Dan Proft: This is Dan Proft coming to from the Sky Line Club atop the Old Republic Building in downtown Chicago for another edition Against the Current. My guest on this edition is Faisal Khan, a former New York City Inspector General, city of Chicago legislative Inspector General, now the president and CEO of an organization called Project 6 which we’ll learn about on this episode. Faisal Khan, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
Faisal Khan: Thank you for having me.
Dan Proft: Why don’t we start before we get to Project 6 and what you're doing currently, let's start with how you came to Chicago because there’s such a New York Chicago deal here, right? Maybe a little bit of an inferiority complex but a lot of the political class as well as people in general kind of measure Chicago by New York in many respects and so as someone who spent a good amount of time working for multiple mayors essentially trying to enforce ethical conduct with the politicians in New York City, can you tell us a little bit about that experience and compare that to your experience four years as the Legislative Inspector General over at the fifth floor.
Faisal Khan: Yeah, I'm not going to pander but I do love the city of Chicago. I love everything about Chicago. I love the atmosphere, the culture, the people, there are wonderful things here that I'm now a part of and I've been a part for the last six years by living here as, and being a resident and citizen of this city. But when we talk about what you just mentioned and when we talk about the politics and we talk about the ethics and we talk about the lack of ethics, unfortunately Chicago still is way behind New York City in that area and it's incredibly disappointing considering the one thing probably that I do agree with the mayor on is that Chicago can be a world-class city in so many ways but we are unfortunately severely lacking in the ethical oversight department here. I can tell you that from experience like you said both from New York City, being a prosecutor in New York City, being Inspector General New York City and now working in this city for the last five years.
Dan Proft: Tell us a little bit about that because that may be a statement that most people would say that doesn't surprise me except the recent news. In the last year and a half or so you've seen some incredible developments in New York, you know, New York City, New York state kind of controlled by New York City the same way Chicago controls Illinois politically speaking and you saw the Democrat House Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Democrat Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos both be prosecuted by federal authorities for corruption, both on their way to prison so you see two legislative leaders in New York state go down and of course Chicagoans are saying well, why can't that be us? We'd love to see our legislative leaders imprisoned too. More to the point is so there actually is corruption in New York at the highest levels. It’s being prosecuted but here back in Chicago, it seems like there's this culture of corruption that rises up to the highest levels and there's a lack of prosecution.
Faisal Khan: Well, I can tell you that as former Legislative Inspector General, my role was to deal with the city aldermen and to oversee that body and certainly there are levels of corruption within that body that needed to be investigated and I did investigate and we took those investigations and we passed them onto the US Attorney's Office and other law enforcement agencies and hopefully we'll see the fruition of our work soon. There are a lot of similarities, Dan, between New York and Chicago as you just noted and Illinois, I'm sorry, you know, similar party structure, similar issues, similar patterns that we see and I think as I was saying to you earlier before we started, it was simply that comfort breeds longevity and longevity breeds arrogance, arrogance breeds contempt which leads into corruption. Whether it takes a year, five years, ten years, eventually it will catch up with you and so I think you saw that happened in New York with Mr Silver and some of his other elected cronies. These are people who had been in office for so long, used that comfort to their benefit and to their arrogance and that led into the contempt for the system that led to corruption of the system and those individuals taking for themselves whatever they wanted to.
Dan Proft: Certainly, we've seen that here obviously with governors going to jail. We've seen it here at the city council level in Chicago with 30 in the last 35 years that have gone to jail but I think the thing that sticks in people's craws is they say okay, fine. You know, these prosecutors, they get the idiot alderman who takes $500 in an envelope over a lunch counter, right? The poor criminal and they don't get the guys that seem to be walking conflicts of interest with security details and $8 million campaign funds, not mentioning any names, Ed Burke, and other politicians who also seem to be inherently conflicted, Mike Madigan writing property tax law while practicing property tax appeals, that have lorded over the city and the state for decades. To me, that's the frustration. It’s easy to pick off the low-hanging fruit but we're not getting to the top of the corruption pyramid as it were.
Faisal Khan: I completely agree with you. There's two trains of thought to that, right? There’s broken window theory of you take down every corruption, any corruption you can find so the guy taking that $500 envelope is a good start and you keep building, building, building and I don't have a problem with that also. But at the same time we do have to look at the bigger fish so to speak and realize where the problems start and what we can do about that. There's a disconnect between asking the right questions I think in this city and that is why does an alderman need an $8 million war chest? Why for someone who's holding a local position need those kind of resources to get reelected or…?
