We’ve got racists in the Water Department. What a shock.
This is Chicago, which is part of America. We’ve got racists preaching from pulpits, writing laws and driving buses, too.
The real shock is that such ugly in-your-face, old-school racism, as well as homophobia and sexism, were allowed to fester and grow within the city’s Water Department, an apparent dumping ground for political hacks. People in charge looked away. They said nothing.
The other real shock is that some people still think this is where bigotry begins and ends in America, with the louts who sound like Klan members, when, in fact, the most insidious forms of discrimination today are institutional.
By all means, let’s drive the bigots out of the Water Department, and their spineless managers, too. But let’s take an even firmer stand on a second local scandal in the news this week — the way property values are assessed in Cook County to favor the rich and stick it to the poor. Let’s put an end to that as well.
In a report released this week by City Inspector General Joe Ferguson, we learned more about how one particular goof at the Water Department, district Superintendent Paul Hansen, the clouted son of a former alderman — no surprise there — banged out racist emails the way nice people send out birthday wishes. In one email about Chicago’s high murder rate, Hansen joked about a fake “Chicago Safari” package that would guarantee tourists “at least one kill and five crime scenes” and views of “lots of animals in their natural habitat.”
Hansen and a couple of other Water Department employees were fired or forced to resign, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel also collected the resignation of the department’s top boss, Barrett Murphy. But given the department’s obvious culture of tolerance for bigotry, we can’t imagine the housecleaning is over. Changing a culture take changes in leadership throughout the ranks.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, while testifying before the Cook County Board, county Assessor Joseph Berrios said nothing to convince us that his office doesn’t have a serious problem of institutional racism. After the meeting, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she’s going to hire an outsider to “review” how Berrios’ office does real estate assessments, but nobody needs another study. That’s a way to look concerned while doing nothing.
Repeatedly over years, civic watchdogs and investigative reporters have exposed how the county’s way of assessing real estate values, which determines how much everybody pays in property taxes, is mysterious, arbitrary and stacked in favor of people and businesses that can afford high-priced tax lawyers.
If further proof were needed, the Chicago Tribune published a deeply detailed series of reports last month that showed how the assessor’s office uses a mishmash of formulas to overvalue low-priced homes while undervaluing high-priced ones. The pattern hits minority communities particularly hard.
“We are systematically over assessing homes in poor communities — the people that can afford it less — and it’s time to fix it,” Robert Weissbourd, president of an economic development consulting firm, complained to the County Board.
No worries, Mr. Weissbourd. They’re doing a study!
The pathetic truth is that Berrios’ office for seven years has had on hand a better model to assess property values but has never fully used it, if at all. Weissbourd’s firm helped devise the state-of-the art model, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation. It would significantly reduce the degree to which assessments shift the tax burden to those who can least afford it.
Forget about the study, President Preckwinkle. Tell your pal Joe Berrios to forsake the dark arts and start using the new model.
When you get down to it, baked-in institutional racism is more repulsive than some throwback bigot in the Water Department.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Another round of emails released late Friday by the city of Chicago reveal more racist and sexist exchanges among some of the top officials in the Department of Water Management as recently as April a month before some were forced out, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
Earlier emails, part of a months-long investigation by City Inspector General Joe Ferguson, led to Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy, Managing Deputy William Bresnahan and District Superintendent Paul Hansen losing their jobs.
The latest batch of emails contain homophobic slurs in addition to anti-black and anti-woman comments. Some of the most striking exchanges include an image of a scarecrow dressed in a KKK robe in a watermelon field, a picture of a nude woman used to celebrate “heterosexual male pride day” and comments mocking gays.
The email containing the KKK scarecrow was forwarded from Hansen to Murphy in July 2014 with the subject line “Watermelon Protection.” Included in the email, which Hansen had received from someone else, was the photo and this statement: “God is great, beer is good … and people are crazy. I’m guessing this would be considered politically incorrect.”
Hansen then added this: “I don’t understand.”
