Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176592
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 10:35:29 PM CST
Contrary to what he writes on his campaign website, Ald. Scott Waguespack of Chicago’s 32nd Ward has accepted donations from developers and people who represent them.
But an aide to the alderman is quick to point out that Waguespack rigorously avoids conflicts of interest.
How, then, to reconcile that with a clause on the Citizens for Waguespack website that says, “Ald. Waguespack does not accept donations from real estate developers, their principals or employees to avoid any conflict of interest during development and zoning decisions. Ald. Waguespack holds this position in an effort to avoid biased or prejudiced decision-making and ensure transparency during the development and zoning process.”
According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Waguespack’s committee accepted campaign donations from at least two developers and law firm that have represented zoning changes in the ward since 2007.
Those contributions are a $1,000 contribution from developer Warren Baker and a $1,000 donation from a corporation listing the address of Baker’s development company, a $250 donation from the Chicago Association of Realtors, a $1,000 donation from Scott Goodman of the Sterling Bay companies, an investment development firm, and a $250 dollar donation from Gordon & Pikarksi. That firm employs Thomas Pikarski, who in 2007 represented two individuals who sought zoning changes inside the 32nd Ward.
Calls and emails to each donor were not returned.
John Pikarski, a partner in Gordon & Pikarski who resigned Wednesday morning as the Cook County Board of Ethics, is the center of a joint investigation by WGN-TV, Chicago Magazine and the Better Government Association.
Pikarski, the investigation found, contributed more than is legally allowed by the county to Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios’ campaign.
The alderman’s campaign manager explained Waguespack’s policy.
“Ald. Waguespack is rare in that he accepts no money from developers active in the ward and has returned or refused thousands of dollars in checks,” Tom Fendley said. “These self-imposed rules have been in place since he was elected in 2007.”
Fendley also said donations from developers are carefully screened and that thousands of dollars have been returned to contributors with pending development issues.
Asked about the donation from Gordon & Pikarski, Fendley said, “If we determine that Mr. Pikarski had made a donation during an active zoning or development request, we will return the donation per our self-imposed rules.”
Fendley also said the language on the campaign website will be revised if it is unclear.
“There are thousands more dollars that are never offered to Ald. Waguespack by developers because they know of his contribution policy,” he said.
David Morrison, associate director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said it is difficult for a candidate to maintain that kind of promise.
“Our standard advice is to say you will support those polices once you’re in office, but don’t put that on yourself as a candidate,” Morrison said. “Because it’s a policy and not a statute, it’s difficult to know exactly what a candidate means and what does or does not violate that kind of standard.”
Morrison said Waguespack should explain what he means by his policy.
Another option would be to file an ordinance preventing any developer or principals of development firms from donating to an aldermanic campaign, Morrison said.
According to election documents, it is unclear whether the alderman returned any of the donations.
When asked about the donations from Baker, Fendley said Baker is a long-time resident of the ward and had no pending zoning matters at the time of the donation. The state board of elections requires aldermanic candidates to file quarterly expenditure reports with the board by April 15, and if the donation has been returned it should be listed then.
One of Waguespack’s opponents, Brian Gorman, was critical of the Baker donation.
When asked about his own donations, Gorman said has no restrictions on where the money comes from and stressed that, for him, the point was Waguespack's saying one thing and doing another.
"I'm sick and tired of the hypocrisy coming out of Ald. Waguespack's office."