Pinstripe patronage at city hall should be taken ‘out of the hands of one person’: alderman
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter September 5, 2013 4:42PM
Updated: September 5, 2013 6:26PM
A South Side alderman suggested Thursday that pinstripe patronage be taken “out of the hands of one person” after learning more about the tangled web between Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott and the city’s indicted former Comptroller Amer Ahmad.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) pointed to the political back-scratching that saw Scott’s old firm get bond business from the Ohio treasurer’s office during Ahmad’s tenure as its deputy and Ohio’s former treasurer get Chicago bond business after Scott recommended that Mayor Rahm Emanuel hire Ahmad.
Last month’s stunning indictment of Ahmad in an alleged, $500,000 kickback and money-laundering scheme in Ohio has lifted the veil on the selection of firms that ride the gravy train of city bond business.
It’s long been a highly-politicized process that has allowed Chicago mayors to reward their friends and campaign contributors with hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual fees for work as bond counsel, co-counsel and financial advisers. The City Council signs off on the pinstripe patronage list. But, the selections are made by the mayor’s office.
On Thursday, a Chicago Tribune story about what the newspaper described as “close business ties” between Ahmad and Scott prompted Cochran to demand changes in the closed-door process.
“It still has to be proven whether or not this man has done anything wrong. If he has done wrong, she has done nothing criminally wrong. But, is it necessary for us to review whether or not this kind of trade-off is appropriate? It is time for us to review those kinds of things,” Cochran said.
Pressed on who should perform that review, Cochran suggested “the City Council, the inspector general, retired judges and other advisory groups and law firms.”
Emanuel’s communications director Sarah Hamilton disputed Cochran’s claim that Scott makes unilateral decisions on the attorneys and financial advisers tied to city bond issues.
“We do have a team that reviews all presentations from qualified bidders,” Hamilton said.
“As the leader of that team, the CFO presents recommendations to the Finance Committee, of which Ald. Cochran is a member, and the full City Council for approval of every transaction conducted by the city.”
Emanuel has flatly denied that he should have known about Ahmad’s alleged wrongdoing as deputy treasurer of Ohio or that his transition team dropped the ball in vetting Ahmad.
The mayor has promised an exhaustive investigation — with Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton overseeing the work of two outside attorneys — to make certain Chicago taxpayers and pension funds were not similarly victimized.
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) rejected suggestions that Scott’s credibility is so damaged she needs to resign.
“Have we convicted her on her acquaintances with the man or her workings with the gentleman? No. I wouldn’t do that. She’d have to burn up on her own for me,” Austin said Thursday.
“You left a lucrative firm to be a part of the city and now you’re gonna recommend a crook? Now, you know she didn’t know anything about that. She may have had dealings and workings with him. But, I don’t believe she had any knowledge of that.”