Another racist email Hansen shared with Murphy was sent in February 2013 in response to a request from ComEd for city employees to halt work near a power line serving a fire station, schools and a senior citizen home. “I think the only thing that the line does not feed is the center for the severely challenged negro midgets, you know the place, its where we hired all those laborers from 7 years ago,” Hansen wrote.
In an email Hansen received April 19, 2017 – just a month before he lost his job – there were pictures of steaks on a grill, beer taps on a bar and a woman bearing her breasts along with this message: “To all my friends who are tired of taking a BACK SEAT to gays, lesbians, homosexuals, trans genders, women soldiers, bra burners, female boy scouts, women libbers, tree huggers and eco-commie-environ-freaks, the looney left, Greens, social justice warriors and worse of all – those f—- democrats!
In yet another email, dated March 11, 2014, Hansen shared with Bresnahan a story about a 16-year-old Texas boy who purportedly won the world’s shortest essay competition by writing about religion, royalty, physical disability, racism and homosexuality. The email claimed the boy won a scholarship to a Texas university for writing this: “My God,” cried the Queen, “That one-legged n— is a queer.”
When Hansen was asked Friday night if he would like to comment on the newly released emails, he said, “If you’re looking for a comment, you can forget it” and hung up. A voicemail message left for Murphy was not immediately returned.
Shannon Breymaier, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said in a statement the mayor is “fully supportive” of recently appointed Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner’s actions to provide additional EEO training to the department’s managers and supervisors.
Late last month, several current and former water department employees filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city and top Water Management officials of creating “a hostile and abusive work environment based on race that includes violence, intimidation (and) retaliation,” the Sun-Times reported.
Barrett Murphy gave Paul Hansen the North District Superintendent promotion over much more qualified licensed employees. Paul Hansen had a rigged promotion if there ever was one. The City of Chicago Law Department covered up for this this when complaints were made. Ole Barrett is kicking himself in the ass now!! Gee, Paul Hansen was a great pick, eh you unemployed ass wipe. Alderman Tunney also used his muscle to put Paul Hansen in as the top dog at the Department of Water Management. Luci Pope Cozzi Anderson went to visit Paul Hansen at his office and the curtains were closed. Luci was accused of deleting Paul emails and covering up for this clown for years. Now that bribes from contractors is in the FBI laps, more fun and game are in order. Barrett told the entire North District how Paul Hansen would be great for the Department on June 8, 2011. Every promotion since the Shakman release from Federal Oversight resulted in Blacks, whistleblowers, and those with no clout, has been a joke. Maybe Luci Pope and Jennifer Isban can get fired soon. All of Paul Hansen discipline writeup are now going to be reopened, and in Federal court the way things are going. Please see an excellent article in the Chicago Tribune. Remember, if you are black or a whistleblower, please call Patrick McDonough or email email@example.com. If you got a bad injury settlement, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Attorneys are on standby. I also want to know why did the FOIA officer at the Department of Water Management hide email demands of Paul Hansen years ago? Fire all of them.
Hal Dardick, Ray Long and Todd LightyContact Reporters
Chicago Tribune Luci Pope Cozzi Anderson
City emails newly obtained by the Tribune cast light on the scope and offensiveness of racist, sexist and anti-gay slurs by politically connected supervisors at the top levels of the Chicago water department.
An image of a Ku Klux Klan “scarecrow” amid a watermelon field, a picture of a naked woman on a beach and off-color comments about gay people found their way into inboxes between early 2013 and April — a month before an investigation of the emails led to high-ranking officials losing their jobs at the Department of Water Management.
The emails, among nearly 1,300 provided by the city in response to a request under the Illinois open records law, include more overtly sexist and anti-black messages than those in an earlier, more limited batch obtained by the Tribune that also contained anti-Islamic insults. And the new emails for the first time reveal homophobic statements.
They also show that they were sent and received during a years-long period without any sign that supervisors, including recently ousted department Commissioner Barrett Murphy, did anything to quash the troubling chatter. And in at least one case, Murphy forwarded an offensive email to another department employee.
