My hat is off to Toni Preckwinkle. Since I saw her speak at a CTA public hearing a few years ago, I've been impressed with much of what she's said. Carol Marin had a good article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times about another good action on Preckwinkle's part.
Preckwinkle speaks, others hide
April 29, 2007
CAROL MARIN email@example.com
It's time to create a special award for public officials who do the right thing. We can call it the "Accountability 101 Award." Let's give the first one to 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle.
Last week Preckwinkle was the only official -- elected or appointed -- willing to publicly talk about Antoin "Tony" Rezko. It's not that she enjoyed it. She didn't. But unlike senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, Mayor Daley or city Housing Commissioner Jack Markowski, Preckwinkle demonstrated that now-quaint virtue of public accountability. And did so in full public view.
In case you missed it, a recap:
Last week, Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak filled eight pages of this newspaper with an investigation of political powerbroker Rezko.
We already knew that Rezko was a major campaign donor to a host of politicians, including Obama and Daley. And we already knew that Rezko was under federal investigation in 2005 when he assisted Obama in acquiring a bigger yard for his South Side mansion. And we knew that last October, Rezko was federally indicted in an alleged state pension kickback scheme.
What we didn't know was that Rezko had for years been one of the city's biggest slumlords. That within days of Mayor Daley's first election in 1989, this Park District hot dog vendor who had no construction experience would begin getting $100 million in city, state and federal tax dollars and bank loans to provide affordable housing for Chicago's needy citizens.
While some residents of Rezko's buildings were shivering without heat because he wasn't paying the utility bills, Rezko still managed somehow to write checks to politicians.
Did I mention that Rezko's company made $7 million on those housing deals? Or that all 30 of his buildings were troubled, a number went into foreclosure or otherwise crumbled into vacant, boarded-up drug dens and eyesores? Or that we taxpayers are now stuck with the tab?
So it was only logical to go to public officials and ask how in the world this could have happened.
Daley, after all, is this city's boss of bosses. Obama had 11 of Rezko's buildings in his then-state Senate district. Markowski had been in the Housing Department for years overseeing Rezko's deals. And Preckwinkle had six of Rezko's buildings in her ward.
In behalf of the Sun-Times and NBC5 News, Novak and I requested interviews with all four of them.
To say we were shut down is an understatement.
The mayor's press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, in a voice mail, dismissed our request out of hand, saying, ''What is the city's dealing with Tony Rezko? The answer is simple. None. During the time he did work with us . . . there was nothing to indicate a problem. . . . That's my answer . . . that's my response.''
Meanwhile, Markowski's press secretary Molly Sullivan gave us such a runaround, my head is still spinning. Finally, in an e-mail, she declared: ''Jack is not available to do this . . . '' In other words, no interview in person, on camera, never, ever. Markowski remains in hiding.
And then there was Obama.
For five weeks, we tried and tried to get the Obama campaign to tell us anything, anything at all, about what the senator might know about Rezko's dilapidated, defaulted projects. No response for five weeks. Finally, at the 11th hour, some written answers arrived saying the senator was unaware of any Rezko problems even though Obama was a legal associate of the law firm that did a number of Rezko's deals.
But an interview? Not until after we physically chased after Obama last Monday.
But, thanks to Preckwinkle, we weren't completely out.
Preckwinkle, like Daley and Obama, got tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Rezko. He was a supporter and friend, though not anymore.
Preckwinkle said she began to learn of problems with Rezko's buildings a few years ago from police who reported gang activity there. By that time, however, Rezko had already taken the money and run.
"I think, from a city perspective," said the alderman, "this is your worst nightmare."
Made worse, I would argue, by any public official who doesn't think he should be required to answer questions about it.
a recent blog posting
Sun-Times article 1 - Obama and Rezko
Sun-Times article 2 - Rezko questions
Sun-Times article 3 - Rezko's city deals
Sun-Times article 4 - Obama and Rezko