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Illinois Supreme Court candidate seeks campaign help from Chicago alderman under federal scrutiny

Appeals Court Judge Nathaniel Howse Jr. says the money was ‘to assist them with voter registration, Get Out The Vote efforts and other grassroots activities that the organization engages in.’

Ald. Carrie Austin (left) and Illinois Appellate Court Judge Nathaniel Howse Jr.
Ald. Carrie Austin (left) and Illinois Appellate Court Judge Nathaniel Howse Jr.
Rich Hein / Sun-Times, YouTube.

Hoping to boost his bid for the state’s highest court, Illinois Supreme Court candidate Nathaniel Howse Jr. contributed $1,000 to Ald. Carrie Austin, who is under the federal microscope, saying he acted in the name of getting out the vote and elevating “the voices of the otherwise unheard.”

Howse, who lives on the South Side in the Third Ward, gave the money Monday to Austin’s 34th Ward Regular Democratic Organization on the Far South Side.

Howse, who is an Illinois Appellate Court judge, said in a written statement that the money was “to assist them with voter registration, Get Out The Vote efforts and other grassroots activities that the organization engages in.

“I believe strongly that underrepresented communities deserve the right to be heard,” Howse said. “The 34th Ward Democratic Organization works to elevate the voices of the otherwise unheard. My donation was specifically to the 34th Ward Democratic Organization, not to any elected official or candidate’s re-election committee or personal funds.”

Austin is the chairman and only candidate listed for the committee, whose official purpose is “to support Democratic candidates and issues.”

And Howse has given to Austin’s aldermanic fund in the past year. He made two contributions totaling $2,500 in October and February.

The direct contributions came before Austin came under the glare of the federal spotlight. Her ward office was raided in June, but she hasn’t been charged with any crimes in the ongoing federal investigation.

The donations are not the only links between Howse and the alderman. Austin, who is also the 34th Ward Democratic committeeman and vice chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party gave one of the speeches on behalf of Howse at the party’s slating session last month. But the coveted endorsement went to sitting Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr., who was appointed to the seat last year.

Nathaniel Howse Jr. accepts the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Nathaniel Howse Jr. accepts the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Rachel Hinton / Sun-Times

Neville also contributed $400 to Austin’s aldermanic fund in February, before the federal raid.

A spokeswoman for Neville declined to comment. Also asked to comment, attorney Daniel Epstein, who is also running for the seat, said he’s campaigning to create “structural protections to protect against conflicts of interests. We’re trying to create the reforms to give people a reason to trust the justice system and we’re going to keep doing that throughout this election.”

Austin’s ward office was raided in June. She hasn’t been charged with any crime in the ongoing federal investigation.

Long before that raid and a look into Austin’s home and other real estate dealings, the longtime alderman had been scrutinized for getting her family members on the city’s payroll. One son was hired as a city laborer, another as her ward superintendent.

A spokesperson for Austin’s 34th Ward office did not respond to a request for comment.