Ald. Lopez wants probe into Fire owner’s $25K contribution to Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Ald. Ray Lopez says the contribution from billionaire Joe Mansueto “represents a gross & familiar abuse of power.” Chicagoans with disabilities protest plans for the training center on land slated for affordable housing.

SHARE Ald. Lopez wants probe into Fire owner’s $25K contribution to Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on as Chicago Fire Owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto speaks on Oct. 8, 2019, about the Fire returning to Soldier Field beginning with the 2020 season.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) wants the city’s Board of Ethics and inspector general to investigate a campaign contribution to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign from billionaire Joe Mansueto.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Former mayoral challenger Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Wednesday asked Chicago’s Board of Ethics and inspector general to investigate Mayor Lori Lightfoot for accepting a $25,000 contribution from the owner of the Chicago Fire two months after she muscled through a zoning change allowing the soccer club to build an $80 million training center on Chicago Housing Authority land.

In a letter to IG Deborah Witzburg and Ethics Board Executive Director Steve Berlin, Lopez, who dropped his mayoral bid last week, said he believes the contribution from billionaire Joe Mansueto, founder and majority owner of Morningstar Inc., “represents a gross & familiar abuse of power and, at minimum, a potential violation” of the city’s ethics ordinance.

The letter specifically highlights the section of the ethics ordinance that prohibits a city official or candidate for office from accepting “anything of value, including but not limited to, a gift, favor or promise of future … employment based upon any mutual understanding, either explicit or implicit, that the votes, official actions, decisions or judgments of any official candidate for city office or city contractor concerning business of the city would be influenced thereby.”

“My concerns are just the perception of the impropriety of deals being made — public land being given away meant for housing — and the result being less than altruistic. This seems very much like typical Chicago way, pay-to-play politics that the mayor has railed against and ran against when she was elected,” Lopez told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“For a $25,000 donation to come less than two months after receiving 26 acres of public land is something that all of us deserve clarity on. … We need to know if this was a quid pro quo involving ... the use of CHA land to build this Chicago Fire training facility. The fact that the mayor had to bring back the Zoning Committee to undo a previous vote just so she could push it forward tells you how much pressure was put to make this deal go through. Now, we know why.”

Christina Freundlich, a spokesperson for the Lightfoot campaign, released a statement in response to Lopez’s demand.

“Government decision-making is firewalled from political campaign activities, and our team executes a rigorous vetting process on every contribution to ensure we have complied with all campaign finance rules and laws,” Freundlich said.

A spokesman from Mansueto’s office said in a statement: “Joe Mansueto believes and invests in Chicago. He brought the Chicago Fire Football Club back into the city and is committed to making a significant investment on the historically underfunded West Side. He has also spearheaded The Terminal in Humboldt Park, the North Austin Community Center, and numerous projects in underserved communities throughout the city. Joe believes in investing in historically disinvested parts of Chicago, a vision he shares with Mayor Lightfoot as a way to lift up the city as a whole.”

In late September, Lightfoot regrouped and won City Council passage of a zoning change — shot down in committee one day before — that allows the Fire to build an $80 million training center on CHA land on the Near West side formerly occupied by ABLA Homes.

The property is generally bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street.

Besides paying $8 million upfront, the Fire will pay an annual rent to the CHA starting at almost $800,000, with increases in future years. The lease extends 40 years with two 10-year renewal options.

The Fire’s upfront payment will cover the estimated $4 million cost for environmental work needed at the property, according to CHA officials.

Several dozen people — some in wheelchairs — gathered Wednesday outside Morningstar’s office, 22 W. Washington St., to protest Mansueto’s plans for the Fire training center.

“Just because it was offered to you doesn’t mean you have to take it,” Laura Donaldson said.

Donaldson, an organizer for disability advocacy nonprofit Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, and others argued that building a soccer facility on the site instead of public housing ignores how difficult it remains for people to find public housing.

IMG_3161.jpg

Laura Donaldson, who has cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair, protests the plan for a Chicago Fire training center on CHA land on Wednesday outside the office of Morningstar Inc.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

“It took me years to get housing. It should not take anyone that long,” Donaldson said. “It is disproportionately hard for people with disabilities to get housing.”

The 54-year-old said she has cerebral palsy, has used a wheelchair her entire life and after her mother died was homeless for years before the Chicago Housing Authority could find her appropriate housing.

IMG_3198.jpg

Xochitl Esparza, 25, holds up a protest sign Wednesday in opposition to a plan to let the Chicago Fire build a soccer training facility on a Near West Side on a site that could be used for public housing.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

“CHA fully agrees that more resources are needed to address the need for affordable housing in Chicago and around the nation, including for accessible units,” said a CHA spokesperson in response.

“CHA is a major housing provider of people with disabilities. Roughly 35 percent of families in our housing programs report at least one household member as having a disability of some kind.”

In response to the protest, a spokesperson for Mansueto said, “Mr. Mansueto has been a socially responsible leader in Chicago’s business community, investing in our neighborhoods and supporting a range of philanthropic initiatives.”

The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Mansueto Foundation.

The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights said the CHA and a private developer, Related Midwest, have delivered just 245 of 775 promised units to date at the former ABLA site, now known as Roosevelt Square.

Contributing: Michael Loria

The Latest
The Oak Park folk musician and former National Youth Poet Laureate who sings of love and loss is “Someone to Watch in 2024.”
Aaron Mendez, 22 months old, suffered kidney damage and may have to have a kidney removed. His older brother, Isaiah, has been sedated since undergoing surgery. “I’m devastated to think I could have lost both of my kids that night,” their mother told the Sun-Times.
With interest, the plan could cost the city $2.4 billion over 37 years, officials have said. Johnson’s team says that money will be more than recouped by property tax revenue flowing back to the city’s coffers from expiring TIF districts.
Director/choreographer Dan Knechtges pushes the show to the outermost boundaries of broad comedy.
Tobin was a longtime Bears executive who served as the team’s de facto general manager from 1986-92.