This week Chicago watched more of the circus that surrounds now convicted felon former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Federal prosecutors shocked everyone by dropping charges against Blagojevich’s brother Robert. He had been accused of conspiring with his brother to extract a campaign contribution from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Now that the Blagojevich’s retrial looks like it won’t begin until after the New Year, he is fading from the headlines. The news needs to find something else that will upset Chicagoans. Major Daley’s intention to privatize more city services fits the bill. Maybe this is why an article I read in the newspaper recently caught my attention.
The headline read “Former alderman turned life around.” The article said that Alderman Louis Farina was parking commissioner from 1961-78 and deputy commissioner at the Department of Streets and sanitation from 1978-80 before he became alderman of the 36th Ward from 1980-83.
Farina was known for never leaving home without a coat and tie. Like many public officials Farina was charismatic. He was a person who was comfortable with elected officials, but was equally as comfortable with people who were of more humble backgrounds. He hosted a variety show called “Lou Farina’s Chicago Happenings” in the 1970’s. Those who knew him said he was always “bursting with ideas.”
Like many Chicago politicians Farina’s accomplishments are overshadowed by his conviction for conspiring to extort $7,000 in payoffs from contractors in exchange for helping them obtain city permits. He served 13 months of a four year sentence in a federal prison. However, it is what Farina did when he was released from prison that differentiates him from other political felons.
When Farina was released from prison he admitted he had made a mistake. That isn’t all that surprising. Today when public figure is caught with their hand in the cookie jar and they go in front of the TV cameras’, confess their sins, maybe shed a tear or two and ask our forgiveness. Farina was different. He owned his mistake. He didn’t just say what he thought others wanted to hear. He felt he still had a lot to offer and want to make a difference. What Farina did next, is what sets him apart, from other political figures.
When he was released from prison he started working with the Safer Foundation. The Safer Foundation works with formerly incarcerated individuals. Farina put “clout” behind his apology. He made a mistake; he was determined to not let that mistake define who he was.
Every one of us makes mistakes. It is what we do with those mistakes that count. Farina was truly sorry for breaking the law, most politicians are only “sorry” that they got caught. That is what makes him different and worthy of attention. Yet his story will never make the headlines. Instead we parade one convicted politician after another in front of the cameras like it is a badge we are proud to wear.
Sunday Tribune August 15, 2010, Obituary section