Dan Proft: And why are people giving at that level.
Faisal Khan: And why are people giving and who is giving at that level? Are we talking about you and me as residents of the city of Chicago? Are we talking about corporations? Are we talking about businesses who are trying to do business here in the city of Chicago and are recipients of contracts that come out of the city? Remember aldermen control every dollar that comes in and out of the city of Chicago. Every single dollar they sign off on, whether it's settlements in police cases, whether its contracts being given out, whether it's your taxes that we've talked about, whether it's penalties and fines, all of that money is controlled by them. So that's a great deal of power that they wheeled and so they simply has not been enough spotlight on these individuals not just in Chicago, Dan, but also at the state level. Also thinking about all the money that goes that way also.
Dan Proft: Well, just doing comparative political systems, and this has been mentioned before that New York despite having three times the population of Chicago has fewer aldermen and the New York aldermanic or mayor aldermanic, mayor, city council system operates differently than Chicago. Is that part and parcel of the difference at least somewhat different political cultures?
Faisal Khan: Incredibly so. I've often said that and I speak of Chicago this way that knowing what we know, Chicago is the third-biggest metropolis in this country behind New York and LA yet it’s run like the Wild West. I never would have envisioned what I've learned in the last four years. I never would’ve predicted this. I couldn't have.
Dan Proft: It’s like a kleptocracy, like a South American kleptocracy.
Faisal Khan: It’s something out of a novel. It’s something out of a movie that I thought I would see that this is what goes on here in Chicago. This is how our elected officials act with impunity and go about mining their own pockets or doing business that benefits themselves rather than their constituents.
Dan Proft: That’s a pretty strong statement coming from somebody from New Jersey and New York. I mean it's not like you were out there in Mayberry. You didn’t come here, you know, kind of with the scales over your eyes.
Faisal Khan: I was not wearing any rose-tinted glasses when I got to Chicago. In fact, leaving New York I saw the problems in New York and I thought that's going to be as bad as it gets and I was very much mistaken.
Dan Proft: Were you recruited by Emanuel to come here or how did you make your way here?
Faisal Khan: I actually came to Chicago before the Legislative Inspector General job was officially posted. It was actually held in abeyance for years, council delayed, delayed, delayed until they finally got forced to hire someone. So when I came here, I came here under different reasons to be a lawyer and do something different and with my employment history, I thought I fit well into this position and that's how I became the Inspector General.
Dan Proft: Going back to the system, so in New York I'm sensing and I don't know the particulars
certainly like you do, they don't have the feudal system that we have in Chicago and that turns out to make a big difference.
Faisal Khan: I think it's the ultimate difference. I think it's not just the big difference. I think like you noted it's a population three times, more than three times the size I think at this point now and we're talking about half the size of the body of aldermen. In New York the councilmen they do what their job description describes and that's legislate. They come, get together as a body, they come up with ideas, they come up with ways to improve the city, they're not looking out for their one particular neighborhood where they live, they’re looking out for everyone in New York. I'm not implying that the system is perfect. There are plenty of bad apples that have come through New York unfortunately too which we all know about but certainly there's enough oversight and scrutiny of that body to make sure that that is marginalized and minimized as much as possible. Now look at Chicago. We’ve got 50 fiefdoms here. We’ve got 50 little cities within one major city. If I need a car sticker, I'm going to my alderman. If I need a garbage can, I'm going to my alderman. If I need to put a business sign up, I'm going to my alderman. If I need an extension on my house, I'm going to my alderman.
Dan Proft: And the now if I want to rent my house out on Airbnb or some other share economy site then I have to go to my alderman.
Faisal Khan: Everything is slowly being controlled by your alderman and what I saw as Legislative Inspector General a number of complaints that came in was about that. About this objective process of an individual like me as a citizen going to my alderman and either being asked when the last time I contributed to you was or whether there was just a personality conflict. Now here I am wanting to improve my business, wanting to improve my personal life, my home, my job and I've got someone who simply just doesn't like me and that's the easiest case, right? That's the word and now I can get what I need and so I can’t go to the city who I do pay my centralized taxes to who are supposed to handle buildings and permits and everything else that we just talked about but won't process my application because your alderman hasn't signed off on it which is not required by law.
