It's just my guess, but John Harris' guilty plea in federal court Wednesday is causing more ripples in Chicago's City Hall, especially on the fifth floor--that's the mayor's office--than it will in the halls of the state Capital.
Harris, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's chief of staff, pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud in exchange for his valuable cooperation in the U.S. attorney's prosecution of Blagojevich. No doubt he has many interesting stories to tell, but as a former insider in Mayor Richard M. Daley's, he might have even more interesting stories to tell about goings-on in Chicago's City Hall and O'Hare Airport.
As satisfying as it is for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to have Blagojevich in
crosshairs, Daley is the holy grail. And there's a small paragraph in
the Harris plea agreement that could spell trouble for Daley:
has consented to cooperate in any investigation he may be called upon
to assist, even beyond any light he might be able to shed on alleged
misdeeds in the Blagojevich administration.
Under Daley, Harris served as budget director, deputy police
superintendent and, most importantly, as first deputy aviation
commissioner in charge of contracts and runway expansion at O'Hare
Airport. The $16-billion-plus O'Hare Airport expansion is Daley's pot
of gold for contracts, jobs and assorted patronage The expansion is the
city's biggest public works project going, exceeding any other airport
expansion in the nation.
That things have been kinky at the airport has been the common
perception for years, and not without foundation. As the announcement
of Harris's appointment to the position said, he was
every aspect of implementing Mayor Daley's proposal, including design,
financing and construction." Harris is accused of no wrong-doing in
connection with his duties at O'Hare and in the city Aviation
Department, but if anyone was in a position to know of suspect activity
at O'Hare, Harris could have been in a position to know.
In February, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the feds were
investigating how five construction companies that received hundreds of
millions of dollars in construction work at O'Hare won the contracts.
The paper added:
The investigation appears to be an outgrowth of the probe
of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose fund-raiser Christopher G. Kelly
was a top roofing contractor at O'Hare. Kelly worked at O'Hare when
John Harris was a top city aviation official.
Is the noose tightening?