Ex-Streets and San boss, ex-alderman — both convicts — run for County Board
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter December 2, 2013 4:18PM
Updated: January 4, 2014 6:22AM
Calling himself a “scapegoat” for a political hiring system that continues to this day, Chicago’s convicted former Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez filed nominating petitions Monday for a seat on the Cook County Board.
The longtime head of the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) Southeast, Sanchez is just five months removed from the federal prison camp in Marion, Ill., where he lost 50 pounds.
He spent 2.5 years there for rigging city hiring and promotions to benefit soldiers in HDO, a now-defunct army of political workers that helped to elect and re-elect former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Monday was the filing deadline for the March 18 primary elections. Sanchez, 65, filed 1,150 signatures gathered in just three days to get his name on the ballot in the 4th District, a seat vacated by William Beavers, who ironically reported to prison on the same day.
It was the final day for candidates running for county, state and federal office in Illinois to file the nominating petitions in order to get their names on the ballot.
Sanchez is the second convicted felon to announce his candidacy for the County Board in the 2014 primary. Convicted former Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) is also running.
Convicted felons are prohibited from running for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer or aldermen. But the ban on felons does not apply to county, state or federal office.
“I was the scapegoat because they spent millions of dollars on an investigation that went absolutely nowhere and they had to close it out with at least a conviction. After me there was no more corruption. It’s all gone,” Sanchez told the Sun-Times, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I don’t think I should be wearing a label because I was scapegoat for a system that was in place for decades and is still in place. I’m still reading about it. When you’re made a scapegoat, you’re left with the residue of being labeled as a person who is corrupt. That’s ridiculous. They sent me to the armpit of the system just to teach me a lesson: Don’t go to trial.”
Pressed on what he plans to tell 4th District residents about his federal corruption conviction, Sanchez argued that no explanation is required.
“People know I was a scapegoat for a system I had no control over. Intergovernmental Affairs and the Department of Personnel did the hiring. I did no hiring. The whole process was not anywhere in my realm of authority,” Sanchez said.
Other candidates who filed Monday included Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon who, as expected, filed to run for comptroller, and William Lee, an Air Force veteran who joined the Republican ranks seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. GOP candidates who already filed in that race include state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove and Downers Grove businessman Doug Truax.
One notable absence was former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who said last month he intended to run for a seat on the Cook County Board. Stroger could not be reached for comment.
On the day Sanchez was sentenced, federal prosecutors openly acknowledged that they had hoped to climb the ladder at Daley’s City Hall, but were stymied when Sanchez refused to cooperate.
As a result, they were forced to make a statement that must have been music to Daley’s ears: The Sanchez conviction “represents the conclusion of the Hired Truck investigation” that branched out into city hiring. The investigation, spurred by stories in the Chicago Sun-Times, led to the indictment of 49 people, including 29 onetime city employees. All were convicted except for one man who died.
On Monday, Sanchez was asked whether the former mayor knew his administration was rigging hiring and promotions to benefit soldiers in his political army.
“You know as well as I do that, if it’s in the city of Chicago, the administration understands what the process is,” Sanchez said.
“Did he think recommendations were being made? Everyone knows that. I’m sure Intergovernmental [Affairs] that had the responsibility for taking in recommendations shared that with him. But not to the extent of anything more than knowing folks were being helped. I’m sure there were conversations with a lot of elected officials.”
By pointing the finger at IGA, Sanchez is laying blame at the doorstep of former HDO chieftain Victor Reyes, who ran Intergovernmental Affairs under Daley.
Reyes refused to comment. Daley’s spokesperson could not be reached.
Federal prosecutors placed Sanchez at the center of a scheme that was all about “lying and cheating to steal city jobs.” They accused him of rigging the process “for the people he knew.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman agreed, portraying Sanchez as the leader in a sham city hiring scheme to politicize truck drivers that was “rotten to the core.”
Sanchez vehemently disputes that. And he makes no apologies for the pivotal role he played in HDO.
“You make it seem like a sinister thing, but there’s nothing wrong with Hispanics doing political work to put people in positions who understand there should be more diversity in government and more service to the under-serviced and under-employed Hispanic community. You have to get involved in the political process to affect change,” he said.
The 4th District includes South Shore, Pill Hill, Washington Heights and other Southeast Side neighborhoods as well as surrounding suburbs, including Calumet City and Lansing.
Sanchez said he plans to address environmental issues, such as the Petcoke scandal.
“First we had the dumps, the landfills. It was creating a major health issue for our residents. Now, we’ve got BP expanding and dumping material in our community. We’re back to Square One again,” he said.
“It’s time that we get people elected who are going to stand up against this kind of treatment. They treat the whole Southeast Side as a dumping ground.”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek, Maudlyne Ihejirika