Dan Proft: It’s cultural and then it goes back to what you were saying where you said before about the continuum. Arrogance, contempt, corruption.
Faisal Khan: Exactly and so when I walk in and an alderman suggests or his chief of staff asks me when the last time I contributed was, I should have my checkbook on me because that's ultimately what happens a number of different times and I again I'm not painting all aldermen with the same brush. There are many, many good people in this city who want to do good for their constituents but as you noted and I can tell you 31 over 30 years have gone to jail. Clearly there's a pattern and it's the pattern of arrogance, contempt, corruption and until somebody stands up and says enough is enough, something has to change, nothing will change. There is a culture of apathy that I want to change in Chicago. There's a culture where I want people to get outraged again and say enough is enough. They have to understand that corruption on the south side effects them on the north side. That somebody lining his pockets over there means your taxes are going up here. A bad contract given out to somebody on the west side means again money coming out of your pocket. Anything that goes wrong in the city, Dan, affects each and every citizen even though they don't see the connection. So my job at Project 6 is going to be able to show that connection to these people. That’s how I want to do this because I'm under no illusion here. I will not make any change in Chicago because if it hasn't been done already in the last 60 or 70 years by people far stronger than me who am I to I have enough humility to understand what I can and cannot accomplish.
Dan Proft: Well, as you kind of intimate, you can't do it without majority will so a couple million people need to decide that they want to have to change direction.
Faisal Khan: And not just the majority. Well, yes, it's the constituents. It’s people like you. It’s people like the media saying nope. There is no gray area anymore. It’s black and white. There is a rule. Follow the rule or deal with the consequences of the rule. One of my biggest frustrations as Inspector General in Chicago was that even though we would cite an alderman for doing something wrong, the often time response would be well, was that really a big deal?
Dan Proft: Right. I can see the point that it's a violation but it's not a big deal.
Faisal Khan: Right. That inherently is part of the problem. When you rank violations as to no big deal to serious big deal, we've lost already.
Dan Proft: Right. Probably a good indication we shouldn’t allow the aldermen to self-police. I suppose though you must’ve done such a great job of turning this thing around because your position at City Hall was eliminated. Right? You were no longer needed because everything’s square. Isn’t that how it went down?
Faisal Khan: I’d like to think that. I'd like to think that but unfortunately I'm smart enough to know the reality of it. As Inspector General when I have to go to the very body that I oversee and tell them they're under investigation because they wrote the law that says if I start an investigation against an alderman, I have to tell him or her she's under investigation and then at the same time ask them for an increase in budget or an increase in resources. We are doomed from day one.
Dan Proft: Can you get me more money so I can further my investigation of you? Right. Why would they not say yes?
Faisal Khan: Of course.
Dan Proft: Of course. Sure. No conflict there.
Faisal Khan: We had the second-lowest budget. No, I can officially say we had the lowest budget of any full-time agency in Chicago. We had $350,000 to run an investigative agency. To put that in perspective they spent more money on weed whacking in the south side per year than they did on an oversight agency of a body where 31 members went to jail in over 30 years.
Dan Proft: Was the problem that you didn't get what they were doing, that this was supposed to be window dressing, not a serious thing and you took it to be a serious thing and so you weren't getting what they were laying down?
Faisal Khan: I think there was some naivety on my part but when I took the job, Dan, when I sat down with some of the alderman that interviewed me, I said if you're looking for someone to collect a paycheck and go sit in the corner and keep himself busy, I'm not your guy. You see my resume. You see what I've done for the last 15 years of my career be it a police investigator for misconduct, be it a prosecutor, be it an Inspector General in New York City arguably the biggest and craziest city in the world. I'm not here to collect a paycheck. I could be at a law firm. I could be doing something much easier to collect a paycheck.
Dan Proft: And you came with the imprimatur of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations.
Faisal Khan: Yeah, who were very aggressive in cleaning up New York. For better or worse we can argue about that sometime but both had a similar mandate in ending corruption and problems in New York City in many different ways and I don't speak in an arrogant way about this, Dan. I don't want to give that impression that I was something special coming into Chicago. Simply that I was not going to take a paycheck and not do my job which is as it was laid out to me.
