Four clout-heavy firms share $106.3M in multi-year deals to clean city buildings

SHARE Four clout-heavy firms share $106.3M in multi-year deals to clean city buildings

Chicago City Hall. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Four clout-heavy companies will clean city buildings, thanks to $106.3 million in multi-year city contracts awarded nearly 20 years after janitorial work triggered one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s biggest scandals.

The largest of the four contracts — $68.3 million — goes to ABM Janitorial to maintain government buildings on the Northwest and Southeast Sides.

It’s the only one of the four janitorial contracts not earmarked exclusively for minorities and women to compete against each other to be prime contractor.

Instead, ABM will satisfy its minority set-aside requirement by giving 35 percent of the work to Diverse Facility Solutions and 10 percent to We’re Cleaning.

Minority-owned Diverse Facility Solutions was also awarded a $12.9 million “Target Market” contract to clean the David R. Lee Animal Care Center, the 911 and 311 non-emergency centers, the Goldblatt’s building, West Town library and the Chicago fire academy.

A $15.2 million targeted contract was awarded to A&R Janitorial for City Hall, the underground pedway, the Chicago Cultural Center, Gallery 37, the pumping station and Clark House.

And Total Facility Maintenance gets a $9.9 million contract to clean a group of buildings that includes public safety headquarters.

“Every opportunity we have, we look at ways to grow businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses, and build capacity,” said Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Daley’s then-Corporation Counsel Mara Georges concluded that Windy City Maintenance, supposedly woman-owned, actually was being run by men. The firm, owned by the mob-connected Duff family, lost its favored status.

But Georges insisted there was no evidence of fraud because company ownership had evolved as Patricia Green gradually withdrew because of illness.

James Duff subsequently pleaded guilty to engineering a massive fraud that deprived legitimate minority businesses of $100 million in contracts.

Sources said the new round of janitorial contracts was intentionally divided into smaller chunks after the city’s existing contractor, Triad Consulting, owned by an African-American woman, decided not to bid.

The company told city officials, “‘The way that these contracts are set up, we’re not making any money. We’re not gonna bid on `em again. We’re done,’” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous. “They basically said, `You’ve got sites scattered all over the place. You have to do something different.’”

Triad officials could not be reached for comment. The city has paid the company $105.6 million since 2012. Triad’s most recent disclosure lists Nikki Zollar as president and CEO.

Zollar’s resume includes stints as chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, director of the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations and as one of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s most recent appointees to the Chicago State University board of trustees. She has since resigned.

Over the years, janitorial contracts have been shrouded in controversy — and not just because of the Duffs.

In 2009, We’re Cleaning owner Yvonne McGinnis claimed her company was swept out of a $1.5 million Soldier Field cleaning contract because of “typical Chicago pay-to-play politics.”

She filed a lawsuit claiming a company owned by Elzie Higginbottom, Daley’s biggest fund-raiser in the black community, had scored the Soldier Field contract as payback for Higginbottom’s “generous donations” to the Democratic Party.

A black woman, McGinnis claimed the Park District and Soldier Field manager SMG delayed awarding the contract until Higginbottom’s firm got certified as a minority-owned business to qualify for the work. The Chicago Park District denied the charges.

Higginbottom is part of an investment group that currently owns the Chicago Sun-Times. He could not be reached for comment.

In 2003, Total Facility Maintenance agreed to pay a $25,000 fine to avoid a three-year debarment and settle charges that the company helped a corrupt fence contractor lie about minority and female participation in contracts at the Chicago Board of Education.

At the time, the company owned by Rev. Jimmy Daniels, a former Operation PUSH president, had $24.1 million in contracts to work in 225 Chicago Public Schools.

One year later, CPS inspector general discovered that a janitor working in schools for Total Facility Maintenance had a murder conviction. The employee was fired.

In 2004, an A&R custodian assigned to clean a South Side health clinic was arrested after allegedly admitting that he stole cases of baby formula every week for a year — and had his 10-year-old daughter help.

And Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of SEIU Local 1, has charged that fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s threat to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel is little more than a “crass attempt” to bully the mayor into renewing a five-year, $107 million O’Hare janitorial contract with United Maintenance.

The company is owned by Rick Simon, McCarthy’s friend and former business associate. SEIU Local 1 is part of a group of unions that now owns the Sun-Times.

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