Not that long ago, Issac “Ike” Carothers, the former 29th Ward alderman who was convicted of accepting bribes, was persona-non-grata among Chicago's political establishment.
Today, at least a few people are willing to forgive and forget.
As reported Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune, Carothers is seeking a political comeback after being convicted of bribery and serving a couple of years in a federal prison. Barred from seeking a seat on the City Council, Carothers has instead set his sights on the Cook County Board.
In almost any other city, Carothers’ plan would be seen as an example of almost unbelievable hubris. After years of running his West Side ward as a personal fiefdom, often voting against the best interests of his own ward and being seen by many of his Council colleagues as a bully, Carothers was convicted of accepting $40,000 in home improvements for backing a controversial project in his 29th Ward.
Even worse by Chicago political standards, Carothers shocked many by agreeing to help federal investigators by wearing a wire and recording his fellow politicians for more than a year. Once news broke Carothers had turned on his colleagues, many in the political establishment couldn't run fast enough from him.
But today, like every good political redemption story in Chicago, Carothers is asking that the political establishment—not to mention voters in his old stomping grounds—wipe the slate clean and start all over again.
The Tribune reports Carothers went to at least three current elected officials, including Earlean Collins, whose County Board seat Carothers he covets, and Ald. Deborah Graham, who succeed him in the City Council. To their credit, both turned down his request for an endorsements. Nevertheless, at least one politician, 19th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts, is willing to stand by him in his latest time of need.
The sad reality is that in large parts of this town, few things short of murder will get a politician truly banished for life from ever entering politics again, and perhaps even a murder rap might be negotiable. This city loves itself some larger-than-life political operators, and seems more than willing time and time again to at least consider dancing one more time with convicted politicians or those under investigation for any manner of wrongdoing.
Just ask Jesse Jackson, Jr., Mel Reynolds, Rod Blagojevich, Ambrosio Medrano and who knows how many others who ran for office after a conviction or while under investigation.
Carothers’ latest gambit suggests less a story of rehabilitation and more of a sense of entitlement and a willingness in this town to turn at least a blind eye to corruption. The fact that he can even get a hearing with anyone over a potential political comeback instead of finding doors slammed in his face shows just how much we’ve come to accept the idea that taking a bribe while in office isn’t a political death sentence, but merely a mistake that almost anyone can make.
Because in this town, just give it a couple of years. No matter what, some of us are sure to forgive and forget.