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Indicted alderman collapses at City Hall; colleague administers CPR

Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran (201th) | Sun-Times file photo

Indicted Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) collapsed during City Council budget hearings Thursday, prompting colleagues to rush to his side and administer CPR, helping him to regain consciousness and, possibly, saving his life.

Cochran, 65, was in his seat in the council chambers during a heavily attended hearing on the Chicago Police Department’s budget. Fortunately for him, Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) saw Cochran shaking and slumping in his chair, appearing to have a seizure.

Austin shouted: “Man down. He’s having a stroke.”

Council members hurried over. Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) shouted, “Lay him on his side.”

As the sergeant-at-arms and his staff asked the media to leave the gallery inside the council chambers, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, administered CPR to Cochran — a skill he learned years ago as a lifeguard.

“I was compressing him because he wasn’t breathing,” said O’Connor, who wouldn’t take credit for saving Cochran’s life.

“I’m happy he’s come back. He just kind of coughed a little bit and came back and he’s hopefully fine now.”

When the alderman regained consciousness, a round of applause could be heard from the chambers. As he was wheeled out and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Cochran gave colleagues a thumbs up.

O’Connor joked that Cochran was “kind of embarrassed by all the attention and didn’t want to go out on the gurney,” but colleagues insisted.

“We just told him he needs to go out on the gurney because if something happened on the way to the hospital he would sue us and we would have to pay him, and we don’t want do that,” O’Connor said with a smile.

It was a different kind of attention than the kind that Cochran got when he showed up at a council meeting the day he was indicted.

On that day, colleagues approached Cochran on the City Council floor and whispered to him. One showed Cochran a story about the political corruption indictment on an iPad.

That prompted Cochran to flee the council chambers out the front door as a pack of reporters and television cameras chased him down the hall.

Cochran’s collapse on Thursday unsettled O’Connor.

“I’m thrilled. I’m happy he’s OK,” O’Connor said. “That’s a frightening thing. You just don’t go through that every day.”

O’Connor said Cochran, “now that he’s awake, he’s kind of embarrassed by all the attention.”‘

Everyone’s quick action helped, starting with Austin yelling, O’Connor said.

“I give a lot of credit to her for calling it out and getting everybody over there.”

Austin was too unsettled to talk about what happened right away. But when the budget hearing resumed after lunch, Austin thanked O’Connor “for his quick action in doing CPR.”

Sources said the 911 call about Cochran’s collapse included a report that he had suffered a stroke. The sources later reported that the alderman was in stable condition. He was described as “talking and comfortable.” There was no further information on Cochran’s diagnosis or condition.

CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, who was testifying when Cochran collapsed, was there to resume the hearing. Austin told him: “Maybe we need to have a CPR class. And maybe you can assist us in our request to have a paramedic over here — maybe a doctor or a nurse — in the event that something happens again. Me being one with a lot of medical history, I need to feel safe. I don’t want somebody else to say, ‘Girl down,’ and it be me.”

The incident brought to mind when Johnson nearly collapsed at a public meeting in Englewood in January.

Johnson blamed the near collapse on having taken medication on an empty stomach. Hours later, the superintendent acknowledged that he suffered from a chronic kidney disease that would require a kidney transplant he later received from his 25-year-old son.

For Council veterans, the incident evoked memories of the committee-meeting heart attack suffered by Ald. Terry Gabinski (32nd), the Council chambers collapse of Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd), and the sudden deaths of two mayors, Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington.

Cochran is facing federal charges filed last year. A 22-page indictment accuses him of looting a 20th Ward fund meant to help children and senior citizens, using $5,000 to pay his daughter’s college tuition and withdrawing $25,000 from ATMs near his preferred casinos. The former Chicago Police officer is also accused of accepting bribes from businessmen who needed favors.

Cochran faces 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery and two counts of extortion. He is accused of pocketing a $1,500 bribe from a lawyer who wanted a letter from him as part of a redevelopment project for foreclosed housing. The feds also allege Cochran took a $3,000 bribe from another man who wanted to sell his liquor store in the ward but needed a packaged goods license.

The feds say that the 20th Ward Activities Fund that Cochran is charged with looting was promoted to contributors as a way to pay for a summer back-to-school picnic, a Valentine Day’s event for seniors, and school supplies and warm jackets for kids. He used money from the fund for his daughter’s tuition and also withdrew thousands of dollars from ATMs near casinos, the feds say.

The most serious charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.