The hard line drawn by Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics has not discouraged at least a few powerful people from lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel through the mayor’s private emails — so much so that Emanuel has warned a few of them about the line they were about to cross.
That’s precisely what happened a few months ago when Gary E.W. Rossi, director of real estate for the Marmon Group LLC, emailed the mayor. He and his wife had just purchased the Cabrini Green church and were planning to renovate the building “for our family residence.”
But there was a problem. Off-street parking was possible, but only at the rear. That prompted Rossi to request a “curb cut” off the driveway to Stanton Park.
ETHICS BOARD: Six more lobbyists targeted over emails to Emanuel
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had called Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly on Rossi’s behalf. That prompted Park District general counsel Tim King to agree to issue the permit provided it was “sanctioned” by local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).
But nearly two months after Burnett’s letter of support, King had yet to issue the permit.
“I am in the unfortunate position of reaching out to you — not only in my interest, but also Chicago’s to save this significant historic church,” Rossi emailed to the mayor this spring.
At first, Emanuel replied, “Let me look into it.” But, then the mayor thought better of it.
“Given our ethics laws and for your own good, I have to warn you not to email on permitting or zoning issues,” the mayor told Rossi, according to Emanuel’s most recent private emails, released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Rossi thanked the mayor, for what he called “your very quick reply” as well as for the “heads-up” on private emails.
“I’m not looking to bend any ethics laws. Just get a credible response from Tim King on an issue he discussed with my attorney some time ago,” Rossi wrote.
Emanuel countered: “I know, but ethics [board] may not.”
Rossi replied: “Got it. I can only imagine the depth of political optics as they are now.”
Even Paul Begala, one of Emanuel’s closest friends in politics, got a warning from the mayor after the wave of illegal lobbying fines issued by the ethics board against Chicagoans who contacted the mayor through his private emails, but failed to register as lobbyists or report the activity.
It happened in early April after Begala wrote the mayor on behalf of “one of my neighbors with a renewable energy firm” who had “heard you are retrofitting all city buildings, which is amazing.” Begala asked whom his neighbor should contact to “find out more.”
Emanuel replied, “Got some strict lobbyist rules on this kind of thing. Will explain more next time we talk.”
Others emailed Emanuel not to lobby him, but to simply express their views.
Cardinal Blasé Cupich emailed the mayor in mid-April after learning that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was scheduling meetings with big-city mayors on Trump administration education priorities.
“I am personally interested in the proposal to fund a $20 billion federal education tax credit as part of the federal tax reform. I am convinced that this could be an enormous boost to the Chicago schools and the thousands of parents who use our [Catholic] schools,” Cupich wrote. “I am grateful that you understand the importance of school choice for poor families who see this as a viable way for the family to move out of poverty.”
Cupich closed by wishing the mayor a “blessed Passover to you and the family.”
Emanuel replied, “Have a Good Friday. Of course we will discuss.”
Boutique owner Ikram Goldman emailed the mayor about a smash and grab near his boutique shop.
“[Luis] Vuitton was hit this week with a car. I have a sick feeling we are next. We have no security,” Goldman wrote.
“This is really upsetting and I implore you to help!!”
The second issue was more mundane. It was about dogs “pooing and peeing” in a park across the street from Goldman’s house at Kingsbury and Erie despite a sign that clearly states, “No Dogs Allowed.”
“Ticketing people . . . is a sure way to stop the mess,” Goldman wrote. “We used to have a great cop working the area, but with budget cuts, we no longer have one. However, I feel within one month, the tickets will pay for this cop’s salary.”
Emanuel replied, “Have you called your alderman?”