Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alderman Hairston Throws Caution to Wind, Houses Ward and Campaign Offices in Same Building

posted by Elizabeth Fama

I seem to be the only one who cares about this issue. I'll admit that it's pretty far down on the list of Ways in Which Alderman Hairston Has Disappointed Me. (Her throwing away a 24-million-dollar repair of Promontory Point, which included the promise that it would become a sanctioned deep-water swimming site, holds spot #1 on that list.)

But I want the person who represents my ward to be squeaky clean: to rise above Chicago sloppiness-verging-on-cheating and do everything by the book. There happens to be something called Section 9-25.1 of the Illinois Election Code, which forbids using ward funds for campaign purposes. In 2005, Ms. Hairston was investigated for using her ward office as the 5th Ward Democratic Organization office. The evidence presented? Her title as D.O. Committeeman was on the awning; her staff admitted to undercover affiants that volunteers met and worked there, and that placards and yard signs were given out there; and finally, the website of the Cook County Democratic Organization listed both her ward address and phone number as the local Democratic Organization address. There was circumstantial evidence as well in the form of more than a thousand dollars of pizzas and food purchased by the Democratic Organization on the same block as her ward office (the bulk of it purchased in the three days leading up to Election Day) and labeled as "Election Expenses." In a hearing, Ms. Hairston testified that she did all of her political work from her home, and that no political activity occurred in her ward office. She made conflicting statements, and "gave testimony that the Hearing Officer described as argumentative, combative and, at times, evasive."

Flash forward to the current election, and Ms. Hairston appears to be conforming to the letter of the law, but not its spirit. Her ward office is at 2325 East 71st Street, and her campaign office is at 2325 East 71st Street, Suite 2B. How can I, as her constituent, be sure that the functions of the two offices aren't bleeding into each other — that is, both serving her campaign — especially as the election draws closer?

The answer is, I can't. She's cutting it too close.


GlassHospital said...

what are the chances she'll be voted out?

chicago pop said...

I have no empirical basis for estimating, at this point, but I would say anecdotally that Anne Marie Miles has definitely caused a stir and made Hairston take this election seriously. A lot of people will vote for her because she's the incumbent, and because she's spun a few well-publicized accomplishments pretty well: 1) the Starbucks on Stony Island, and 2) her City Council position against parking meter privatization. Both of these had very little impact on her ward as a whole, but got her a lot of attention, including the favorable regard of both city papers, which were too lazy in their endorsements to actually research her record over the last TWELVE YEARS.

chicago pop said...

I'll also add that the document Elizabeth Fama links to demonstrates - whatever your political party - that Chicago needs a more competitive system of political parties. How else would we know about this case if it weren't publicized by the Republican Party?

Greg said...

Whatever else Leslie may be, she's a pretty clever politician. She knows how to spin, she knows how to play smoke and mirrors, and she knows how to butter up her most vocal constituents. The Save The Point NIMBYS and those who feel they're entitled to free parking will back her to the bitter end. How else does someone with virtually no significant accomplishments keep getting re-elected?

raylodato said...

Beth, a little research would have revealed that this is an entirely legitimate practice. Leslie pays for the ward committeeman space from ward committeeman funds. The rent for her space is divided by the square footage each space occupies. City funds pay for the part of the office that houses the aldermanic functions, and political funds pay for the ward committeeman space.

If you had ventured beyond your keyboard to her current space, you would have seen that there is a clear distinction (and signage) between each of these spaces.

Richard Gill said...

Ok, maybe physical space arrangement is legal, in the strictest sense. But adjacent spaces like that will be subject to interaction that will bring their functional and financial separateness into question. Perhaps this doesn't bother the Hairston campaign, but as the original post says, it's cutting it too close.