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The [Thursday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes / Posted on July 31, 2014

On Wednesday, the headline of a Tribune Op-Ed column claiming in all its hoariness that the city council was ready for reform naturally drew my grudging attention, mostly because I knew it wasn't true and was both eager and frightened to see who had written it and how lame it would be.

I had a problem reading it, though, because I was laughing too hard at the byline: By Pat O'Connor and Joe Moore.

At the end of piece, the Tribune helpfully identified each author as aldermen. For some reason, Rahm Emanuel didn't get a credit on the piece, though you can see his hand behind it if you read it backwards, in which case it just repeats "Fuck you, Lewis! Fuck you, Lewis!"

Anyway, the hilarity stems from the fact that O'Connor was Richard M. Daley's floor leader and, now that we have to change the way we do business, is Emanuel's floor leader. As such, O'Connor has been one of the biggest obstacles to reform in council history.

Meanwhile, Joe Moore must be giddy at how readily he's been accepted at the big kids' table, after years in the reform ghetto. Moore is now as eager a supplicant to the world's greatest mayor as we've seen in these chambers, though Ameya Pawar is coming up fast on the outside rail.

I'll believe the council is ready for reform when Scott Waguespack and John Arena tell me it is - and then only a decade or so after they prove it.

As for the Tribune I always wonder how this works. Is this automatic access? Any time a public official calls, the Op-Ed page jumps? And this goes for the Sun-Times, too. Do they ever say no?

Further, do they demand these pieces truly be written by the names on them? Do they fact-check?

And how is the practice of publishing these pieces - and more to the point, pieces from the mayor's office - different than simply publishing press releases?

Finally, what about public officials who refuse to answer questions from the paper's own reporters? Why grant them a platform to make whatever untested claims they want to? I mean, why would you ever take questions from a reporter when you know you can just write an Op-Ed for the paper instead?

*

The dynamic duo's Op-Ed is now the source of particular ridicule because the Trib newsroom, obviously separate from the editorial pages, did their job a lot better than their inter-office colleagues.

While O'Connor and Moore were spinning fantasy into Op-Ed fool's gold, Bill Ruthhart and Hal Dardick found the real treasure:

Ald. Patrick O'Connor quickly pushed through an ordinance Wednesday that limits the ability of the City Council's watchdog to investigate aldermen's campaign finances - a week after that investigator received permission to open an ethics probe of O'Connor.

The measure sponsored by O'Connor - Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Council floor leader - could hinder Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan's ongoing campaign finance probes, including the one of O'Connor.

That investigation, spurred by two sworn complaints to Khan's office, involve allegations that O'Connor violated the city's rules on soliciting campaign contributions, contract inducement, conflict of interest, improper influence and fiduciary duty, according to a confidential memo that Khan sent to the Board of Ethics seeking approval to launch his inquiry.

Last week, the Board of Ethics, which is appointed by the mayor, determined there was sufficient information and sworn testimony in the complaints, and authorized the investigation of O'Connor, sources said.

Which is funny - funny sad, not funny ha-ha, though it's a little funny ha-ha - because on Wednesday, O'Connor and Moore "wrote" this (I'm guessing someone on Rahm's PR staff actually wrote it):

Rahm Emanuel made government reform and transparency a central focus of his 2011 mayoral campaign. He followed through by appointing an ethics reform task force, charged with reviewing and recommending changes in the city's ethics rules and guidelines. Based on those recommendations, the council passed two major ethics reform ordinances early in the Emanuel administration. Those ordinances strengthened the ban against giving gifts to city officials and aldermen, tightened the rules for financial disclosure by officeholders, eliminated honoraria for speeches or other appearances, and added a 'reverse revolving door' restriction for those moving from the private sector into city government.

In addition, the ordinances created whistleblower protection for reporting alleged misconduct and increased penalties for violations of the ethics ordinance.

So what gives?

On Wednesday, O'Connor told the Tribune he was aware that the ethics board had opened the investigation but insisted it would conclude that he had committed no wrongdoing. 'Unequivocally, no, there will not be any finding against me,' he said."

I think the last person to issue such a strong denial was Jesse Jackson Jr., and before him, Rod Blagojevich.

Back to Ruthhart and Dardick:

"Khan, the City Council's watchdog, must have sworn affidavits and testimony from complainants before he can open an investigation into specific contributions to an alderman's campaign fund."

That doesn't make O'Connor guilty, but it sets an unreasonably high bar to even begin an investigation - a bar set by the city council. Khan has jumped over it.

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"O'Connor had introduced two versions of his ordinance in October, one which would have given Khan more power to investigate aldermen and another that would have given that oversight to the ethics board, which later said it did not want the authority.

"The two measures languished until Wednesday, when O'Connor quickly ushered a measure through the council that gave the added power to the ethics board."

That does not want it.

"Khan said the board had handled no campaign finance cases in a three-plus year span from 2009 through mid-2013 when his office took over the responsibility."

That's the same ethics board that never saw aldermanic wrongdoing even as the line they formed to the pokey was longer than the one at Hot Doug's.

