Mendoza tries to drag mayoral rivals down into the mud with her on ethics

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Mayoral candidates prepare for the National Association of Black Journalists Mayoral Forum at the Chicago Sun-Times on Jan. 17. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Susana Mendoza tried Tuesday to drag her mayoral rivals down into the mud with her after the latest shoe dropped in a burgeoning corruption scandal that now involves three of her powerful political patrons: Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Danny Solis (25th) and Il. House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Mendoza went to work hours after the Chicago Sun-Times detailed the federal corruption allegations that prompted Solis, chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, to spend more than two years secretly recording more than a dozen conversations with Burke, the former longtime Finance Committee chairman, as movers and shakers sought city actions.

The newspaper also reported that the FBI secretly recorded Madigan trying to get business for his private law firm from a developer brought to him by Solis, who was weighing the developer’s request to build a hotel in Chinatown.

Mendoza’s first target was Gery Chico, the only other Hispanic candidate in the field of 14. Mendoza accused Chico of being “part of the very same corrupt system” that includes two of her mayoral rivals, Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle.

“Gery Chico worked for Ed Burke at the Finance Committee. He’s contributed over $55,000 to Ed Burke. He also lobbied Ed Burke and his other friend Danny Solis just months before he decided to run for mayor,” Mendoza said in a phone call to the Sun-Times.

“Ed Burke called [former Aviation Commissioner] Ginger Evans on behalf of a Gery Chico client, urging her to expedite payments to that company. … This was happening while he was donating thousands to Ed Burke. His connections to Ed Burke have to be explored.”

Chico’s spokesperson Kelley Quinn said Mendoza’s blast takes “chutzpah” considering her own ties to Burke and Solis.

Mendoza is “clearly on the warpath” after a Sun-Times poll showed Chico as the “leading Latino candidate in the race,” Quinn said.

Mendoza’s major political liability has long been her close and longstanding political relationship with Madigan. Those ties are rivaled only by her close ties to Burke and Solis.

That’s why she has purged herself of $141,550 in campaign contributions received over the years from Solis and from a debt collection firm founded by Solis’ sister and an attorney with close ties to Madigan.

Hours after reading the Sun-Times stories, Mendoza was almost like the pot calling the kettle black.

She tried to change the subject from her own ties to the central figures in the burgeoning scandal by highlighting the connection between Bill Daley and Solis.

“Danny Solis is a creation of Bill Daley and Rich Daley. He was appointed by Daley. … You had Bill handing out grants to UNO back in the day from the bank that he worked for and Danny Solis using that grant money to help register voters in Chicago to help the Daley machine,” Mendoza said.

“Bill Daley and Danny Solis went on to found HDO together with the help of Victor Reyes, who worked for Rich Daley at IGA. This was absolutely a Bill Daley, Rich Daley, Danny Solis, Victor Reyes creation. Victor Reyes today is a key adviser to Toni Preckwinkle.”

Daley’s spokesman Peter Cunningham countered that Daley had “nothing to do with starting HDO or Danny Solis.

“The first time he met Danny Solis is when Rich appointed him,” Cunningham said.

As for the Mendoza broadside, Cunningham said, “Bill Daley is not going to get in the mud with Susana Mendoza. After 20 years in politics she finally releases an ethics plan four weeks before an election and a few days after returning $140,000 dollars in questionable donations.”

Last, but not least on Mendoza’s political hit list was Preckwinkle, who was dragged into the Burke scandal when the alderman was charged with attempted extortion; he’s accused of shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle has returned the $10,000, but has yet to follow through on a promise to give back all $116,000 she raised during a January 2018 fundraiser for her re-election as county board president held at the Burke’s home.

“She’s gonna return it by the end of March. She’s consciously choosing to use dirty money to fund her mayoral campaign. This marks a stark difference between how I conducted myself,” Mendoza said.

Preckwinkle’s campaign countered that the $116,000 raised at Burke’s home “has been returned and will be reflected in April’s report.”

Spokesperson Monica Trevino accused Mendoza of ”deflecting attention from her money laundering scheme.”

“How can the voters trust a state comptroller taking $122,000 from a company that profited from the state budget crisis?”

Mendoza acknowledged the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the city hiring scandal supported her in the legislative races she won and lost.

But, she added: “I have never had a good working relationship with people associated with HDO.”

As for her close relationships with Madigan, Burke and Solis, Mendoza said that for “any elected official who served in Illinois and Chicago, it would be impossible for me not to have working relationships with all of these folks.”

As Mendoza was fighting for survival, Paul Vallas was dragging out his favorite prop — a broom — to make the case that he is the candidate with the integrity and independence to clean up after a “new low” in pay-to-play politics at Chicago’s City Hall.

“We’ve got bribes of Viagra and massage parlors to the powerful alderman of one of the only growing wards in the city,” Vallas said.

“The monied class of the pay-to-play culture is in a panic. … Four of the media’s anointed front-runners are raising money from the usual sources and buying commercials to preach ethics while there exists constant stories about each and every one of them having been baptized and raised in the pay-to-play culture.”

Lori Lightfoot similarly argued that Preckwinkle, Mendoza, Chico and Daley all were tied to Burke and Solis and to what she called the “give-to-get system” of Chicago politics tilted against the average Joe.

The only candidate in the race who has prosecuted corrupt Chicago aldermen, Lightfoot demanded that Inspector General Joe Ferguson be immediately empowered to conduct a “detailed audit of all Zoning Committee decisions going back to at least 2014,” when Solis got caught up in the corruption scandal that triggered his cooperation.

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