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Aldermen, mayoral candidates trip over themselves to propose ethic reform

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas brings a broom as a prop to a City Hall news conference Monday to signify the sweeping change he hopes to bring about on the issue of ethics reform if elected mayor. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-TimesPaul Vallas

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas brings a broom as a prop to a City Hall news conference Monday to signify the sweeping change he hopes to bring about on the issue of ethics reform if elected mayor. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

Mayoral candidates and re-election-seeking aldermen elbowed each other out of the way Monday in a rush to get on the right side of the federal corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

The second floor lobby at City Hall was like the supermarket deli counter on a Saturday morning. Take a number and wait your turn to step up and propose ethics reforms.

First came Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who traded his once-outspoken political independence for a committee chairmanship doled out by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Moore proposed: banning outside employment by aldermen; empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate City Council committees and their programs and independently enforce his own subpoenas; public financing of aldermanic and citywide campaigns and live-streaming of City Council committee meetings.

Moore was asked why it almost always takes a scandal for aldermen to grow a spine and approve ethics reforms.

“Two-word answer: human nature,” he said.

Former independent Ald. Joe Moore (49th) stands alone Monday in proposing a five-point ethics plan in the wake of the federal corruption complaint that forced Ald. Edward Burke (14th) to step down as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

“When you have something as monumental as the most powerful member of the City Council facing a very serious criminal indictment, that will give people the courage to change.”

Next up was the Progressive Caucus, whose persistent calls for ethics reforms have run into a wall of resistance erected by Burke and others.

They want to strictly enforce Rule 36 of council rules, which empowers aldermen to choose their own committee chairmen.

They don’t want Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the Finance Committee vice-chair who also happens to be Emanuel’s floor leader, to assume the chairmanship that Burke relinquished last week.

They want the job to go to Progressive Caucus chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).

“We want to make sure we have somebody in that seat who can move the City Council business forward without any conflicts, either known or unknown,” Waguespack said, referring to conflicts posed by the fact that O’Connor’s wife has worked as a real estate agent on projects where her husband approved the zoning.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) facetiously referred to, what he called the “go-along-to-get-along” or “rubber stamp” caucus.

“To think that one of the leaders of that caucus, Pat O’Connor, at this moment has the moral authority, has the leadership, has the ability, has the track record to reform the Chicago City Council…at this moment of crisis is utterly ridiculous,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Like Moore, the Progressive Caucus wants to expand Ferguson’s subpoena and investigative powers and strengthen Rule 14 to require a written explanation of aldermanic conflicts.

Aldermen who recuse themselves from voting would have to be “physically absent from all debates, hearings and votes,” even if they are committee chairs, under the change.

“We are not a jump-on- the bandwagon, all of the sudden having these epiphanies wanting to change things when the same alderman that stands behind the microphone and says he is now for these ideas last month and the month before pushed us away and didn’t want to be any part of it,” said Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th).

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson was preceded by his political adviser, flamboyant former alderman and state senator Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon.

When Hendon likened allowing aldermen to choose their own committee chairman to “opening the door of your house to a burglar,” he and Ald. John Arena (45th) nearly got into a shouting match.

“That’s insulting,” Arena said, pointing to Rule 36 that empowers the City Council to reorganize itself.

Hendon countered, “I did not interrupt you, alderman. If you want to interrupt me, I can meet you outside and you can say anything you want.”

Wilson then demanded that Toni Preckwinkle drop out of the race for mayor because of the $10,000 campaign contribution https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/chicago-mayoral-candidate-toni-preckwinkle-admits-10k-contribution-burke-shakedown/that Burke allegedly muscled from a Burger King franchise owner.

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson (left) and former alderman and state senator Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon at Monday’s City Hall news conference | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

“Toni Preckwinkle took money from Ed Burke. She’s just now paying it back. Susana Mendoza –– you shouldn’t be getting married at a man’s home and now returning his funds,” Wilson said.

“Preckwinkle should resign. The rest should get out of the way…They’re bought….Everyone of them has…gotten money from somebody else who owns them….I’m the only candidate in this race who has put up millions of dollars of my own money. I’m not bought.”

Paul Vallas was last, but brought a broom to signify the clean sweep he hopes to usher in if he’s elected mayor.

“Ald. Burke helped the careers of Susana Mendoza and Gery Chico who, along with Toni Preckwinkle, solicited and coveted Burke’s powerful support and money. They’re part of the corrupt political machine,” Vallas said, demanding that Burke’s minions drop out.

“Now, they desperately try to distance themselves from Burke. Let’s not forget that, for decades, they benefited from the preferred status of being Burke’s candidate or lobbyists. All the while, they adhered to the political code of silence. If this silence is not indictable, it surely is disqualifying.”

Vallas couldn’t resist ridiculing Bill Daley for proposing that the City Council be reduced from 50 aldermen to 15.

“After the horses have left the barn, he’s now shutting the door? Maybe he can say something about ethics reform when it comes to the investment of pension funds,” Vallas said, referring to the money-losing deals that involved Daley’s nephew.