"O'Connor said the 41-6 council vote in favor of giving the ethics board the oversight was simply 'closing a loophole' and said the timing was not connected to the ethics probe opened against him."

The loophole now being fitted around his neck.

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Let me pause now to note that apparently only six members of the city council (Waguespack, Arena, Fioretti, Hairston, Sposato and Reilly) are ready for reform.

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"You know what? I'm not in charge of the timing for these types of things," O'Connor told the Tribune.

Of course not. So when did Rahm tell you now was the time?

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"One of the complaints against O'Connor includes two different allegations involving possible campaign violations, sources said.

One allegation questions why O'Connor accepted more than $14,000 in campaign contributions from the husband of the executive director of the Lincoln Bend Chamber of Commerce, which received city money for two decades, a source said.

The husband, Michael Acciari, is a division superintendent in the city Department of Streets and Sanitation, according to city payroll records. His wife, Mimi Acciari, is paid as the executive director of the chamber.

The chamber contributed $825 to O'Connor's campaign fund from 2006 to 2012, according to state campaign finance records. Since 1999, Acciari has made 59 contributions to O'Connor's campaign, totaling $14,070, records show.

O'Connor said he was unaware that the Lincoln Bend Chamber had contributed to his campaign.

"Mike Acciari is an individual I have known since I was in high school. I received my first job from his father. We are personal friends and have been all our lives," O'Connor said. "He has been a supporter of mine since I first started in politics, and I don't see how the fact that he supports me as a friend and as a neighbor should disqualify him from being supportive."

A call to the Acciari home, which is about a block away from O'Connor's home, was not returned.

Question for O'Connor: If Acciari is such a good friend, how could you not know he was donating to your campaign?

*

"Another campaign finance allegation centers on a city grant for a garden project to Friends of North Side College Prep, an organization controlled by a local school council on which Meredith O'Connor, the alderman's sister-in-law and a former city worker, was a member. Her husband, Daniel O'Connor, has donated $13,885 since 2001 to his the campaign of his brother, the alderman, according to state campaign finance records.

"Are you serious? Money that went to create a garden at the best high school in the state of Illinois is somehow politically tainted?" O'Connor replied when told of the allegation.

That's just beyond the pale! Let's ask someone who can clear this up.

"A call placed to the home of Meredith and Daniel O'Connor was not returned."

*

"O'Connor also said that Khan's office had not yet officially notified him of the investigation, as it is required to do once the Board of Ethics gives the legislative inspector general the go-ahead. Asked how he found out about the investigation, O'Connor would not say.

"I found out about it through my sources, just as you found out about it through your sources," he told the Tribune in a phone interview.

Somehow I doubt they are the same sources. But does O'Connor think it's ethical that he has access to the confidential activities of the inspector general?

O'Connor is pretty courageous, though. Even though he knew of the pending investigation against him, he still chose this week - of all the weeks since October and before February - to close that loophole and transfer authority of such investigations to a body that doesn't want it, no matter how bad it looks. The timing, after all, is just a coincidence.

*

See also:

- He Zones, She Sells. Meet The O'Connors.

- Ald. Patrick O'Connor Case Study 1: Project Pushed For Client's Spouse.

- Ald. Patrick O'Connor Case Study 2: Wife Sole Agent For Edgewater Square.

*

From the Beachwood vault.

Sept. 15, 2008:

"Aldermen continue to hold committee meetings with as few as two members present, despite concerns raised by a watchdog group that the Chicago City Council is in violation of state law," a Beachwood/Chicago Talks follow-up investigation has found.

Ald. Patrick O'Connor says the actions city council committees take without quoroms are legal as long as no committee member calls for a quorom.

No, really, he says that.

"That's called creating your own reality," says the BGA's Jay Stewart.

March 26, 2010:

"Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, wrote a letter on behalf of a Jones College Preparatory applicant who did not live in his ward and whose score was significantly below the average, according to the logs.

"Records show O'Connor sent his request through then-School Board President Michael Scott. The student was admitted to Jones.

"O'Connor said he didn't know the student or her family, so he assumes someone else asked him to intervene, as he occasionally did."

Huh, that's weird. O'Connor didn't know the student or the family, which didn't live in his ward. Does he write letters for just anyone?

"The student has a close relative who works for Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, records show."

Just another Chicago Coincidence!

"None of these letters said: 'Put her in this school,'" O'Connor said.

No, they said "Please admit her. I'll vouch for her."

*

"In 2008, Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, asked Duncan's office to reconsider an admissions case involving the relative of one of President Barack Obama's campaign advisers."

Which one? Names, please.

"The student's application to a prestigious public prep school was rejected, and the family said it was because he had missed too much school after falling ill with mononucleosis.

"CPS previously factored attendance into students' application score, but stopped doing so this year.

"The student's family did not live in 49th Ward, but the alderman said their families are old friends."

So instead of going to the alderman in their ward, the family went to the alderman who is an old friend. Get it?

"He did the responsible thing and stayed home as his doctor ordered," Moore said. "If he hadn't been sick he would have been admitted without a problem."

According to Joe Moore, member of the CPS ad hoc admissions panel.

"The student was admitted after Moore said he made three or four calls to Duncan's office."

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