Dan Proft: What happened here because what we were told and what many, not myself, but many Chicagoans bought is Rahm Emanuel, when he came to town in 2011, he was Gary Cooper at high noon. He's rounding up a posse. It's going to be different than the daily decades and he's going to make the hard decisions. He's going to chart a different course. He’s going to change the political culture. Now five years in, we all recognize that none of that was true but what was it like to actually work in the administration and deal with the mayor in addition to the members of city council?
Faisal Khan: I don't know the mayor personally so I don't know what kind of man he is. I can only tell you from a professional standpoint that his leadership has been incredibly disappointing when it comes to ethics reform here in Chicago. Simple as that. I reached out to him numerous times over my four-year tenure and got radio silence. Back I brought him problems that I knew I couldn't address with city council and I needed him to lead, I needed him to intervene in the process and fix the problems. To me and to many of my colleagues, these were clear-cut issues that I don't think anyone would have argued about. I don't think ethics oversight is a partisan issue. I don't think I've ever seen a Democrat or Republican or anyone else in office stand up and say I'm not for good government and I'm not for cleaning up a system.
Dan Proft: No, they don't stand up. They whisper it in the back of the room.
Faisal Khan: Maybe so. But the fact that I got radio silence of four years from this administration spoke volumes, spoke louder than anything else and illustrated to me that unfortunately the words that were spoken by the mayor about ethics reform was just empty rhetoric. Because every opportunity the mayor had to in fact strengthen ethics oversight here in Chicago, it went the other direction. It weakened every single time. The ethics ordinance if you look at it, if you look at the changes that have gone through in the last three or four years it has been considerably weakened, weakened¸ weakened and bended more to the aldermen's where it's literally, it is a free-for-all.
Dan Proft: Is it fair to say that Rahm Emanuel was complicit in the alderman essentially trying to slow walk your agency out of existence because I mean I read accounts and this was kind of on your way out the door, where you were personally financing the operation of your office because nobody would get back to you about your budget for the forthcoming fiscal year?
Faisal Khan: We knew for a fact that our budget would expire by June of 2015, oh, sorry, June ’14, every year we knew that we could only run our term - we were a staff of maybe six or seven people, Dan, for an agency that - they envisioned we would take three or four complaints a year. By my second year, we were over 120 complaints a year against aldermen. People were coming out the woodwork to tell us about the problems they were having the city council. So we knew that we simply could not sustain the pace that we needed to sustain in order to be successful. So we knew that we needed staffing desperately, we needed bodies and we knew that even with the bodies, we would run out of a budget by June. We did. We ran out of budget by June and I had been deferring my salary up to that point as slow as I could in order to keep the agency going and try to spread the money out a little bit. So by June we had run out of the money and I had my salary left to either - to what to do with it. Take it for myself and close the office or defer the money to my staff, continue paying them because they were making much less than I was and keep the office open because we felt it was incredibly important and I made the latter decision. The office had to stay open. Alderman wanted me to close that door. City council want me to close that door. The mayor wanted me to close that door because he has his own agenda and I simply would not give in to that. I simply would not allow an agency as important as ours that had never existed before, never existed, and I knew was never going to exist again. I knew that. I knew that there would never be a Legislative Inspector General's office again. There was just no in that because I think I'd done what I was supposed to and they hated that idea. It was a clear choice to me. You know, as much as I needed salary too and to keep paying bills and doing what I needed, I wanted to keep the office open. I needed to keep these investigations going and I needed to keep the heat on the aldermen to make sure that they were doing what they're supposed to be doing.
Dan Proft: But ultimately the doors closed?
Faisal Khan: Ultimately, the doors still closed. My term ran out in November 2015 and that was the end and even though the mayor kept promising over and over and over again that it would never happen, the power transfer immediately, there’d be someone else running that. Never, never happened. It happened three to six months later when finally some of my power transferred to the Inspector General's office still with a great deal of limitations so again they weakened the ordinance and essentially there is no oversight.
Dan Proft: So those complaints that you were getting, you know 120 a year or more, that was the beginning. Some of the alderman had said, well, you were going on fishing expeditions. You know, they were unsubstantiated complaint or they were complaints that weren’t of a serious level and it made it appear that there was more to investigate than there really was. How do you respond to that?
Faisal Khan: That is a perfect example of why the system was so rigged. Aldermen knew and they knew because they wrote the law this way that I can't speak publicly about any investigation ever. I can’t confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. I can’t tell you that aldermen so and so was taking money from rom this person. I can't tell you which one is under investigation. I can’t tell you what they're under investigation for. So any alderman can go out there, Dan, stand up and make these statements like the one you just recited to me and they know that I will not stand up and repudiate that or refute it in anyway because I can't by law. So they set the system up in such a way that they can sit up and badmouth the Inspector General as much as they want knowing that I will never respond because by law I cannot.
