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Rep. Marie Newman, in a Democratic primary with Rep. Sean Casten, faces political damage from ethics probe

Iymen Hamman Chehade, at the center of the controversy over Rep. Marie Newman offering him a job, is announcing this week a run for Congress from the 3rd District.

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., on the Sun-Times’ “At the Virtual Table” show on July 16.
Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., on the Sun-Times’ “At the Virtual Table” show on July 16.
Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Looming over Rep. Marie Newman’s 2022 Democratic primary campaign against Rep. Sean Casten in the new 6th Congressional District is a renewed spotlight on a contract she signed in 2018 promising a government job to Iymen Hamman Chehade — a successful inducement, he said in court filings, for him not running against her in 2020.

Newman, 57, from La Grange, faces political damage as the employment agreement with Chehade is now the subject of a potential House Ethics Committee probe.

On Friday, the ethics panel said it will decide by Jan. 24 if it will pursue the case.

Newman campaign manager Ben Hardin told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday, “I believe that information will be made public on January 24th and that it will be definitively clear that there was no ethical wrongdoing.”

Complicating matters politically for Newman is Chehade’s own June 2022 primary bid for Congress and a series of very large salary payments Newman’s campaign fund has been making to him since July 1.

Iymen Hamman Chehade
Iymen Hamman Chehade
Photo by Kirsten Miccoli

The disbursements started two days after a June 29 settlement — the terms were never made public — was reached in his breach of contract case that ended up in federal court.

Chehade, 47, a Palestinian-American, told the Sun-Times he is officially launching a primary bid this week in the new 3rd Congressional District, anchored on Chicago’s Northwest Side and sweeping in northwestern suburban turf.

He becomes the third contender in a district Democratic mapmakers drew in the wake of the 2020 census intended to yield a Hispanic member of Congress.

Chehade, the son of Palestinian immigrants, currently teaches at the Art Institute and Columbia College. His courses focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He is also the founder of the Uprising Theater, 2905 N. Milwaukee Ave., a nonprofit dedicated to, according to its mission statement, “working to give voice to people of Palestine and others who are marginalized.”

The resume Chehade provided to the Sun-Times made no mention of being employed by the Newman campaign.

Between July 1 and Sept. 28, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report, Chehade was paid $29,500, making him the highest paid staffer in the third quarter — more than double what two other Newman campaign staffers were paid during the same period.

Chehade told the Sun-Times his job with Newman is continuing through next year, even as he is running for his own congressional seat.

Chehade said he is the “Director of Foreign Policy and Research” for the Newman campaign, which the campaign confirmed Sunday.

The Sun-Times asked the Newman campaign to provide examples of Chehade’s work product and was sent two briefing papers: 12 pages of policy recommendations on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis and 9 pages on Kashmir.

Chehade earned an undergraduate degree in history and a master’s in history and education from the University of Illinois Chicago.

THE TIMELINE: BREAKING THIS DOWN

2018: On March 20, Newman narrowly loses a Democratic primary to Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., 51.13% to 48.87%. Winning the primary in the Democratic district is tantamount to clinching the seat in the November general election.

According to Chehade’s lawsuit, in March, after Newman was defeated, he started exploring a 2020 3rd District run.

Chehade lives near O’Hare Airport on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Candidates do not have to live in districts they want to represent. The current 3rd District takes in parts of the South Side and southwest suburbs.

The largest Palestinian community in the U.S. is clustered in and around the current 3rd District.

On Dec. 26 — almost two years before the 2020 election — Newman and Chehade signed an employment agreement, an effort, his lawsuit said, “to induce Chehade not to run against her in the primary.”

The “inducement” worked, Chehade admitted. “Chehade accepted the offer and did not run against Newman in the primary.”

The employment agreement, filed with the lawsuit, stated if Newman won, Chehade would be her chief foreign policy adviser as well as either the district or legislative director. Chehade would be one of Newman’s highest paid staffers — a salary between $135,000 to $140,000 a year.

The contract would automatically renew and continue as long as Newman was in the House, a very unusual provision.

2019: On June 11, Newman tells Chehade she won’t give him a House job, the lawsuit states.

2020: In the March 17 Democratic primary, Newman beats Lipinski, 47.26% to 44.72% Hoping to leverage the growing Palestinian population in the district, Rush Darwish, a Palestinian-American, runs in the primary and gets 5.73% of the vote.

Newman is elected to the House on Nov. 3.

2021: Newman is sworn-in on Jan. 3.

Chehade sues her for breach of contract on Jan. 19. That Newman signed the contract is not disputed by her lawyers.

On May 26, a conservative watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, files a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, alleging an “apparent violation of federal law and ethics rules.”

The OCE investigates and on Oct. 25 sends its findings to the Ethics panel.

On Dec. 2, Chehade registers with the Federal Election Commission to create his congressional campaign committee, “IM IN WITH IYMEN.”

On Friday, Dec. 10, the Ethics Committee said its next move will be announced by Jan. 24.