An influential alderman was accused Monday of working behind the scenes to soften the blow of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s taxicab industry overhaul five days after principals of an industry trade group hosted a fund-raiser for the alderman.
The Jan. 12 fund-raiser for Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, was hosted by a lobbyist for and principals of the Chicago Taxicab Operators Association.
The fund-raiser was disclosed in the February issue of the Chicago Dispatcher, an industry trade publication, under the headline, “How Much is that Alderman in the Window?”
The Chicago Taxicab Operators Association was founded by Adrian Tudor, whose Medallion Leasing & Management Co. paid $345,000 in fines to the city last year for illegally putting wrecks known as “salvaged” vehicles on the street as taxicabs.
Five days after the fund-raiser at the Doostan Restaurant, 2546 W. Peterson in West Rogers Park, Beale pushed through reforms watered down considerably to soften the financial blow.
Instead of a $1 million bond and an immediate, 75,000-mile cap on cabs placed into service for the first time, aldermen agreed to a $200,000 bond and a three-year phase-in of the mileage cap imposed to avoid a repeat of the 2010 scandal that forced the city to yank 400 wrecks known as “salvaged” cabs off the street.
Beale said Monday the fund-raiser was planned “back when I first became chairman” and months before the taxicab overhaul was introduced. The alderman flatly denied that he helped water down the ordinance in exchange for campaign contributions.
“I was not part of those discussions. The industry and the commissioner and the mayor’s office all agreed to the changes. If everybody is in agreement, why would I disagree?” he said.
On Jan. 13, the aldermen reported receiving contributions of: $1,500 from Chicago Taxi Medallion Management; $1,500 from Medallion Leasing & Management and $1,000 from Patriot Transportation.
Baxter Swilley, a lobbyist representing the Chicago Taxicab Operators Association, insisted that he organized the fund-raiser for Beale “months ago” – long before the industry overhaul was unveiled.
“People at the fund-raiser were members of the industry who I tried to organize so they could build a relationship with Ald. Beale. That relationship has never existed before,” Swilley said.
“You are under the impression that this thing happened right before the hearing so we could influence Ald. Beale’s decision. I’m trying to dissuade you of that. There were technical things that needed to be changed to ensure that the financial burden on the industry was not overwhelming. The commissioner was gracious enough to hear us out. Ald. Beale was facilitating.”
Asked why he didn’t cancel the fund-raiser to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Swilley said, “That’s a fair question. I didn’t view it as being a big deal – and it wasn’t.”
Rosemary Krimbel, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said there was no connection between the fund-raiser for Beale and the changes she made.
“Commissioner Krimbel didn’t know anything about the fund-raiser, and she was the one made the changes. We held talks with the industry for months – up until the night before it went to committee,” said department spokeswoman Jennifer Lipford.
Noting that small and mid-sized medallion holders had argued that a $1 million bond would be too costly, Lipford said, “We were happy to work with Ald. Beale, but these concessions were made because of concerns voiced by the industry. We could meet them half-say without jeopardizing the main goals of the ordinance, which is cleaner, safer cabs.”
In April, 2010, nearly six percent of Chicago’s 6,800 taxicabs were yanked off the street because they were salvaged or rebuilt vehicles that are illegal to use as taxicabs.
After initially seeking $17 million in fines, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley settled for a $1 million penalty from taxicab companies accused of endangering riders by turning wrecks into cabs.
The biggest chunk of the settlement – $839,320 in fines and court costs – was to be paid by Chicago Elite Cab Corp. and 63 related companies tied to Symon Garber, the city’s undisputed taxicab kingpin.
Garber is a Russian businessman who was in the cab business in New York when he befriended Mayor Daley’s son Patrick. A few years later, he was at the top of the taxicab heap in Chicago.