I used to think that what I wanted most was to hear those Blago tapes. I was even willing to purchase them. You know, the tapes that are slowly being released where we’ve gotten to listen to then-wannabee senator Roland Burris salivate over Barack’s old seat while pondering how to give the ex-governor money without it looking like a pay-to-play scheme. Now we have headline news from our own Austin Alderman, Isaac “Ike” Carothers. We’ve learned that he’s been wearing a wire for an entire year while talking to other politicians and developers. Now those are some tapes I really want to hear!
As I read the newspaper account regarding his indictment last week on corruption charges, one quote from Carothers stood out: “These allegations are based on things from 2004,” he said. “I’ve been alderman for five years after that. I think we’ve been effective.”
So I went through some of my old Austin Weekly Newspapers from 2004. I came across one column that I wrote, responding to the then plans by the Macondo Corporation to redevelop Chicago Avenue, Division Street and North Avenue in Austin. When I questioned the alderman about how he would help black folks take part in the planned re-gentrification of Austin, Ald. Carothers told me that he didn’t feel he should have to “hand-hold his constituents.” So it’s very interesting to now learn that he was doing all the hand-holding he could with developer Calvin Boender, who was also indicted.
Carothers is accused of successfully manipulating the zoning changes for the Galewood Railroad yard property at Central, just north of Bloomingdale. He’s also alleged to have held his hands out for payouts made in the form of improvements on his West Race Street home. The feds say he got $40,000 worth of repairs while Boender made $3 million on the sale of the land because of the zoning change. To put it in terms that most of us can understand, that’s kind of like helping someone make $30,000 on a deal and they give you four cents. No offense, but it is quite embarrassing when you look at the trivial amounts that our elected officials are accused of taking. Can’t we just once get a black elected official who, when the charges are made, is accused of having embezzled thousands of dollars and not just pennies? I am not advocating dishonesty. I am just pointing out how they sell themselves and our community out so cheaply.
Continuing my search through old papers, I discovered one article where Ald. Carothers called Austin a “blighted community.” When I wrote about that comment in January 2005 his response back to me was swift and terse. He took me to task for not calling him to verify the comment. But I did him one better. What I did was call the reporter who had a tape recording of the testimony and, lo and behold, there was Ike’s unmistakable voice calling us “blighted.”
In another article from Jan. 27, 2005, Ald. Carothers was again responding loudly and critically. This time he was belittling Jesse Jackson, Jr. The congressman had criticized the black aldermen for not doing enough to make sure African-Americans got their fair share of city contracts. Carothers’ quote that was highlighted on the front page was so appropriate, that I feel the need to reprint it.
“No one has denied the fact that there are some people who try to circumvent the system, and you can’t stop someone from lying. And when we discover those people, we need to deal with them.”
Wow! In light of his indictment, Ald. Carothers’ words are almost self-prophesying. What are we-the community who now has another elected official who is representing us as an indicted alderman-supposed to do?
When it comes to our elected officials, if they’ve done a million things right and then willfully do one thing that’s wrong, does that “wrong” take away from any or all of the million “right” things? Part of the problem we have as a community is always trying to equalize the good and the bad. As far as I am concerned, if the allegations about Ike are correct, it has negated all of his positives. He sold us out for a mere pittance – a paint job and the price of new windows and doors.
But all is not bad news when it comes to Ald. Carothers. If the allegations are true, that he wore a wire, then we can post his picture all over Austin with the following caption. “When it’s your butt on the line-SNITCH, SNITCH, SNITCH!”