Dan Proft: Yeah, but now what about, I mean in terms of the outcomes of any investigations over four years, were there…?
Faisal Khan: Even then I can’t talk about them publicly because our investigations are confidential. They went from me to the Board of Ethics. The Board of Ethics is under the same boundaries that I am. They cannot talk publicly. They can't even if they substantiate an allegation against an alderman or an elected official, Dan, they cannot publicly publish that alderman’s name. You will never know who was investigated. You will never know…
Dan Proft: Unless it’s referred for a prosecution or some other adjudicative.
Faisal Khan: Unless it gets public that way. Yep. You will never know. And the mayor had many opportunities to do something about it, did nothing about it and council certainly did nothing about it since they're the ones who designed the system in the first place. So that is the beauty of this conversation is that they knew that I would never respond to any of their accusations so they stood up and made as many accusations as they wanted. And this is not sour grapes here that I'm talking to you about. This is my frustrations coming forward and that's why Project 6 exists now. because we're no longer under those boundaries. That campaign finance investigation we just completed, where over 37 out of 50 alderman took illegal campaign contributions in 2015. We named names. We named where they got the donations from, how much they got it for, what legislation that that money was tied to or what vendor it was tied to lobbyists it was tied to, we can name names now finally. And that's exactly what I did and if you've seen any of the backlash to the report, they love to insult me personally, they insult my organization but no one's actually talking about the substance of the report. No one's actually refuting any of the allegations.
Dan Proft: Well, you know as a lawyer, when the facts aren’t with you, attack your opponent.
Faisal Khan: That's the Chicago way.
Dan Proft: Well, yes and some have perfected it better than others.
Faisal Khan: I agree.
Dan Proft: Now when your office closed, when the Legislature Inspector General's office closed in the city, you did something else that was interesting and noteworthy. You whistled in the FBI to take your files because apparently you believe there was criminal wrongdoing that the FBI should pick up the ball and run with. I'm putting words in your mouth but I think that's a fair interpretation and the question is is that something that you believe, number one, and number two, do you expect to see some of the work that you did, the legwork you did, come to fruition in federal criminal prosecutions of sitting office holders in the near term?
Faisal Khan: The short answer is yes. The short answer is we worked with law enforcement including the FBI and a number of different organizations in advancement of our investigations, criminal and otherwise. And so once we knew that…
Dan Proft: So when will Rahm Emanuel be arrested?
Faisal Khan: Once we knew that the doors were going to close, once we knew there was no turning back, once we knew that we weren't getting response from the mayor's office or any member of council, we knew that the end was near, that the sword of Damocles is going to drop. We had to make a decision and that decision was we have to protect the integrity of our investigations because the first thing that would’ve happened once I stepped out of that office with my staff, there’d be 15 aldermen lining up to get in the door to look through our files and look through our computers to see what exactly we were working on and what we knew about who we knew and what and when.
Dan Proft: It was important I mean as an officer of the court to preserve chain of custody.
Faisal Khan: It's not just chain of custody. It’s to preserve the integrity of every investigation that we were undergoing and it was also my duty and mandate to the complainants. These people finally had the courage to come forward – understand, Dan, that it wasn't like you and I could, you know, we can pick up the phone and called 911 tomorrow and say I think there's an alderman taking a bribe in an alleyway and sure, there’s a chance to cops will come out or something will happen. I couldn’t do that as Legislative Inspector General. If you wanted to file a complaint against alderman, you had to come in. You had to swear to your complaint under penalty of perjury. You had to sign your name to a document, your full name and address and eventually I had to turn that information over to the aldermen and so I can't even explain to you the chilling effect that that had on people who wanted to come in to file a complaint against an alderman. It's not like filing a complaint against a state elected official. Someone you never see or ever deal with or even a police officer because a police also deals with thousands of people and he's not going to, chances are he’s not going to remember you. Aldermen, I don't have to give the person's name to an alderman. They will recognize the fact pattern. Oh, that’s Joe Johnson who came in looking for this. These people knew that they were going to get retaliated against. And Chicago's history speaks to that. You know I think there is a perfect a reasonable belief that you will be retaliated against should you take on the system. And so these people, the ones that did come forward, these 120 people a year, who had the courage still to come forward, it was my obligation to protect them in any way I could because once they knew we were shutting down, panic set in as to was going to happen.
