Thursday, March 17, 2005


Shaw Hired Chicago Scandal's Culprit

Ousted aide returns to his roots
May 2, 2004
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter Chicago Sun-Times
Before his meteoric rise and equally sudden fall at Mayor Daley's City Hall, former Chicago Budget Director Bill Abolt made his home in the environment.
Who says you can never go home again?
Abolt, the only member of Daley's Cabinet to take the fall for the Hired Truck scandal, resurfaced last week as manager of the Chicago office for the Shaw Group, an international construction engineering, environmental and energy company with 6,000 employees nationwide.
Shaw works with the state and federal governments on large-scale brownfield cleanups and waterway restoration and is looking to enlarge its Chicago office after acquiring smaller environmental firms. That makes Abolt, who has an 18-year track record in and life-long love for the environment, a perfect fit.
"It's funny. I spent a lot of sleepless nights telling my wife what I wanted to do, and the day I took the job, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about what I was gonna do on the first day and the day after that," said Abolt, 45. "It immediately felt right. I knew it in my gut."
After accepting Abolt's resignation, Daley bent over backward to praise his former fair-haired boy and promised to help him get a job in the private sector.
"Bill is a very capable, understanding individual and public servant ... and I will help him. ... He has a great future in the private sector," the mayor said at the time.
Abolt's decision to return to his environmental roots makes it fairly obvious Daley didn't lift a finger to help. Abolt doesn't see it that way.
"He was supportive because of the opportunities he gave me to do incredible things. I enjoyed every minute that I worked for him," he said.
Well, not exactly every minute.
There was a bitter end that saw Daley accuse top aides of keeping him in the dark about the Hired Truck mess, only to confine the damage to Abolt a few days later.
If Abolt believes that was unfair, he's keeping it to himself. But a voice that choked with emotion betrayed the hurt.
"Everybody makes mistakes, but I worked hard. I did my work with integrity," he said.
"I did my job extremely well and operated successfully in government for 20 years. ... I made a decision I believed was an appropriate one, and I'm completely at peace with it. We're not gonna focus on the past. I want to move on."
The $40 million-a-year Hired Truck program has turned into the biggest scandal of Daley's 15-year administration. It forced the mayor to fire his $135,516-a-year budget director, his own cousin and Angelo Torres, the former gang member turned Hired Truck czar now charged with shaking down a trucking contractor.
The political fallout followed a six-month investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times that showed how politically connected companies, some with ties to organized crime, are paid $40 to $78 an hour or more to do little or no work.
Until the trucking time bomb exploded, Abolt had been the fastest-rising star in Daley's universe. He filled a City Hall power vacuum with a string of promotions from first deputy environment commissioner, to commissioner, chief of management and budget director, even though he had no background in finance.
In his first media interview since his forced resignation, Abolt refused to directly address the scandal.
Asked who was responsible for hiring Torres, Abolt would only say, "I was there for an 18-month period. Employees of the department -- a number of people were there when I started."
Pressed on whether he really did keep Daley in the dark about lingering problems that have plagued the Hired Truck program for decades, Abolt said, "I have no regrets about my work, and I have the highest regard for the mayor. He's done incredible things for this city. That's my answer."
On the day he accepted Abolt's resignation, Daley claimed the budget office inherited responsibility for the Hired Truck program after a 1998 scandal and that the buck stopped with Abolt.
City Hall has suspended dozens of companies and declared that all 165 companies on Chicago's trucking gravy train would lose their favored status as of June 1 and regain it only after meeting rigid new standards.
Abolt insisted he was methodically trying to clean up the mess when the Sun-Times blew the whistle. But he also commended the mayor's "forthright and open" efforts to contain the damage.
"The way they're handling the issue is appropriate and aggressive. I fully support what they're doing -- completely, 100 percent. It is solid work," he said.
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