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Two candidates for mayor most at risk of getting burned by Burke-Solis scandal

Mayoral candidates Susana Mendoza, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, in separate appearances in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom. | Photos by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidates Susana Mendoza, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, in separate appearances in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom. | Photos by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

An angry electorate has good reason to be even more furious after learning that one powerful alderman was wired up to snare another.

But which candidate in a crowded race for mayor stands to benefit is anybody’s guess.

As millionaire businessman Willie Wilson sees it, front-runners Susana Mendoza and Toni Preckwinkle both “have mud on their shoes.”

Mendoza appears to have the most to lose after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Ald. Danny Solis (25th), retiring chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, has spent the last two years wired up to help federal investigators build their corruption case against Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

ANALYSIS

Patti Solis Doyle, the alderman’s sister and a former adviser to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, was scheduled to host a Jan. 29 fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for Mendoza.

Running fourth in the mayoral fundraising sweepstakes with $1.6 million to Bill Daley’s $4.5 million, Mendoza can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth — even after learning of Ald. Solis’ undercover role in the Burke investigation. Her campaign issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying Mendoza is “proud to have the support” of Solis Doyle and the fundraiser would go on.

Later, however, Solis Doyle told the Sun-Times her father-in-law had died Monday, so the fundraiser is being rescheduled.

Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, among the front-runners in the race for Chicago mayor, held a news conference Wednesday at City Hall. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mendoza’s ties to the Solis family run deep.

Danny Solis was one of the biggest donors to her first race for the Illinois House and his 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization contributed $55,400 to her 2018 campaign for state comptroller.

“This is the second one of Susana Mendoza’s friends and allies to be caught up in this FBI scandal. Neither of these people are allies of mine,” Preckwinkle said Wednesday at an unrelated City Hall news conference.

“Ordinary people are not called in off the street to wear a wire. You wonder what prompted him to cooperate with the federal government. … I find these allegations of public corruption appalling, discouraging, disgusting. This has to end.”

Mendoza is also getting tarred from the other side.

She’s close to Burke and considers him a political mentor. She would not have been elected as a state representative without his help. She was married at the alderman’s home and sworn in repeatedly — until this month — by the alderman’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Like the rest of the mayoral field, Mendoza purged herself of Burke’s money after he was charged with attempted extortion.

Mendoza’s problems stemming from the Burke-Solis scandal would seem monumental if it weren’t for the fact that Preckwinkle has been dragged down by it even more.

According to Mendoza’s pollster, Preckwinkle’s “net favorability” has plummeted since Burke was charged with shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and a $10,000 contribution to Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign for county board president.

On Wednesday, Preckwinkle was forced to confront yet another allegation — that Burke’s son was under investigation for sexually inappropriate conversations at the sheriff’s office when he was promoted to a sensitive Homeland Security job by the Preckwinkle administration.

For the first time, Preckwinkle acknowledged Burke Jr. got the promotion after a personal pitch from his powerful father.

“I had a meeting with Ed Burke. He shared with me that his son was looking for a new opportunity. His son had worked for the county for 20 years. He was working for the sheriff,” Preckwinkle said.

“I gave his resume to the Department of Homeland Security. … They vetted his resume and the head of Homeland Security Mike Masters decided to hire him.”

Preckwinkle said she had no idea at the time of that promotion that the alderman’s son was under investigation at the sheriff’s office.

“We have no access to the personnel files of separately-elected officials any more than we have access to the files of private corporations when we hire someone,” Preckwinkle said of Sheriff Tom Dart, with whom she has feuded for years over budget issues.

“If we’d known of the investigations, I wouldn’t have hired him.”

That gave Mendoza the opening to pounce.

“Another day, another scandal from Toni Preckwinkle. Just like her illegal campaign contribution from an alleged extortion scheme, the sexual harassment allegations against her chief of staff, and the head of her security detail she fired after getting caught using a county vehicle for political purposes, Toni Preckwinkle doesn’t come clean until she’s busted,” Mendoza was quoted as saying in a statement.

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Preckwinkle scrambles to explain $10,000 donation tied to Burke

“Voters can’t trust a machine boss like Toni Preckwinkle to move Chicago forward from this constant cycle of patronage hiring and corruption.”

Emanuel is a close ally of Solis. The mayor said Wednesday he has no idea which mayoral candidate will benefit from the Solis bombshell or what impact the alderman’s undercover role will have in building what may well be the biggest political corruption scandal in decades.

“The real question is, not who in the mayor’s race gets benefit but whether the changes that people have been clamoring about get addressed — and not just for the campaign,” the mayor said.

“This is a wake-up call to everybody that our work on those changes is not done and people are tired of politics as usual. We will see through another set of changes. But the next mayor and City Council — regardless of who wins — will have to do a lot of things to earn the public’s trust.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet