Minority firms with clout, contributions get a piece of O'Hare cargo contract

Minority firms with clout, contributions get a piece of O'Hare cargo contract
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If you’re a minority firm looking for city work, it certainly helps to know people in high places and to be generous come campaign time.

Last week,  the city council gave Maryland-based Aeroterm, LLC the green light to issue bonds to pay for part of a multi-million dollar cargo project at O’Hare International Airport.

Initially, all of the firms involved were white–something that drew the ire of a few aldermen of color who are members of the finance committee, which is tasked with moving the legislation along.

“They didn’t have an answer for me,” said 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, an African American South Sider, describing what she was told by a city Department of Aviation representative. The department worked with Aeroterm on the deal.

“The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) informed Aeroterm officials that they needed to obtain minority participation for this transaction,” Karen Pride, a department of aviation spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Aeroterm and Aviation then worked to increase the participation.”

True. The following week, Aeroterm came back with several minority-owned or minority-run underwriting and law firms.

Campaign contribution records on file with the Illinois State Board of Elections reveal that employees from the minority-owned or minority-run firms that were given work coughed up some serious dough over the years to many of the members on the finance committee.

The minority firms now involved in the contract include: Cabrera Capital Markets, Loop Capital Markets, Chico & Nunes and Greene & Letts.

Gery Chico, one-time political protege of 14th Ward. Ald. Ed Burke, former mayoral candidate and current chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, is a partner at Chico & Nunes.

Campaign records show Chico and his law firm have given tens of thousands of dollars to members of the city’s finance committee, organizations that support those members, and some of their family members.

Here’s a list of a few:

  • $15,100 to Ald. Burke, chairman of the finance committee and Chico’s political godfather.
  • $12,225 to 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis’ 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.
  • $5,000 to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke, wife of Ed Burke; and $8,000 in-kind contributions for “valet parking” and “catering”.
  • $5,000 to 11th Ward Ald. George Cardenas.
  • $5,000 to the 23rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization, chaired by 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski.
  • $2,300 to 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell.
  • $2,100 to 31st Ward Ald. Ray Suarez.
  • $1,500 to 23rd District state Rep. Dan Burke, Ald. Burke’s brother.
  • $1,000 to 21st District state Rep. Mike Zalewski, Ald. Zalewski’s son.
  • $1,000 to 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.
  • $1,000 to 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore.
  • $750 to the 22nd Ward Democratic Commiteeman Fund, chaired by 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz.
  • $500 to the 34th Ward Organization, chaired by 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin.
  • $200 to 16th Ward Ald. JoAnn Thompson.

There’s also Loop Capital Market, which is run by the clout-heavy former CHA head James Reynolds, who was a staunch ally of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and whom Mayor Rahm Emanuel named head of the Illinois Sports Authority. He gave a more modest–at least compared to what Chico has shelled out–five grand to Burke’s wife.

Greene and Letts, a black-run law firm, landed a piece of the contract, following Hairston’s public criticism of the lack of minority work. The firm once gave her a $300 campaign contribution–relatively small, but even a pittance can go a long way.

And Cabrera Capital, LLC gave the Burnham Committee, chaired by Ald. Burke, $1,500. The Burnham Committee’s official mission is to “support the dreams of women and men who share [Daniel] Burnham’s dream of a people’s city,” but a good chunk of its money is spent on political candidates–many of whom sit on the finance committee and the city council, and who voted in favor of the deal.

“These businesses are basically making a choice and saying we don’t want women and minorities,” Hairston said, in reference to Aeroterm’s original pitch to the finance committee.

“Either we mean business or we don’t,” she added, claiming the city needed to do more to include minority- and women-run businesses. “We can’t talk out of both sides of our mouths.”

Regardless, some minority-run businesses seeking a fair shot at city business might get the notion that city governmentis open for business.

© Community Renewal Society 2012


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