Dan Proft: Well, sure. I mean I got into a Twitter war with my alderman and I am not allowed to go to Boss Bar anymore where he drinks.
Faisal Khan: The power of the alderman.
Dan Proft: But seriously, in terms of that it’s so interesting to me thinking about this and the whole controversy over Chicago police and police brutality issues. So on the one hand the alderman say you have to sign this affidavit under penalty of perjury like you described and on the other hand the same aldermen are saying with respect to police officers, no, no, no. We should have anonymous complaints. That should be fine. That's part of the whole Lori Lightfoot reform proposal. So here again you have political elites putting themselves above the standard of review as it pertains to even law enforcement.
Faisal Khan: The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. It's absolutely mind-blowing. I don't know how else to describe it and I don't know how there isn’t a greater outrage about this. That not only did the aldermen shut down my office, an oversight agency of themselves that they mandated that no anonymous complaint can come in against an alderman and they came up with a myriad of improper excuses, superficial excuses for that yet they encourage complaints against police officers to come from any source anywhere. And I'm not in impugning the integrity of those complaints. I'm simply saying…
Dan Proft: The standard.
Faisal Khan: …what's good for the goose should be good for the gander. And it's again the history of Chicago where the aldermen or other elected officials in Illinois simply place themselves above the law.
Dan Proft: And also the history of Chicago the problem with that, right? So I mean this is the Chicago Tribune famously opining when former fifth ward Alderman Hyde from Hyde Park Larry Bloom got pinched and went to prison. You know in Chicago even the reformers are on the take. Right? And so nothing has materially changed because you don't have the accountability mechanisms in place and when they want to present kind of a facade of an accountability mechanism, if somebody takes that seriously, then that somebody's ushered out the door.
Faisal Khan: Ethics has got weaker. Something has changed with the aldermen in charge and this mayor re doing nothing about it. Ethics oversight it's got weaker and weaker and weaker and it continues to go down that path and that's why we started Project 6. Because there is such a significant void in the city of trust between the citizens and its government.
Dan Proft: So tell me about Project 6 because this is a reference to the secret six from the Capone era. So the genesis of the name and then you know kind of the continuation about the work that you started at city hall.
Faisal Khan: So my term ended as Inspector General and I thought about what I wanted to do. I think Alderman Joe Moore offered to buy me a ticket out of town.
Dan Proft: That’s generous of him.
Faisal Khan: It was.
Dan Proft: He’s a bit of a spendthrift so a nice offering.
Faisal Khan: He is and he tends to take taxpayer money anyway so I thought…
Dan Proft: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, right. I would’ve actually been buying you a ticket out of town.
Faisal Khan: So the choice is clear. It was either let's call it a day and the proverbial tail between your legs and leave or stick around and I'm honest with you, I had a bad taste in my mouth. This is not the way it's supposed to go and whether it's my own arrogance coming through or my own frustration, whatever you describe it as, I simply was not going to leave Chicago in a worse place than when I found it and that might be again incredibly naive and arrogant of me but I couldn't do it and the people that I talk to in that time between starting Project 6 and ending as Legislative Inspector General was that same message, that they didn't want that either. They wanted to see the improvements. There are complainants who filed complaints who are such ardent supporters of us and they did not want to see this end. They did not want oversight to be buried yet again in Chicago.
Dan Proft: So you're kind of a last to the mast kind of guy. I mean I like it because look I've been here for 24 years in the political arena and you know, I should be playing golf in Arizona like my neurology doctor friends at this point in my life. You know, it's one of those things – I don't know if, have you ever seen the movie Office Space?
Faisal Khan: Yeah.
Dan Proft: Yeah, so Michael Bolton? And Michael says well if you hate your name so much, why don't you change it? And he said well, I didn't have any problem with my name until that assclown started selling millions of records. He should change his name. He's the one who sucks. Well, I feel the same way about these people here across the partisan divide by the way because of course you've got a lot of Republicans that are corrupt and just as bad as any of the Democrats in charge. But why should I leave? I love Chicago. They're the ones who suck. They should leave.
