Chicago magazine’s Carol Felsenthal has a good article about how City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s bungling of this year’s city sticker design has deepened the estrangement between Mendoza and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
After Mendoza cancelled a 15-year-old high school student’s winning design, because bloggers on a police web site thought it depicted hands flashing gang signs, the mayor refused to defend her.
On a visceral level, the decision felt downright wrong. Both dailies editorialized against it—the Sun-Times writing of “the humiliation of a 15-year-old kid” and The Tribune editorial headline chiding, “In sticker shock, Mendoza choked: Her rush to judgment — and to political safety — cheated a 15-year-old boy.”
Mendoza even made Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList,” the CNN segment featuring the artist, Herbie Pulgar, wearing a Bulls jersey and weeping and saying he “…had nothing to do with no gangs.... I’m 15 years old and I live with my mom.”
Asked by reporters to comment on the controversy, Rahm said he had nothing to do with it.
Mendoza’s bungling and Emanuel’s “it’s not my job, boss” response make me wonder why city clerk is an elected position.
The last city clerk, Miguel del Valle, was in office when SecureMark, the vendor chosen to produce the city stickers, produced stickers whose adhesive wasn't sticky enough. More than 77,000 stickers were replaced after falling off windshields. Del Valle asked the city's procurement department, who set up the contract, to cancel SecureMark’s contract. While he didn't approve the contract, it still became an embarssament.
The city clerk has one ministerial duty that affects (almost) all Chicagoans: issuing a sticker. Her name is listed on the sticker, alongside the mayor’s. (They also act as the keeper of city records.) Yet the last two clerks have fallen down on the job. The first problem with the clerk’s office is that no one really wants to be city clerk. The clerks see it as a stepping stone office -- “Maybe someday I’d like to run for something else,“ Mendoza told Felsenthal. Del Valle, of course, wanted to be mayor. But no city clerk has ever gone anywhere but prison. Walter Kozubowski was sentenced to five years in federal prison for ghost payrolling. His successor, Jim Laski, got two years for bribery.
(The Secretary of State’s office has the same problem. Before Jesse White made his bizarre promise not to run for higher office, and even more bizarrely kept it, the job was occupied by governors-in-waiting Michael Howlett, Jim Edgar and George Ryan.)
Kozubowski was a protégé of Ald. Edward Burke. So is Mendoza. That’s another drawback of keeping the job political. We’d be better off appointing a competent bureaucrat to the post. That way, the mayor would have to take responsibility for the sticker. If he did, it might be done right.
*This opinion blog has been updated. A previous version misstated Miguel del Valle's role in the SecureMark adhesive problem. Del Valle did not approve the contract, that was the city's procurement department. We regret the error.
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