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Luis Arroyo: the slow rise and sudden fall of a low-profile, clout-heavy state rep

Much like state Sen. Martin Sandoval, another Chicago legislator facing intense federal scrutiny though not yet charged, a common reaction to state Rep. Luis Arroyo’s arrest in political circles was: ‘What took them so long?’

Former state Rep. Luis Arroyo.
Illinois State Rep. Luis Arroyo resigned after being accused of trying to bribe a state senator. A House committee had been about to start proceedings to remove him from office without waiting for the outcome of a trial.
Capitol News Illinois

By most measures, state Rep. Luis Arroyo was your quintessential Chicago political success story.

A high school dropout who was born in Puerto Rico and came here with his family as a boy, the city Water Department bricklayer rose to power slowly and quietly through the Democratic Party to become arguably the strongest force in North Side Latino politics.

While rarely calling attention to himself, the 36th Ward Democratic committeeman installed his son as a county commissioner and temporarily pried control of the neighboring 31st Ward away from powerful former Democratic county chairman Joe Berrios —exerting himself as a regional broker in the mold of his mentor, former 33rd Ward alderman Dick Mell.

The shining proof of Arroyo’s success was the dream home in Marco Island, Fla., valued at $805,000 by local taxing authorities, which he finished building this past year as a winter getaway and future retirement destination.

With a state salary of $80,037, a city pension exceeding $61,000 and a consulting business, albeit a questionable one, on the side, Arroyo seemed to have it made in the shade of his screen-enclosed, built-in swimming pool.

Until this past week, that is, when the 65-year-old resigned his seat in disgrace only days after he was accused in federal court of trying to bribe a state senator — and just hours before a House committee was to begin proceedings to remove him from office without waiting for the outcome of a trial.

Much like state Sen. Martin Sandoval, another Chicago legislator facing intense federal scrutiny though not yet charged, a common reaction to Arroyo’s arrest in political circles was: “What took them so long?”

That’s easy to say in hindsight, but I can assure you many were offering the same assessment long before this.

For his part, Arroyo has pleaded not guilty and said in a statement he expects to be completely vindicated of the charge against him. It’s always possible.

Still, it has been an abrupt change of fortune for someone who was growing accustomed to the advantages of being important enough that other politicians sought his counsel.

At least for the foreseeable future, Arroyo’s going to be too radioactive for candidates to seek his assistance — and the assistance of the many loyal political workers he has been known to bring to bear.

As chairman of a House appropriations committee that controls state capital spending, Arroyo had influence with an array of state and local agencies where he could place his people, sources say.

But beyond that, they say, he has always shown an ability to nurture his political friendships, dating all the way back to his early work for former Mayor Jane Byrne and later for former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, with whom he’s had more of an on-again, off-again relationship typical of Latino politics.

Although Arroyo’s city pension is probably safe, he stands to lose the state pension if convicted, which might raise concerns for how he’s going to pay off the remainder of the $545,000 mortgage he took out for the Florida home in 2016.

Arroyo’s wife, Maribel, worked 15 years in the city Department of Family and Support Services before helping him start their consulting business, Spartacus 3 LLC, according to the company’s website.

“Ductus Constantia Factum” says the company logo, which the website translates as “leadership-determination-accomplishment.”

It was Arroyo’s determination to start a consulting firm despite the inherent conflicts of interest — in an effort to make some of the money he saw lawyer-politicians making — that appears to have tripped him up.

Federal authorities allege Arroyo used the position to get hired to lobby the City Council on behalf of businessmen seeking city legalization and regulation of sweepstakes gambling machines, while secretly working to pass similar state legislation to do the same.

Arroyo’s stable of loyalists isn’t what it was since this year’s defeat of 31st Ward Ald. Milly Santiago, who took out Berrios’ alderman four years earlier and gave the seat back to another Berrios candidate in the April runoff — in part because she wasn’t that loyal.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), an Arroyo ally originally elected with his help, may be strong enough to survive without him now that he’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader — depending on the extent of his own involvement with the proposed sweepstakes legalization effort.

Just last year, Arroyo extended his reach by engineering the election of Marcelino Garcia as commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Arroyo’s days of empire building are over. Now it’s more a matter of how much time he’s going to get to spend in that Florida pool.