Indicted Ald. Cochran telling colleagues he’s changed his mind, intends to run

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Ald. Willie Cochran faces sentencing Monday for wire fraud.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) arrives in December 2016 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse for his arraignment on corruption charges. | Sun-Times file photo

Sun-Times file photo

Indicted Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) has told at least three of his City Council colleagues in recent days that he has changed his mind and now intends to seek re-election.

On Nov. 2, Cochran collapsed during City Council budget hearings. Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) saw Cochran slump in his seat and shouted, “Man down!”

Several aldermen rushed to Cochran’s side. Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, administered the CPR he had learned as a lifeguard, possibly saving Cochran’s life.

Eleven days later, Cochran returned to City Hall and declared he would not seek re-election.

Cochran said on that day that his decision to retire from politics had nothing to do with the federal corruption charges against him or the health scare he attributed to a drop in blood pressure caused by a change in medication.

Now, three of his City Council colleagues, including Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th), say Cochran has told them he has changed his mind and intends to seek a fourth term in the City Council.

Curtis and the two other aldermen, who asked to remain anonymous, said Cochran did not explain the reason for his change of heart.

Aldermen normally steer clear of colleagues under indictment — or at least keep conversations with them to a bare minimum — for fear they just might be wearing a wire in an attempt to snare others and save their own necks.

Twice in the last week, including Wednesday, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter asked Cochran directly whether he had changed his mind about running for re-election.

Both times, Cochran ignored the question and walked away.

On the day he returned to City Hall and declared his intention to retire from politics, Cochran emphatically insisted the decision had nothing to do with his indictment or the extraordinary pressure he was under.

“That was my plan anyway. Three terms and out. I believe in term limits,” said Cochran, 65.

Pressed on what he had learned from the health scare, Cochran said then: “It made me much more aware of my health. Even though I work out from time to time, it’s important for me to even do better than what I’ve done before and how valuable life is. My dad lived to be 90. I want to try and reach that goal. That means 25 more years.”

A 22-page indictment accuses Cochran of looting a 20th Ward fund meant to help children and senior citizens, using $5,000 to pay his daughter’s college tuition and withdrawing $25,000 from ATMs near his preferred casinos. The former Chicago Police officer is also accused of accepting bribes from businessmen who needed favors.

The health scare provided Cochran with a different kind of attention than the kind he got when he showed up at a City Council meeting on the day he was indicted.

On that day, colleagues approached Cochran on the City Council floor and whispered to him. One showed Cochran a story about the political corruption indictment on an iPad.

That prompted Cochran to flee the council chambers out the front door as a pack of reporters and television cameras chased him down the hall.

For residents of the impoverished, crime-ridden South Side ward that includes parts of Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood, Grand Crossing and Back of the Yards, it was déjà vu – and not in a good way.

Cochran’s predecessor, Arenda Troutman, went to prison for shaking down developers. Former Ald. Cliff Kelley (20th), now a popular radio talk show host, was one of five aldermen caught up in a bribery web spun by con man-turned-undercover mole Michael Raymond.

Rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Cochran’s failed aldermanic challenger in 2011, has argued that the federal investigation of Cochran’s campaign finances should be the final straw for 20th Ward residents.

“Why is it that this community where the University of Chicago is nestled can’t seem to have an alderman who stays out of jail?” Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times last year.

“The same people and institutions who supported Cochran supported Troutman. I pray that the people rise up and pick their own leaders instead of allowing the system that’s been misleading them to continue to pick puppets for them.”

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