Faisal Khan: Well, I’m also kind of like the guy got moved into the basement, right? Because they kept pushing me away, taking my stapler, I’m that guy. I got my desk moved into the basement.
Dan Proft: What’s happening? What’s happening, Faisal?
Faisal Khan: Yeah, and I did it the polite way for the longest time and I’m like, okay, I can work with you,
okay, I can work with you until they finally turned the lights out on me which is exactly what happened. They cut off the paychecks and then he came back and burned the building down. And that's not what I'm doing.
Dan Proft: No.
Faisal Khan: But proverbially I wish I can because that is what Project 6 wants to do. Is to fix the system here in Chicago, that we start fresh and we rebuild this and we do it the right way.
Dan Proft: So are you kind of essentially, is this going like a shadow Inspector General's office where you're soliciting complaints, anonymous tips and then you're investigating them? You don't have administrative subpoena power anymore like you did at the actual Legislative Inspector General's office but you still have people that are experienced and can track down these matters or what's the kind of angle of incidence to prepare information that you can level up?
Faisal Khan: I think your analysis is somewhat correct. I wouldn't necessarily say we're a shadow of the OIG. There's a great deal of limitations that the OIG has that we don't have in terms of the same rules that I had problems with, they’re still in place over there and there are a great deal limitations that the Inspector General's office needs to go through. What I think is going on in Chicago, Dan, is that there's an inherent distrust of government by the citizens.
Dan Proft: Yes, well founded.
Faisal Khan: Well founded and under many circumstances. Even the OIG's office. I think you can see that in the media. You've seen it and commentary and so we see it in a protest on our streets. We see it on so many different levels and there's a void which is what I was talking about earlier and I want to fill that void. I want people to be able to come forward and know that they're going to be protected, that we're going to do our best to protect them, that we're not under the same obligations, that I'm not turning over my investigative files on aldermen because I have to. I'm not giving up their names because I'm a government entity and I have to. I’m no longer a government entity. We're here to fight for the citizens of Chicago and I don't mean to sound corny or clichéd but we're doing something that's never been done before and there's other organizations out there, Dan like BGA and Civic Fed.
Dan Proft: Yeah, yeah. But not so investigative like what you’re talking about.
Faisal Khan: They're more policy-driven I would say and we're more investigative-driven. We are corruption seekers and corruption busters. We are we are looking to identify the real problems here in Chicago and take immediate action.
Dan Proft: So many of us walk and talk about these things in abstraction. What we’re talking about is look, I go to my alderman, I'm trying to open a restaurant in X ward and I say hey, I got to come see you because I need a liquor license for this Chinese restaurant I'm trying to open and the alderman says, no problem, that's X amount of dollars to get the license through Department of Revenue and it's $5,000 the campaign contribution to me. You want to hear from that guy that's getting shaken down.
Faisal Khan: I want him to walk out, pick up the phone, call Project 6 at that moment. I'll have an investigator available to talk to him and then we will take it from there. I want that conversation immediately. They can contact us on Facebook at Facebook/secretsix. They can go to our website thesecretsix.com. They can Tweet at us. They can find us. We are everywhere. We plan to be everywhere. We want to handle those problems because enough is enough in this city. People are sick and tired. Part of the problem, Dan, is that Chicagoans don't know what real government is supposed to be like. They haven't seen...
Dan Proft: Nobody's lived long enough to see it.
Faisal Khan: That's not meant to be condescending or insulting. It is simply that they've accepted the system the way it is.
Dan Proft: Did you ever read Gus Russo's book The Outfit?
Faisal Khan: Yeah.
Dan Proft: Yeah. I mean that goes all the way back to the incorporation of the city which was kind of a corrupt deal in and of itself.
Faisal Khan: If a New Yorker walked into his alderman’s office and had that conversation that you just described, I think New Yorker would reach over and punch the guy in the face or something else will come out of it. To give you an example, in New York just happened maybe four or five months ago in the winter, the Fire Commissioner used his own firemen to dig his driveway clean for him. Both newspapers called for his immediate termination from his employment. We see far worse going on in the city, far worse and yet unfortunately there are not enough calls for the ending of the abusive practices that go on here because again it's like…
Dan Proft: What about the proactive stuff because you've got all these various arms of government and you've got areas that have been replete with patronage you know everybody's idiot cousin gets a job at O'Hare or at the park district. What about actually looking at institutions that are notoriously, infamously corrupt and zeroing in on them?