Many of the emails obtained by the Tribune go to the heart of an ongoing investigation by the city’s inspector general. The original sender of many of them is former district superintendent Paul Hansen, the son of a onetime alderman whose political connections go back to the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. In one 2015 email not long after the elections for City Council and mayor, Hansen boasts of his ability to “swing elections.”
Lawsuit alleges racism at roiled Chicago water department
That was sent to Murphy, whose City Hall connections also date back to the Daley years but grew under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor and Chicago first lady Amy Rule are friends with Murphy and his wife, Lynn Lockwood, the onetime chairman and treasurer of one of Emanuel’s political funds. Murphy also received many of the racist, sexist and homophobic emails.
For Emanuel, the scandal raises issues he’d rather put behind him as he starts to gear up to make a bid for a third term in office in the 2019 elections. And it comes with risks of political peril among key groups of voters that he has worked hard to cultivate: women, gays and African-Americans.
Emanuel has tried to restore his reputation in the city’s historically vote-rich African-American community, after the 2015 release of a police dash-cam video of a white police officer shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times.
2 more Water Department supervisors put on leave in email investigation
The mayor also has toiled to put an end to clout at City Hall. But the political connections of the supervisors involved in the email controversy harken back to the era when Donald Tomczak controlled the water department that became a focus of a 2006 federal corruption trial. Emanuel first ran for Congress during the Tomczak era, and political troops loyal to Tomczak helped the mayor win his first elected office. And Murphy, Hansen and other members of the group show up on a clout list presented at the federal corruption trial held 11 years ago.
Emanuel has taken steps to address the email controversy, starting in May when he appointed Randy Conner, an African American, to lead the department after the resignations of Murphy, Hansen and deputy commissioner William Bresnahan. Attempts to reach all three for comment were unsuccessful.
At the time of their resignations, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins said the mayor acted “quickly and decisively” by asking for Murphy’s resignation after learning of what was then an 8-month-old probe into the emails by city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. That investigation started as a review of emails about gun deals tied to Hansen that ultimately led to the discovery of the offensive emails.
In early June, after those initial resignations, the Tribune obtained emails sent by Hansen that included racially insensitive, anti-Islamic and sexist messages, and the department’s newest commissioner announced that all managers and supervisors in his department would be provided with additional training on federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace
In late June, Thomas J. Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers, and John “Jack” Lee Jr., a district superintendent, were placed on administrative leave pending disciplinary decisions. They have since resigned, according to a department spokesman. Attempts to reach Durkin and Lee for comment were unsuccessful.
A week after they were placed on leave, a federal lawsuit was filed alleging that African-American employees of the Chicago water department routinely were denied promotions, subjected to racial slurs and sexually harassed because of their race.
In response to questions about the latest emails obtained by the Tribune, Emanuel spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said the mayor “acted swiftly” to show his intolerance for the behavior and that “the folks implicated have been removed.” She said he backs efforts by the new commissioner to step up equal employment training for department managers and supervisors. “Finally, the move to take immediate action is completely consistent with the mayor’s efforts to eliminate clout at City Hall so that city employees are hired based on what they know, not who they know,” Breymaier added.
One jarring example of a racist email was forwarded from Hansen to Murphy in July 2014. It was titled “Watermelon Protection” and included an image that depicted a scarecrow, dressed in a white KKK robe and pointed hood, amid a field of watermelons. “I don’t understand,” Hansen stated in his message to Murphy.
Another racially insensitive email dates back to February 2013, when Hansen was replying to an email that Murphy first forwarded to him. The original message concerned an “urgent request” from ComEd to stop work near an alternate power line serving schools, a fire station and senior citizen homes until the main line was fixed so those facilities wouldn’t lose their electricity feed if it were accidentally damaged.
In response, Hansen wrote: “I think the only thing that the line does not feed is the center for the severely challenged negro midgets, you know the place, its where we hired all those laborers from 7 years ago.” Murphy then forwarded that message to another department employee.
Even an August 2015 note from Murphy describing an equation for calculating the circumference of a circle drew a convoluted, racially charged attempt at humor from Hansen.
