Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hairston's $28K of slush money spent for ... what?

posted by chicago pop

[Source: Chicago Tribune, "Friends and family fund for aldermen," Thursday, November 19, 2009]

When you live in Chicago, you get used to bodies popping up in rivers.

So to speak.

You also get used to Aldermen reassuring us that, whatever the offense, "everyone is doing it." As convicted felon (and former 20th Ward Alderman) Arenda Troutman put it, Most aldermen ... are hos."

So when the Chicago Tribune reports on a $1.3 million slush fund that not even the Daley-appointed, hiring compliance lap-dog knew about, it's not really that shocking. Alderman George Cardenas (12th) thinks it's perfectly A-OK to have his dad on the payroll because, after all, "He does a lot of things -- a lot of the things in the community that people have no idea about."

The existence of the slush fund, then -- which apparently is used as a way to allow aldermen to hire independent contractors without having to follow mandated hiring rules or pay city pensions -- is not surprising, nor is the fact that Alderman Leslie Hairston drew down a $28K check from the fund.

What is surprising is that the $28K went to political consultant Delmarie Cobb, and was paid from the fund between January 2008 and July 2009 "to prepare newsletters, news releases and publicize ward meetings for the 5th Ward alderman," during exactly the time that Alderman Hairston had a big crisis on her hands: Doctors Hospital.

(Cobb's next gig, it appears, was working to rehabilitate Senator Roland "Tombstone" Burris' political reputation.)

Now, we happen to have one of Cobb's old news releases publicizing a ward meeting for the 5th Ward alderman, and it pertained to Doctors Hospital. And I remember thinking at the time: The Adlerman is going to get some professional help this time. She wants to keep control of the meetings, avoid another Point fiasco. She wants to stay on the ball.

Back in July 2008, as the Doctors Hospital redevelopment plan was heating up, Delmarie Cobb's PR firm The Publicity Works [no website] sent this email around:

Fifth Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston has scheduled a public meeting on the status of the former Doctor’s Hospital for 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 5, in the auditorium of Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St. The University of Chicago purchased the structure, located on Stony Island Avenue between 57th and 59th Streets, and is working with White Lodging, which proposes developing hotel accommodations at the site.

“It’s been a year since the developer unveiled their original concept to the public,” Hairston said. “The community expressed serious concerns about reservation, how the project visually ‘fits’ in the environment, labor practices, and overall degree of dialogue with local stakeholders.”

Hairston said she the university and White Lodging kept the lines of communication open. “I am pleased to say they listened and even reviewed an alternative design submitted by preservation advocates. We are now at a place where we can talk about how they took our issues into consideration, or why they believe something might not be feasible. It’s an on-going negotiation, and I encourage anyone interested to attend, ask questions and give honest feedback about what they hear.”

Very well.

But we all know what happened. Hairston pulled off a meeting that was relatively orderly, a year after one that was not. But in terms of PR campaigns against the dry vote, or even just advice on how to manage the Doctors Hospital controversy, there appears to have been virtually nothing. At least, not as far as we can tell.

Except, it will be recalled, Hairston's letter to the Hyde Park Herald, published by the hapless newspaper AFTER the election, but also written only 11 days before the election, encouraging voters to oppose the dry vote. And this, after a full summer and fall of controversy on the issue -- when residents of the 39th precinct were receiving mailings from unions and receiving door-to-door visits from petitioners.

Whatever that $28K was spent for, it doesn't seem to have had much effect either advocating for or even informing the voting public of Alderman Hairston's position on the Doctors Hospital issue. It would be fair to say that, if any of that money went towards publicizing Hairston's position, or anything to do with Doctors Hospital, it went down a hole.

With that in mind, we wish Senator Burris the best of luck.


Elizabeth Fama said...

I jogged by Bret Harte on Election morning. Ms. Hairston had a representative (to urge no to the dry vote) stationed EAST of the Bret Harte door, at the wall of the Solstice site, where there was no chance of interacting with 39th precinct voters (unless they happened to be on their way back from a dentist appointment at the Windermere).

Am I missing something? Couldn't Ms. Hairston have just said "yes" to the hotel, after the initial public meetings (before the dry vote threat cropped up) if she believed in it? I KNOW she could have said yes to fixing the Point after the Compromise Plan was reached, but she let control of that process slip through her fingers. In other words, maybe Rosemarie Cobb wasn't necessary at all in the Doctors Hospital case, just some decisive action?

chicago pop said...

Somewhat tangential, but related: Unite-Here, which actively opposed the Doctors Hospital plan, is getting some heat from union members who claimed the union advocated psychological abuse and mind control of members. Certainly balances out, even at the level of allegation, the allegations of unfair labor practices levelled at White Lodging. From today's NY Times:

chicago pop said...

I'd love to see a breakdown of Delmarie Cobb's bill for the 2008-2009 period, to find out how much she got paid to work on Drs Hospital-related issues (or not). I'd like to know just how much that email announcement from August 2008 cost.

And yes, decisive leadership is probably considerably cheaper than $28,000.

Anonymous said...

If Hairston had openly supported the compromise plan for The Point the Herald would have written a biased article complete with a huge bogus headline making it seem like she was actually vociferously against it... like they did to Willie Cochran this week.

All kidding aside, I get the impression her primary concern is trying to avoid making enemies of people like Spicer, who seems to sit all day looking for ways to battle his perceived enemies.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Greg, I agree that she's trying not to make enemies. You might even argue more generously and say that she's trying to listen to her constituents. But as a result, she has little (or no?) accomplishments to point to in this neck of the ward. She could have had the ONLY section of the lakefront project that was custom-designed by the community and the City, re-used all the limestone, and was created with swimming access, and she could have had one of the only large-scale hotel construction projects in the city during a major recession (adding sleeping rooms for families of hospital patients and two restaurants to the neighborhood). And those are only two examples. What's happening with the Village Center plans? Is there any way she can nudge the Solstice project? (What else am I forgetting?)

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen she seems like a really nice person but we need someone who will push for what is right as opposed to someone who just allows whatever happens to happen because it's easier.

(What else am I forgetting?)

McMobil, Harper Court, and whatever was supposed to happen where Tiki Lounge used to be. I'm sure there are more we don't even know about.

chicago pop said...

Just some clarification: Village Center, McMobil, etc. are not in Hairston's 5th Ward, although Solstice (which she supported) and the Shoreland are.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Oops, you're right Chicago Pop. My mistake regarding Village Center.

george said...

And I'm hopeful that the Shoreland project is in good shape, from what I've heard indirectly. Don't forget the Del Prado project, also in the 5th Ward, where renovation is under way.

I think of all the construction snafus in the area, the one that bugs me the most is the vacant lot at 53rd and Cornell (NOT 5th Ward, what crazy boundaries), the old Tiki corner. I miss the Tiki!