Faisal Khan: Fantastic. We’re looking at anything and everything. We are initiating our own investigations. We are taking tips from citizens. I want as many whistleblowers to come forward as humanly possible. I genuinely believe that people are in situations they don't want to be in, don't feel comfortable in and/or know of people who are getting jobs and promotions above them that they shouldn’t be getting just because like you said somebody's nephew needs an internship, somebody's niece needs a job and somebody knows the mayor or knows somebody who knows somebody and here we are. That you're reporting to someone far less qualified than you and only got the job because of their last name. That has to end and the only way it can end is if we continuously identify that practice.
Dan Proft: There was much touted during, this was maybe a couple years ago now. But Michael Shakman, Shakman saying the Shakman Decree is no longer necessary at the city level because Rahm has substantial reformed hiring practices so politics no longer plays a role in hiring and firing.
Faisal Khan: I respect the court and their determination. I would say that these problems tend to repeat themselves and this mayor even if we gave him the credit for that, this mayor is not going to be here forever to maintain that and I think there's enough evidence and if you talk to employees of the city who will be able to come and tell you that this problem is never going away and as Inspector General I saw it. I received complaints about it and so this notion that patronage has now ended in Chicago is simply just not a notion. It unfortunately isn't based in reality and so while I can understand it from the cost that it was inflicting upon the city because we have to talk about that, the amount of money that was being paid out for an independent monitor to come in to monitor all the hiring, that can be fixed if we have a strong administration that says we will continue some of the practices that the court imposed on us or the Inspector General reviewed and there's ways to do that but I think you and I agree we haven't seen any of that. We haven't seen what really needs to be done or the stuff that we have seen is simply window dressing just like my job was supposed to be window dressing. Chicago's great at window dressing and I think we've seen enough window dressing for this lifetime.
Dan Proft: And a message to Chicago voters, not to put too fine a point on it, but the Chicago residents who are fatalistic or apathetic or afraid to some extent legitimately so and have just – you know, and this is what breeds the kleptocracy and extends it, is people thinking they're not in charge of their destiny and they don't think they can improve their conditions. What do you say to them?
Faisal Khan: I only want to speak to the people who aren't so jaded anymore. There are people unfortunately that are so jaded in this city whether based on longevity or bad experiences that I will simply not get through to them and I respect that. I understand that. So my comments are only going to be directed to people who are still willing to listen and care enough to listen. And what I would say to them is I'm not here to blow smoke. As a New Yorker would say, you know, to blow smoke somewhere. I'm not here to sell you a bill of goods that I can't come through on. I'm going to tell you truth and I'm going to tell you the problems in this city. Project 6 is going to tell you about the problems in this city but I can't do a damn thing about it without you. Without you and your anger, your interest, even your money if you can donate, you know, to help us keep going. Project 6 needs to keep going but until you take us seriously and take these issues in this city seriously, this is all a waste of time. You have to start taking this stuff seriously because you have to understand that it affects you. Your property taxes just went up. A lot of money across the city.
Dan Proft: Utility tax is coming next.
Faisal Khan: Utility taxes. You’re paying a cloud tax now on your Netflix and everything else. There’s reasons for that and the reason s is your gross mismanagement of your money over the last 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years in the city of Chicago and it's not changing and that some of that is due to mismanagement, some of that is due to corruption, some of that is due to criminality. But understand that every decision that's been made in council and by this mayor and any mayor for that matter affects you somehow whether you see it or not. Until you take the time to be a part of that process and understand it, it's going to continue and so I want to work with you. I want to make this city better for you and the only way I can do it is if you want the same thing. And if you want the same thing, pick up the phone and call me. Call my office. Visit us. Work with us. Give us the information we need to do the things that need to be done in this city. And then I'll sit down with people like Dan Proft. I’ll sit down with other places and I will get this message out and we can finally change a culture that is so desperate in need, does so desperately need it. Chicago will be the place where you do want to live and you do want to stay.
Dan Proft: He Is Faisal Khan. He’s the 21st century Eliot Ness. Hopefully you and your six can accomplish with the secret six accomplished against Al Capone. Faisal Khan, the President and CEO of Project 6, former Legislative Inspector General for the city of Chicago, former Inspector General for the City of New York under both mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. Faisal Khan, thanks so much for joining us on Against the Current. Appreciate it.
Faisal Khan: Thank you, sir.