The court ruled that banning vendors for life was OK.

The opinion was written by a justice from Bloomington.

So, state government can ban a crook from doing business with the State of Illinois forever.

I guess Chicago can, too.

I have never had a bill I played a role in held unconstitutional. Two have specifically been held constitutional. This was one of them.

But, Material Service is still doing business with the State of Illinois.

Find out ”What gives?” in a later story.

Perhaps also of interest would be the Mike Royko column about a resolution I introduced to name a Route 62 weight station after Lester Crown. It’s in the linked article.

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