Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) on Tuesday defiantly defended her decision to hire her son Kenny as her ward superintendent, arguing there is nothing wrong with nepotism if the person on the other end of the favoritism does a decent job.
“It may be [nepotism], but I’m still gonna hire the best person I can for the job. If I can’t have somebody there that I trust, who am I gonna put there? Some lazy anybody? No. I’m not gonna do that. My people deserve better than that. And most of the people in our ward pretty much know my family,” Austin said Tuesday.
“Why is it so wrong for you to have your family member, your cousin or whatever working. Are you saying they don’t deserve to work either? . . . When they hired you, it may have been favoritism . . . . Somebody put in a word for you, didn’t they? Sure they could have. It’s so unfair for you to lambast us all the time when we have our mothers, fathers, sisters brothers whomever on the payroll. It’s not the benefit of the person. It’s the trust that we have for that individual.”
At first, Austin said she didn’t want to talk about her son again because the article by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos was downright “vicious,” as she put it.
But under repeated questioning, the always outspoken chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee could not contain her anger.
The column stated that Kenny Austin lacked a valid driver’s license, which is one of the requirements to become a ward superintendent and drive around the ward surveying problems.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office says the suspension on Kenneth Austin’s license was lifted on Friday — the day after the column about him was published at suntimes.com and the same day the story appeared in the newspaper.
His driver’s license had been suspended since December 2015 for failing to make child support payments, state records show.
On Tuesday, the alderman said she had paid her son’s delinquent child support payments.
“My son had a valid driver’s license in our opinion that we knew. We did not know that you couldn’t get hired if you had arrearage. That they would [not just] take it out as they would normally for child support. We didn’t know that, so we had to find out what does he owe in back pay,” Austin said.
“If you’re a truck driver, then you need a drivers license. But if you’re in arrearage in your child support, you’ve got to pay that up before you can even get a drivers license or receive a drivers license. That’s crazy. How am I gonna pay you if I don’t have a job? So I had to pay that money out for my son in order for him to get his drivers license cleared. It’s done now. But, the reporter who wrote the story didn’t even bother to see whether that was true or not or what happened.”
A spokeswoman for the Streets and Sanitation Department has said having a valid license is a requirement for every ward superintendent, and that the younger Austin began working as the 34th Ward’s superintendent on Oct. 2 — four days before his license was reinstated.
And city officials would not explain how he got the job before he could meet the requirement that he have a license.
Two years ago, Austin unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at Inspector General Joe Ferguson for what she called the “witch hunt” investigation that forced the resignation of her son.
At the time, Kenny Austin resigned from his $72,384-a-year city laborer’s job after an internal investigation concluded he crashed a city vehicle while driving on a suspended license, then had a co-worker cover for him to avoid taking a mandatory drug test.
On Tuesday, Austin condemned Mihalopoulos for including those four-letter words in his column.
“What did he start the story out with? With me using profanity. Oh yeah, let’s make this a good juicy story. That was so unfair,” she said.
Mihalopoulos reported last week that Kenny Austin got the $73,212-a-year ward superintendent’s job 14 months after he quit a slightly lower paying job with Streets and San. He quit that job before he could be fired. Had he been fired, his name would have been added to the city’s long-term “do not hire” list.
City Hall was going to fire him from that old job after Ferguson found that Kenny had crashed a city vehicle while driving on a suspended license. Kenny also falsely claimed a co-worker was driving, which got him out of taking a mandatory drug test.
On Tuesday, Austin insisted once again that her son was the passenger – not the driver.
“I was so angry with him … because you know me. I’m a fighter. My son said, ‘Mom, they believe a liar over me. When I said I wasn’t driving, I was not driving. I didn’t have somebody drive me to cover up anything'” the alderman recalled.
“If you were not driving,’Why did you go to the Police Department and say you lied. You went there and said that you were driving. You told your department you were driving.’ My son cried and cried and cried. A grown man cried. … You go to the Police Department and tell a lie? I can’t protect you with a lie. I can protect you with the truth.”
Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos