As the battle rages over who will take criminally charged former state Rep. Luis Arroyo’s House seat, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday said a new ethics task force should place a top priority on whether Democratic ward committeemen are “picking replacements properly.”
“I made it clear from the beginning that I want to make sure that the people of the district get represented properly,” the governor said. “There’s no air of corruption around the person who gets appointed and also be elected.”
Just two weeks ago, the governor spoke at a Cook County Democratic Party dinner where he accepted a “Party Leadership Award” and thanked committeemen for helping him get elected. But now the Chicago Democrat wants a closer look at the party’s appointment strategies as federal investigations light up Democrats in the state, county and local government.
Arroyo resigned from the Illinois House on Nov. 1 after being charged with bribery, but the Northwest Side Democrat resisted calls from party leaders to step down from his post as the 36th Ward Democratic committeeman.
Last week, eligible committeemen voted to appoint Eva-Dina Delgado to Arroyo’s former seat — with 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras voting as Arroyo’s proxy despite calls from state House Speaker Mike Madigan for Arroyo to butt out of the process.
“Any involvement by the 36th Ward – whether a direct vote or a vote by proxy – would cause the candidate’s qualifications to be challenged by the full Illinois House of Representatives,” Madigan, who doubles as state Democratic Party chairman, wrote in a letter to committeemen last week.
The battle lines have already been drawn for that challenge.
Delgado took the oath of office last Friday after the committeemen’s vote. And the Peoples Gas executive filed her official paperwork to take the seat with the House clerk on Monday, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
While Pritzker has said the Illinois General Assembly should deal with the aftermath of the replacement vote, the governor on Wednesday said he wants a newly formed ethics reform commission to take a look into the party’s replacement techniques.
“I think this is something that the new ethics commission that’s been created should look at,” Pritzker said at a Chicago State University event. “Among the very first things they should look at is are we picking replacements properly so that we avoid problems.”
Legislators last week passed a resolution to create the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to take up the many issues unearthed by federal investigations into Arroyo, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, and state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.
The commission will be made of two appointees each from the four legislative leaders, two from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, two from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office and four from Pritzker. That will most certainly ensure more Democrats than Republicans on the panel, although only two of the governor’s appointees can be from his party.
The process for filling legislative vacancies is covered by state law, so any changes would require new legislation. That could be an uphill climb since many legislators of both parties double as ward or township committeemen, the very officials now empowered to make the selections.
Pritzker has increasingly ramped up his rhetorical outrage as the federal investigations dominate the headlines.
Arroyo is the latest member of the party to come under federal scrutiny. The allegations against the 65-year-old Northwest Side Democrat revolve around his lobbying work in Chicago as manager of Spartacus 3 LLC.
Federal authorities accuse Arroyo of passing a $2,500 bribe to a state senator to move sweepstakes gaming legislation forward in Springfield. He joins Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who has been charged with racketeering and bribery in a 59-page federal indictment, and Cullerton, who faces ghost-payrolling accusations for allegedly collecting $188,320 in salary and other compensation from the Teamsters while doing little or no work for the labor union.
Sandoval, former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski are among the growing list of other politicians who have been linked to the probe but have not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Cook County Democrats have struggled to deal with the growing stain of corruption themselves. Arroyo, Burke and Solis are all Democratic ward committeemen.