For a guy who got his gig the old-fashioned way–by having it handed to him by his neighbor and political patron–Cook County sheriff Tom Dart has been doing a fine job lately of looking like a new-era good government type. 

He’s shored up his law-and-order image with dramatic busts of drug smugglers, prostitution rings, and dogfighting operations. A few weeks ago he and his deputies invited fugitives to a hotel to collect “holiday gift cards” and led them away in handcuffs. At the same time Dart has been signaling that he’s aggressively looking out for the little people with crackdowns on child support scofflaws and his brief refusal to evict the residents of foreclosed properties, which made national news.

Then at the end of last week he made an announcement that’s far bolder for someone in the machinery of Chicago politics–and even wiser for someone aspiring to rise above them and reach higher office.

Dart has been trying to settle his office’s portion of the 40-year-old Shakman legal battles over patronage hiring, firing, and promotions. On Thursday he announced that his office was working with a court-ordered Shakman compliance officer and launching a new Web site designed to keep voters informed about its progress. The site,, includes relevant court documents and forms for people who want to file claims that they were illegally discriminated against for political reasons. As retired judge and compliance officer officer Clifford L. Meacham gets going, his reports will also be posted, according to a statement from Dart.

“I am committed to not only proper hiring and promotional practices, but also to ensuring that Judge Meacham has every tool at his disposal to properly investigate and adjudicate any claims that may arise,” Dart said in his statement.

While he’s bolstering his reform credentials, Dart continues to receive generous campaign contributions from Democratic insiders, labor unions, high-end attorneys, cops, and connected business leaders. It’s a lucrative and powerful coalition, the kind that could be very helpful behind the scenes for an energetic south-side Irishman running for, say, Illinois attorney general or–when the time’s right–mayor of Chicago.