U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia flexed his newfound political muscle on Wednesday, embracing a slate of aldermanic candidates pledging to reform a City Council reeling from the federal corruption investigation of Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Danny Solis (25th).
Garcia is threatening to build his own political machine after electing a slate of candidates last year.
They included: Alma Anaya as county commissioner; Beatriz Frausto-Sandoval as a circuit court judge; and Aaron Ortiz as state representative.
The Ortiz win was particularly satisfying to Garcia because Ortiz defeated Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), softening up his brother, the alderman.
On Wednesday, Garcia played political kingmaker once again.
He stood beside incumbent Ald. John Arena (45) and eight aldermanic candidates to unveil a six-point “platform for reform” of a City Council mired in scandal.
The plan includes: banning outside income “if it causes recusals or conflicts of interest with city business”; expanding the inspector general’s powers to investigate aldermen, their staffs and programs; empowering the city inspector general to review all no-bid contracts over $50,000; and revising aldermanic prerogative to include “serious input” from area residents.
The reforms also include: requiring participatory budgeting to prioritize the $1.3 million in “menu money” earmarked annually for each of the 50 aldermen; and, public financing of political campaigns through a “small-donor match” that would “get big money out of politics.”
Garcia noted that more than 30 aldermen have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the 50 years since Burke joined the Council.
Burke has been charged with attempted extortion; he’s accused of shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business for himself and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Toni Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign for county board president.
The Chicago Sun-Times has since reported that Solis spent more than two years wearing a wire to help the feds build their case against Burke and secretly recorded more than a dozen conversations as movers and shakers sought city actions from Burke.
“Many have called this type of behavior the ‘Chicago Way.’ Well, that’s not the way I know or the people of Chicago expect from their elected leaders,” Garcia said.
“That’s why Chicago needs reform and is ready for it in 2019. The platform for reform that all of these candidates standing here today are committed to … will help restore peoples’ faith in government and return the power of government to the people.”
Without offering proof, Garcia accused Burke of using city funds to build a wall behind his Southwest Side home; the residence looks like a fortress and dwarfs other homes around it.
“We paid for Burke’s wall. … We have ascertained that it was done with city funds and we can provide that to you, if you like. … It only extends the length of his property. How coincidental,” Garcia said.
“It is a terrible example of someone who is disconnected from the needs and interests of the ward. To build a wall … to insulate yourself in your compound surrounded by a working-class community of mostly immigrants and then to be Donald Trump’s property tax appeals lawyer? It’s time for a change.”
Burke could not be reached for comment.
The Chicago Sun-Times disclosed 10 years ago that Burke had used $45,499 of his aldermanic menu money to build a wrought-iron fence and sidewalk that directs pedestrians away from his home.
Before the project, the single railroad track south of Curie Metro High School had been a hangout for teens and a cut-through for commuters walking to and from the L’s Orange Line station at Pulaski.
Garcia ally Clem Balanoff said that’s not the project to which Garcia was referring at Wednesday’s City Hall news conference.
He texted the Sun-Times a photo of two walls near Burke’s home.
“The top wall is the one I am talking about on CTA property. It ends at the eastern end of his house,” Balanoff said, referring to Burke.
“The wall behind Burke’s house on CTA property runs the length of his house and provides no noise relief for his neighbors in the condos to the east.”
Pressed on how he knows the wall was built with city funds, Balanoff said, “It’s on CTA property. It could have been city funds or CTA funds.”
CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the CTA “hasn’t built any wall” since the Orange Line opened in 1993.
Steele said the lower and shorter wall in Balanoff’s photo is a “retaining wall for the earthen embankment that the Orange Line sits on.” The higher wall is the “actual Orange Line structure,” he said.
Kristen Cabanan, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, had no immediate comment.
Also on Wednesday, mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, the only candidate for mayor bankrolling his own campaign, vowed to stop the pay-to-play politics he claims has reached new heights under retiring incumbent Rahm Emanuel.
In addition to a two-term limit and a smaller City Council, Wilson’s plan would prohibit businesses and individuals who make political contributions to city officials from doing business with the city for the duration of that official’s term in office.
He also proposed: a revolving-door rule that would prohibit departing aldermen and mayors from “becoming vendors or lobbyists or contractor to such firms” for at least five years after leaving office; quarterly audits of all “city departments, divisions and committees”; and an “Anti-Corruption Task Force” comprised of “professionals and anti-corruption journalists who have a long history of covering these unethical, greedy stories.”