Patrick McDonough was once a city plumber. Then he blew the whistle when private trucking companies started winning fat city contracts — for doing nothing. These days, McDonough is making a run for alderman in the 48th Ward. In a speech to a Columbia College journalism class, McDonough called himself the “lone ranger.”
“I’m running because we’re nowhere near cleaning up all the problems that we have in Chicago,” McDonough said. “It’s a train wreck. It’s going over the bridge, and it’s only going to get worse.”
McDonough, 50, now an investigator for the city of Chicago, said he believes hard work can create change. McDonough helped launch the probe into the city’s hired truck program in 2003, raising questions about the $40 million-a-year program that paid clout-heavy contractors, some with ties to organized crime, $40 an hour and up to do little or no work.
After news of the scandal broke, dozens of city workers were indicted. The FBI questioned Mayor Richard Daley for two hours about city payments to trucking firms.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the trucking companies in the hired truck program had donated $800,000 to Daley’s re-election campaign. McDonough vowed to battle the 48th Ward incumbent, Mary Ann Smith, and other opponents, just like he battled corruption in Chicago.
“It’s going to be ugly,” he said.
The 48th Ward encompasses the Andersonville neighborhood on the city’s North Side, where McDonough grew up.
“The area is extremely wealthy,” he said. “We have a very wealthy ward. The Andersonville part is very well-to-do.”
McDonough is running his campaign like he would an investigation; he’s said he’s going after what he thinks is wrong.
“We have to put everyone back to work,” he said, saying many jobs are leaving the city.
He opposes the privatization of city systems and services and challenges Daley’s portrayal of Chicago as a green city. He also supports state pension reform and a more robust oversight of tax increment finance (TIF) funds.
McDonough talked about his role as a whistleblower and his active reporting job as the publisher of Chicagoclout.com, a website he and other writers use to publicize corruption in the city. He said he is the only investigator in the city who does his job.
“I have people arrested, brought to court, I enforce the rules and the laws, and I consider the opportunity that I have an honor and a pleasure, and I also do the best that I can,” he said. “I give 110 percent to my job.”
He said he only gets about two to four hours of sleep per night.
Although he said he is an unwavering watchdog, McDonough praised city workers and said the majority of city workers work hard.
“There are a lot of people who love our jobs when it’s 20 or 30 below and they say that there’s a broken water main and the water is two or three blocks down the street and you can’t feel your fingers, all of a sudden everybody quits, and it’s guys like us that take care of things,” he said. “I don’t actually do it because I’m an investigator, but that’s how I started with the city of Chicago.”
McDonough is one of eight children and the father of five. Noting that his work as a whistleblower has prompted critics to call him a “snitch,” McDonough said he is 6 feet, 2 inches and weighs 250 pounds. “You can say whatever you want about me, as long as you don’t touch me,” he said.
After he blew the whistle on the city’s hired truck program, McDonough was investigated by the city, a strange turning of the tables for him.
“That’s how the city works,” he said. “So when someone does try proving the situation in Chicago, they consider that a threat on what they have going. And there’s millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars of money floating all over the place and they don’t like people like me exposing what they’re doing.”
“I’m the lone ranger out there and it really gets old,” he said.