Chicago’s buildings commissioner calling it a career

Judy Frydland’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, is about to turn 91. “I need to spend this time with my mom because, if something happens to her this year and I waited one more year, I don’t think I could forgive myself. She’s been through so much in her life.”

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Judy Frydland, commissioner of the Department of Buildings for the city of Chicago, in her office in 2015.

Judy Frydland, commissioner of the Department of Buildings for the city of Chicago, in her office in 2015.

Sun-Times file

After five years as Chicago’s buildings commissioner and 31 years with the city, Judy Frydland is calling it quits.

“I started in 1989 as an unpaid law clerk and worked my way up, then had a marvelous career and great support all the way throughout,” Frydland, whose resignation takes effect June 30, said Tuesday.

“I have a mother that’s 90 years old. She’ll be 91 October 1st, God willing. And I need to spend some time with my family. I love the city. I love my job. But my family has to come first at this time. I need to spend this time with my mom because, if something happens to her this year and I waited one more year, I don’t think I could forgive myself. She’s been through so much in her life.”

Frydland’s mother and father, Rachmiel and Estelle Frydland, both survived the Holocaust with stories so chilling they could fill a book — and did, in her father’s case.

Her father’s entire family was wiped out by the Holocaust. Her mother’s family just barely escaped being annihilated.

Their daughter has spent the last five years running a city department once known as a revolving door for those at the top and a haven for corruption for inspectors at the bottom.

Not so under Judy Frydland.

In 2018, City Hall threw the book at the owner of a Little Village building where 10 children died in a rear coach house fire that was Chicago’s most deadly for children since the Our Lady of Angels fire in 1958.

More recently, there was the disastrous smokestack demolition at a former coal-fired power plant in Little Village that prompted Mayor Lori Lightfoot to discover that it had been 15 years since the last implosion in Chicago.

Despite the inherent dangers and the need for “massive road closures” and sign-offs by at least five city agencies when explosives are used, there was “no separate, in-depth permitting process” for implosions.

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Frydland also was commissioner at a time when now-indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14th) was allegedly pressuring the department to withhold permits for a Burger King on the Southwest Side.

But, for the most part, the Frydland-run Department of Buildings has been free from the embarrassing scandals that used to be routine in Chicago.

“Five years as building commissioner may be a record-breaker. I’m not sure. We got a modern building code. We streamlined the permit process. We created a bad actors’ ordinance to go after bad contractors. We’ve done a lot,” Frydland said.

In an emailed statement, Lightfoot thanked Frydland for her “three decades of service to Chicago’s residents, businesses, and communities.”

The mayor said Frydland “leaves behind a legacy of strengthening City operations through modernizing our building codes, working with communities to maintain housing stock, and streamlining our permitting process.”

Contributing: Tim Novak

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