Missing in Plain Sight

3/6/10 UPDATE: Just heard that Blase will not actually enter prison until sometime in April 2010 due to a lack of bed space.  Kinda like a hospital, eh?  When’s the last time you heard that one?

(written 3/1/10) Today’s the day Nicholas Blase, the former mayor of the little Chicago suburb of Niles, Illinois, goes off to a white-collar jail somewhere in Wisconsin, or  maybe Indiana, or maybe Minnesota, or maybe Michigan.  Whatever.  You get it, though — he won’t be sharing a cell with someone who is wearing his prison uniform sagging below his backside and itching to pick a fistfight just for the hell of it.

What Blase leaves behind is a village government now run by a longtime friend who refuses to utter a single condemning word about him, the village office allegedly crawling with FBI agents because Blase was, in fact, so worthy of condemnation — and a population of 30,000 or so, most of whom are barely aware of what has happened, if at all.

How did an entire community become so disengaged?  Well, it happened over a period of 50 years, during which dissenters were hunted and harassed, and those outside of the village-hall clique were treated as…well…outsiders.  I remember hearing years ago that someone outside the clique who was running for a position on the Park Board suddenly found himself to be the recipient of bomb threats.  More commonly anyone who ran for mayor against Nicky Blase was either ignored or skewered with barbs tipped in vicious, Sarah Palin-type venom.  You know, that sort of thing.

Public disengagement is the offspring of long-lived and intense political corruption.  That’s what Niles has now.  I’ll wager if you walked up to ten locals today and asked them (1) what Nicky Blase was charged with, and (2) was he convicted, and (3) when was he going to jail, eight of them would never get beyond a dropped-jaw reaction at the first question.  “What is Nicky Blase and who the hell are you?” they would ask.

On that note, I recall the Send in the Clowns story: a few years ago, during the annual 4th of July parade, Blase (who I believe had just been arrested quite recently), walked with a group clowns rather than sit in his usual ceremonial seat on a dais on someone’s front lawn.  I don’t think anyone noticed that one of the clowns was plain-faced, nor guessed who it was, nor the reason he was walking with the clowns.  Answer: it was Blase and he probably thought the clowns would shield him from any rude laughter from the crowd.  He needn’t have worried.

Of course the Republicans in the area would be fully aware of the situation only through their own low-powered microscope, and would be blaming Blase’s faults on the fact that he was a Democrat.  And so they are.  Nice try — except that Blase distanced the town’s Democratic party from the national party years ago, claiming that the national party was…are you sitting down…not only too liberal, but out of touch with the people. The area Republicans can put that in their pipes and smoke it along with whatever else it is they have apparently been smoking for years now.

Anyway, today’s the day Blase goes to jail.  But today’s also the day where the people of Niles should notice that nothing has changed, and that at long last there is an opportunity for something to change.

Why does this concern me?  I grew up in Niles.  I still have friends and relatives there.  And having moved beyond the town, I am well aware that Niles has a reputation as something little better than a well-hidden festering zit on the butt of the glittery North Shore.

Granted it is not a vacation spot, but it doesn’t deserve an assessment like that.  The thing is, the people currently in office in Niles aren’t the ones who are going to save it, since they represent little or no change over who was there before.  Only the people outside the doors can do that, and that’s only if they can emerge from their 50 year sleep.

People of Niles, wake up and do so soon.

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