Bodyguards for Chicago Officials Ire Taxpayers
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. Last week Chicago City Clerk Jim Laski (ph) was indicted on bribery and corruption charges. And he was, the Chicago Police pulled the four bodyguards assigned to him. Well that news has many Chicago taxpayers wondering why the clerk, whose office handles nothing more controversial than dog tags and parking permits had bodyguards in the first place.
NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER, reporting:
Chicago Police won't say how many officers are assigned to bodyguard duty nor which officials they protect. A spokeswoman said such details could compromise security. But until about a week ago, full-time bodyguards had been assigned to Chicago's three city-wide elected officials. Mayor Richard Daley, Clerk Laski and the city treasurer. In addition, the city council finance committee chairman has bodyguards as does former mayor Eugene Sawyer, whose been out of office for 17 years. When asked why all these officials are protected at taxpayers' expense, Mayor Daley suggested it's just the way it's always been.
Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): Or there's been a few assigned to them uh, over the number of years. And uh, appropriately.
Mr. JAY STEWART (Better Government Association): That doesn't exactly sound like a real, real thorough policy to me.
SCHAPER: Jay Stewart is executive director of the Chicago-based Better Government Association.
Mr. STEWART: That sounds like it's a perk, it's a prestige matter. It's an evidence of clout and uh, whether it's necessary or not, it's irrelevant.
SCHAPER: Stewart says this and past bodyguard controversy stem from a political culture in which politicians feel entitled to such perks. But at least one high-ranking Illinois politician turned down a security detail and he drives himself to work.
Lt. Governor PATRICK QUINN (Illinois): Okay I'm going to get out here. This is the basement.
SCHAPER: Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn gets out of his modest Ford Taurus in the basement parking garage of state government's downtown Chicago office building. He heads up the stairs to the concourse level's food court and sits down with a cup of tea. Quinn is a self-styled populist Democrat and former state treasure who criticizes taxpayer funded bodyguards for elected officials.
Mr. QUINN: Well it's ridiculous. Four bodyguards for the city clerk. About the only threat that a city clerk or a city treasurer, or state treasurer might encounter would be a threat from a paper cut and it's really a waste of money.
SCHAPER: Quinn says legitimate threats notwithstanding, bodyguards are nothing more than expensive chauffeurs and valets. And he says Chicago and Illinois are not alone in this regard.
QUINN: I have gone to lieutenant governors' gatherings and that some of my colleague lieutenant governors do have security. And it's somewhat humorous at these gatherings you have all the security guys sort of looking at each other.
SCHAPER: NPR surveyed several of the nation's biggest cities and found most provide police bodyguards for their mayors, but only a few provide full time security for other officials unless there was a specific threat. The exception is New York, which provides security for the mayor, the police commissioner, the speaker of the city council, borough presidents and others, a police spokesman says, who are considered at risk. Even some smaller communities provide security to elected officials and sometimes catch flack for it.
The mayor of Chula Vista, California two weeks ago canceled a 10 thousand dollar a month contract for his bodyguard after being accused of wasting money and being paranoid. The mayor of the city of two hundred thousand said while his life hadn't been threatened, he received menacing letters and emails.
Ms. MONIQUE BOND (Chicago Police Spokeswoman): Believe it or not, there are many officials who do receive threats on a daily basis.
SCHAPER: That's Chicago Police Spokeswoman Monique Bond who says the department is constantly reviewing such threats to gauge how serious they are and adjusting security details accordingly. She said the department is also reviewing its policies regarding which public officials really need full-time bodyguards.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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