Hansen’s message referred to the sex organs of white and black men, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby, a Confederate flag, and Dorothy and the Tin Man. Within minutes, Hansen then forwarded the same distasteful message to Durkin, whose response included: “I’ll have to get back to you with my answer after I discuss this with the All Powerful OZ.”
Hansen also distributed emails with an anti-gay tenor, including a February 2013 reply to Murphy, who in oversized letters noted that the Gay Pride festival and parade would be split over two weekends. It also was sent to Bresnahan.
One minute later, Hansen replied it meant someone might be absent from work and would need an “inflatable doughnut on the chair” when he returned.
Hansen in October 2015 sent Murphy a link to a YouTube video titled “Redneck Homemade Bikini Contest.” The video depicts several scantily clad women on a wooden stage with a male emcee kicking of the contest by saying, “Here she is guys … let’s hear it.”
Hansen in March 2014 forwarded to Durkin, Lee and Bresnahan a joke that spares few in its offensiveness. It refers to a “world’s shortest essay contest” held for Texas teens that had to include elements of religion, royalty, racism, disability and homosexuality. The “winning” essay read: “My God,” cried the Queen, “That one-legged nigger is a queer.” Lee later responded, “I’m crying.”
The emails obtained by the Tribune show that as recently as April, Hansen was receiving offensive emails. An April message sent to Hansen referred to “HETEROSEXUAL MALE PRIDE DAY!”
It makes that declaration after showing photographs of steaks grilling, beer taps and a naked woman, and is preceded by this introduction: “To all of my friends who are tired of taking a BACK SEAT to gays, lesbians, homosexuals, trans genders, women soldiers, bra burners, female boy scouts, women libbers, tree huggers, and eco-commie-environ-freaks, the looney left, Greens, social justice warriors and worse of all — those f——- Democrats!”
One email was sent by a deputy human resources commissioner in October 2014 to several water department supervisors, including Murphy, who was first deputy commissioner at the time. It suggested they should take part in “respectful workplace” training on the issues of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
“Although (the Department of Human Resources) has not made this training mandatory,” it states, “there are several reasons that each supervisory employee should receive this training.”
The emails also show that Murphy often forwarded to his wife various news summaries, including one in August 2015 where Emanuel announced city worker health care benefits will cover gender reassignment services. “What the……,” Murphy commented.
Murphy’s connections to City Hall predate the current mayor. He worked for Daley in multiple capacities, including in the mayor’s office, and first started at the water department in 2004, when Tomczak reigned.
During the 2006 trial of Robert Sorich, Daley’s patronage chief, a once-secret clout list with names of politically connected people seeking jobs and their sponsors was entered into evidence. Murphy’s name appears on the list as the sponsor for one person seeking a job.
Murphy gained influence under Emanuel, who promoted him to first deputy commissioner in 2011 during the early months of his administration. In April 2016, Emanuel appointed him commissioner of the department — a position that proved relatively short lived because of the email scandal that surfaced in May.
Hansen, son of former longtime Ald. Bernie Hansen, 44th, also appears on the clout list as someone who sought a promotion.
During the trial of Sorich, prosecutors charged that Daley administration officials handed out jobs, promotions and overtime work to those who campaigned for Daley and his allies. Sorich was convicted for his role in a hiring fraud scheme to rig interviews and falsify documents.
Hansen, in one water department email sent to Murphy in March 2015, boasted of his political prowess in the context of a recently concluded City Council race on the Northwest Side. “I told you I could swing elections,” Hansen wrote.
Other water department email senders and recipients who showed up on the clout list include Durkin. The sponsor listed for Durkin was Tomczak, who was sent to prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to commanding a political army of patronage workers and taking almost $400,000 in payoffs from companies that wanted business from the city’s corrupt Hired Truck Program.
Joe Ferguson, Chicago Inspector General first in line to steal credit. Ole Joe, tells everyone he separates the wheat from the chaff. When a Chicago City workers calls, or emails the O.I.G. you would expect an investigation. You would expect an interview to obtain a proper response to your concerns. I know for a fact when David Hoffman, the outstanding inspector general ran things, his staff was top notch and professional.
