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Chicago could be freed from federal hiring oversight: attorneys

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago attorney who has fought patronage hiring in the city for 45 years said on Thursday the city has fixed its hiring practices - paving the way for Chicago to be released from federal oversight of its hiring as early as next month.

In a joint request filed along with lawyers for the city, attorney Michael Shakman, who sued Chicago in 1969 to stop the practice of hiring workers based on political ties, asked a federal court to drop its oversight role.

"The city does not have a policy, custom or practice of making employment decisions based on political factors," the motion said.

Shakman's lawsuit led to the nationally influential "Shakman decrees," which banned patronage hiring and firing, with exemptions for certain positions such as executive and policy posts, in the nation's third-largest city.

The development can be seen as a victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose administration says it requires employees to cooperate with investigations and educates workers on legal hiring practices. It also would save the city money on court-related fees.

The federal monitor has been in effect since 2005, when at Shakman's request the city was held in civil contempt as a result of criminal investigations of job rigging. Since then, cleaning up the hiring process has cost the city $10 million, according to city officials.

Patronage hiring, or the "spoils system," had historically been the foundation of U.S. political machines, which empowered bosses like the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. People who did work for politicians could get government jobs for themselves or their relatives.

Patronage was so powerful in Chicago that Abner Mikva, who later became a federal judge, recalled once being told by a city ward boss, "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."

Shakman said in an interview that while it feels good that so much progress had been made, "it's regrettable that it took so long to get to this point."

A hearing on the hiring issue is set for June 16.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; editing by Edith Honan and Dan Grebler)

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