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Patronage Hiring Over in Chicago, Former Chief Critic Says

By Ted Cox | May 15, 2014 12:37pm | Updated on May 15, 2014 1:13pm
 Michael Shakman's patronage lawsuit against the city might finally be ending after 45 years in the courts.
Michael Shakman's patronage lawsuit against the city might finally be ending after 45 years in the courts.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox; Flickr/golf_pictures

CITY HALL — After 45 years, the city might finally be getting out from under a notorious lawsuit that limited patronage hirings.

A court filing Thursday by Michael Shakman, who filed the original lawsuit, acknowledged that the city was in "substantial compliance" with the so-called Shakman Decrees and called for a hearing to dismiss the case against the City of Chicago.

"The city has met the requirements of the 2007 court order," Shakman said Thursday, and the filing sets a June 16 court date to potentially dismiss the city as a defendant.

"That's what the city is seeking, and that's what we agreed to," Shakman added.

Asked if it was about time, after 45 years, Shakman said, "It's actually long past time. ... I'm happy to see the city got to this point, and that's great."

In a recent interview with DNAinfo Chicago, Shakman praised Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration and said the case with the city was heading for dismissal.

"Emanuel has pretty much cleaned up his act," Shakman said. "I don't think it's operating now as a patronage system."

"Since the first day of my administration, we have made it a priority to take politics out of the hiring process, professionalize city government and end the decades of practices that were a stain on our city," Emanuel responded Thursday in a statement.

"We are turning a page on the past to a future where the public knows that the city has a transparent and accountable system in place to ensure that city jobs will go to the candidate who is most qualified, not the most connected," the mayor said.

Shakman was a 25-year-old politico seeking a seat as an independent delegate to the state's 1970 constitutional convention when he sued the Cook County Democratic Party in 1969, accusing it of systematically handing out positions through illegal patronage. The lawsuit over political hiring eventually expanded to the city, Cook County and the state.

The parties eventually agreed to limit political hiring to a limited number of so-called Shakman-exempt positions, but the suit dragged on through the decades as the government agencies attempted to prove compliance, a process that cost governments millions of dollars in legal fees and other costs.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County have previously earned dismissal from the suit. Shakman said he expected the city suit to proceed toward dismissal this summer, and Thursday the first steps were taken toward that end.

"The county has a little further to go," Shakman said. "The assessor is an issue."