CHICAGO — For weeks, mail carriers didn’t deliver across the city. Post office clerks even closed up shop for lunch like a bait shop on a Tuesday. Neighbors complained to aldermen who leaned on congressmen who demanded answers from U.S. Postal Service officials, who answered with a shrug.
Plenty of politicians can rightly take credit for pressuring DeJoy — a top Republican fundraiser with no Postal Service experience appointed by President Trump — to walk back his plans in attempt to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) pushed federal lawmakers to respond to complaints from folks on the Southwest Side.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot decried the Trump administration for trying to drive the U.S. Mail system to its knees in an assault on election integrity.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin publicly demanded the Postal Service’s immediate refunding to cure delivery problems. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called emergency hearings to halt mail delivery delays.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and top prosecutors from 13 other states filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging DeJoy’s drastic cuts to overtime, changes to delivery hours and more that threatened to erode the public’s trust in the Postal Service that millions will rely on to cast ballots on Election Day.
Good for them. But let’s not forget that a great civic institution also under siege in America played a great role in at least temporarily saving the Postal Service from a death spiral: Journalism.
Reporters were the first to blow the whistle on DeJoy’s secret procedural edicts that all but stopped mail from being delivered for nearly two weeks straight in postal districts in my part of town.
Here in Chicago, CBS 2 aired stories in early July about mail complaints in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Postal Service officials denied any problems. “Operations were running as normal,” a spokesman fibbed.
On July 14, National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 11 President Mack Julion told me about the changes at the root of Chicago’s mail delivery troubles.
Again, a Postal Service spokesman lied and said there was nothing unusual.
“The Postal Service … adjusts staffing continuously to serve our customers with consistent, reliable service,” he said, on the 10th day in a row my mailbox was empty.
A day later, on July 15, Associated Press reporter Matt Daly published details of a memo he obtained from sources that confirmed that mail delays of a day or more were to be expected due to changes ordered and authorized by DeJoy.
It was Daly’s reporting that sparked national outrage. Without it, Postal Service leaders may have continued lying to the public and elected officials. That’s what they did in response to U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski’s demand for investigation into missing mail delivery in Mt. Greenwood’s 60655 ZIP Code, claiming there was a 45 percent decrease in complaints and 100 percent customer satisfaction.
Instead, about a month later, the embattled Postmaster General announced the Postal Service would no longer cut post office hours, remove mail processing equipment and corner mail boxes and close mail processing facilities, as planned. The elimination of overtime — and the stupid decision to start mail delivery in the late morning — were reversed.
DeJoy said he has expanded a task force on election mail that will include postal unions and managers across the country. “This task force will help ensure that election officials and voters are well-informed and fully supported by the Postal Service,” he said in a statement.
Thankfully, Americans don’t have to take DeJoy at his word — or rely on politicians to hold him to it — when unheralded journalists are still out there keeping tabs on both of them.
Even as vulture capitalists circle newsrooms across the country, work-a-day reporters deliver.
Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Award-winning series, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” He was a producer, writer and narrator for the “Chicagoland” docu-series on CNN, and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary, “16 Shots.
More from Mark Konkol: