Thursday, March 29, 2007

Daley Manipulates City Council Races with Cash

For those not familiar with how Chicago politics work, there are various ways to get your way. As mayor, Richard Daley has exerted control over the city council. This time, he's using the method of buying support.

See inside for the Chicago Tribune's story.

1 comment:

chicagotribune said...

By Dan Mihalopoulos and Todd Lighty, Tribune staff reporters
Tribune staff reporters Gary Washburn and Mickey Ciokajlo contributed to this report

March 29, 2007

Some of Mayor Richard Daley's most loyal supporters from his Bridgeport power base and from the business community have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a newly created political account for Daley-endorsed aldermen who face strong challengers.

While labor unions have spent massive amounts trying to defeat the mayor's City Council allies, Daley personally has given very little from his campaign fund to embattled aldermen who almost always vote with him.

But state records show that an obscure campaign fund established two months ago has quickly collected almost $300,000 for council candidates. The fund, led by longtime Daley supporter and real estate magnate Elzie Higginbottom, has received most of its biggest donations from clout-heavy 11th Ward players, including former top mayoral aide Timothy Degnan and Fred Barbara, a Bridgeport businessman and Daley friend.

The largest single donor to the effort, known as the First C.D. Victory PAC, was Commonwealth Edison, which provides electricity to Chicago under a franchise agreement with City Hall.

After the Feb. 27 election triggered runoff campaigns involving many of his council allies, Daley said he would support his friends in the council but declined to specify his plans.

Almost $100,000 from the new fund already has gone to council incumbents opposed by union-backed candidates. The beneficiaries include Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd), Dorothy Tillman (3rd), Shirley Coleman (16th) and Lona Lane (18th).

Daley historically has tried to appear above parochial political disputes, asserting that he is not a boss like his father. But the federal investigation of hiring fraud detailed how top aides to Daley dispatched armies of patronage workers to help the mayor's endorsed candidates for local offices, including City Council seats.

Because the federal corruption probe weakened the pro-Daley campaign groups, labor unions who are feuding with the mayor have looked to expand their influence over the council in this year's election. The biggest question heading into the runoff campaign was whether the mayor would come to the defense of loyal aldermen targeted by the unions.

The new fund appears to be the main conduit for helping African-American allies, while some top aides in Daley's political organization have been dispatched to help other incumbents, including Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd) and Bernard Stone (50th).

The new political action committee was registered with state elections officials on Jan. 22. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) originally was chairman and Higginbottom was treasurer. Less than a month before the fund was established, Rush -- who unsuccessfully challenged the mayor in 1999 -- had all but endorsed Daley's re-election effort, calling him a "great mayor."

On Feb. 27, Rush was dropped from the list of the new fund's officers, state records show. Higginbottom became the chairman and one of his employees, Eileen Rhodes, was named treasurer.

Rhodes said the fund was not formed in direct response to labor's threats, but to support candidates who favor economic development. She rebutted the suggestion that Higginbottom was merely doing the mayor's bidding.

"When it comes to economic development, he and the mayor often share some of the same ideas," Rhodes said of Higginbottom, who manages buildings for the Chicago Housing Authority.

Terry Peterson, who managed the mayor's successful re-election campaign last month, did not return calls Wednesday.

Rush said he dropped out of the committee after he sought an opinion from the House ethics committee, which advised him not to participate.

ComEd has given the fund $60,000 from its political action committee. Its chairman, Frank Clark, contributed $1,000 of his own money and John Rowe, chief executive of ComEd parent Exelon Corp., personally gave $5,000.

"We have long been supporters of Congressman Rush," said ComEd spokeswoman Tabrina Davis.

But state records show that First C.D. Victory PAC was established to back candidates for local office and not to support Rush. And the biggest donation from ComEd, a $50,000 contribution on Tuesday, came a month after Rush's involvement with the committee ended.

Other major contributors included Fred Barbara Investments, which gave $27,500. Barbara has made at least $1.7 million as a subcontractor on Daley's blue-bag recycling program, according to city records.

Ferro-DiPiazza Inc., an 11th Ward construction company, donated $25,000.

Barbara could not be reached. Messages left at the offices of Thomas DiPiazza and business partner Richard Ferro were not returned.

Degnan, the former top Daley aide, declined to comment about his $10,000 contribution.

Another $25,000 for the fund came from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which lobbied hard last year against the union-backed ordinance to raise wages for employees of "big-box" stores such as Wal-Mart. David Vite, president of the merchants' association, said his organization contributed because "we thought that it was a good vehicle to help good people be elected to the Chicago City Council."

In the run-up to the February election, the mayor's giant campaign fund was devoted largely to his own re-election. Daley's committee, which raised millions of dollars in recent months, gave barely $20,000 in 11th-hour donations to two aldermanic allies: Daniel Solis (25th) and Emma Mitts (37th).

Now, some Daley political aides are being redeployed for incumbents in the runoff campaign. Matlak is getting help from Greg Goldner, who managed Daley's 2003 campaign, and Adam Hitchcock, who worked on the mayor's campaign this year.

Daley also has promised help to a longtime critic, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who faces a union-bankrolled opponent. Brookins said Daley's endorsement "freed up resources for me that otherwise would have stayed out of the race."

----------

dmihalopoulos@tribune.com

tlighty@tribune.com