Not the case for phony Joe Ferguson, the psychic inspector general that know everything. Emails are not returned. Joe has not done a fucking thing about the corrupt promotion system still in place at the Department of Water Management. Joe covered up for Paul Hansen for over a decade.
But what we do know is the following, Joe Ferguson tips off the Sun-Times on a regular basis. Joe Ferguson tips off all departments when he faxes over inquires for information.
Joe Ferguson does not expose Chicago Commissioners that stall and refuse to discipline workers. When you ask for a FOIA from the Inspector General, they stall. Same treatment when you file complaints against corrupt FOIA officers covering up crime in Chicago. One thing we know for sure, Joe retaliated against whistleblowers and is a puppet of Rahm Emanuel. Most of the challenged I.G. complaints are dismissed in court as a farse. Most I.G. employees are part time pass through college grads waiting for a real job. But don’t worry, Joe will be the first in line to pose for pictures and take credit he does not deserve. P.S. Joe, remove that ugly mole from your nose.
Sun-Times Editorial Board
Just when you think Chicago municipal government is fully joining the modern world, somebody tugs open a closet door and out tumble the patronage hacks, the mopes who sleep on the job and the two-bit office bigots who really should shut up.
Feels like old times, you know?
That’s how we felt last week when we learned that goofs in the city’s Department of Water Management had been caught bouncing around emails that were racist, sexist and homophobic.
We can’t say we were surprised. The Department of Water Management has a long history of corruption and bigotry. But didn’t this stuff pretty much end when a federal court killed patronage politics? Once a judge handed down a series of rulings beginning in the late 1970s, known as the Shakman decrees, that banned hiring based on family or political loyalty, Uncle Al in Streets and San could no longer hire Cousin Bob or protect him when he screwed up.
Or so we thought.
We asked Don Rose, the veteran political consultant.
“Somehow, a few old-style patronage havens continue to exist,” he said with a shrug. “We’ll have these little sewers around for a few years.”
Elected officials, Rose said, are loath to give up “what few patronage privileges remain.”
In the meantime, all we can do is hold people to account when the sewage bubbles up.
On that score, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had no choice but to fire Barrett Murphy, the head of the Department of Water Management. Murphy may be more new school than old school, or so we’re told, but he was aware of the offensive emails and apparently did nothing about them.
The very way the emails were discovered by City Inspector General Joe Ferguson tells you something about the department’s continued hinky ways. Ferguson was investigating allegations that an employee was using his city email account to sell guns. Who uses the company email to sell guns?
And the employee in question was Paul Hansen, a son of former longtime Ald. Bernie Hansen.
Paul Hansen, as reporter Fran Spielman notes, has the kind of checkered past that once was common among a certain substrata of clout-protected city workers. Among the classic knocks against him — this really is old-school Chicago — is that he allegedly used political clout in 2010 to get his job back after a DUI conviction. Given that part of Hansen’s job was to drive around town to check on work sites, you might wonder about that.
But, then, this is the same Department of Water Management run 14 years ago by a deputy commissioner, Donald Tomczak, who went to prison for utterly ignoring all that Shakman stuff and doling out jobs, promotions and overtime to an army of political workers. It’s the same department at the center of the Sun-Times’ 2004 “Hired Trucks” investigation, in which we learned the city was hiring private truck companies with excellent political connections to do little or no work.
When Emanuel fired Barrett last week, he acknowledged that the Department of Water Management still has its issues. He said there should be a “reset button hit as it related to the culture.”
The good news is that the Department of Water Management, by anybody’s honest reckoning, is no longer the norm among city departments. It is more of a cultural zombie, popping back to life just when you thought it might be dead. Federal court orders, federal prosecutions and political evolutions, such as how local elections are funded and fought, have led to dramatic reforms.
Key to that progress has been the creation of an office of inspector general by many units of local governments, including Ferguson’s office for City Hall.
Even as the old ways die out, the best inspectors general remain on zombie patrol.