In a move that signals Chicago is making progress towards eliminating political corruption, a federal judge ruled Monday the city no longer needs to follow a decades-old rule which forbade officials from hiring or firing people based on politics.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier lifted the regulation in a historic ruling, saying the city has "achieved substantial compliance" with the decree, which was originally meant to reduce cronyism in City Hall.
The so-called Shakman Decree forbade city officials from taking politics into account when hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting city employees, with exceptions for policy-making positions that required political consistency with the mayor's office. The rule turned out to be a costly one to enforce -- Chicago has spent $22.8 million on oversight since four of former Mayor Richard M. Daley's top henchmen were charged with rigging city hiring to reward political supporters in 2005, according to the Chicago Tribune. Some of the Daley's top officials were eventually sent to prison over the scandal.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed Schenkier's decision.
"For decades, city jobs that were supposed to be awarded based on merit were instead based on political clout -- it was who you know instead of what you know," Emanuel said in a statement Monday. "After living under a cloud of mistrust for decades, you can be confident that your city government operates in a way that keeps your interests, and only your interests, first."
Emanuel is credited with taking the major steps to put the city in compliance the Shakman Decree by developing new hiring plans, cooperating with the city's internal hiring monitor and disciplining officials involved in the Daley administration's hiring scandal.
Attorney Michael Shakman, who originally filed the 1969 lawsuit that led to the rule, agreed with Schenkier that Chicago has come a long way towards eliminating political corruption -- but he added that Emanuel and his administration must be vigilant in the absence of judicial oversight.
"Just as credit goes to Mayor Emanuel for the accomplishment of his administration, he is also responsible for maintaining the positive direction in which the City is moving," Shakman wrote in a statement. "In the long term, Mayor Emanuel’s legacy will be evaluated based on what he accomplishes."