Mr. Clean Wasn’t

Seemingly out of the blue, Ald. Ed Smith has written to President Bush requesting not only that George Ryan’s sentence be commuted, but that former Ald. Larry Bloom be pardoned.

Of course, nothing just happens out of the blue in Chicago politics, so I’m sure there’s a backstory we’re not privy to yet. But let us now take a moment to remember Bloom’s crime, and ponder whether he, of all felons in Illinois, deserves forgiveness.

Bloom, you may recall, was stung in Operation Silver Shovel, having accepted $14,000 in bribes from FBI mole John Christopher. A lousy $14,000!

He pled guilty to a felony tax charge and served six months in the famed federal retreat in Oxford, Wisconsin, where he was probably laughed at by other Chicago pols for his meager haul. Bloom was released in 1999.

He shared a prison wing with three former aldermen, Virgil Jones, John Madrzyk and Jesse Evans; a former Water Reclamation Commissioner, Tom Fuller; and a former state representative, Bruce Farley. “We didn’t have a name for our wing, but we’d call `quorum’ every time we walked down the hall,” Bloom joked to Sneed after his release.

Hilarious, don’t you think?

If Bloom had been any other pol, it would have been easier to take. But Bloom’s real crime was to deepen the cynicism of our local political culture because he wasn’t just any other pol – he was Mr. Clean. From Hyde Park. An independent. A reformer.

“For 16 years, Lawrence S. Bloom built a reputation as a star member of one of this city’s smallest political clubs: the Squeaky Cleans,” Don Terry wrote in the New York Times upon the occasion of Bloom’s indictment.

“Bright and hard-working, he was one Chicago alderman the voters could trust not to rob them blind while they were in church christening their babies or at the cemetery burying their grandparents.”

Bloom was defiant at first.

“‘Do not rush to judgment,” Mr. Bloom urged the city, at a news conference shortly after the charges against him, including mail fraud, extortion and tax violations, were made public.

”’I was mugged,’ he said, ‘not by any petty thief or street tough, but by agents of my own Government, our Government’.”

Even after he was released from prison, in fact, he was defiant.

“The harm being done to (prisoners’) families because of their absence far outweighs any benefit to society,” he said then.

Nothing about the harm done to taxpayers and citizens. But then, there never is.

But Bloom wasn’t finished yet.

“Thanks to the careful crafting of the plea agreement, Bloom escaped a harsher prison sentence and a stiffer financial penalty,” the Sun-Times wrote at the time. “He pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 1995. Bloom admitted listing $9,000 as rental income when the money actually came from Christopher and other sources. In another document, however, Bloom also admitted taking $14,000 in bribes from Christopher. Nonetheless, Bloom still may be able to collect his city pension. State law bars the pension only if a municipal employee is convicted of a felony in connection with his public service.”

Bloom ended up taking the city to court over his pension. He lost.

Not that he’s doing badly.

Bloom says he didn’t ask Smith to request a pardon. And perhaps that’s true. But Smith must be playing some angle. I’m sure the idea didn’t just come out of the blue.

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