‘I wished he learned a lesson,’ Medrano back where he started
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2012 5:08PM
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2003 file photo, former Chicago alderman Ambrosio Medrano is seen in Chicago. On Thursday, June 28, 2012, federal authorities announced corruption charges against Medrano and former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno. The charges were unsealed Thursday afternoon in Chicago federal court. Medrano and Moreno were among seven defendants charged in the case. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:31AM
Sixteen years ago, then-Ald. Ambrosio Medrano (25th) was a crooked alderman hailed as a hero for refusing to do something his colleagues considered even worse.
After getting caught up in the federal corruption probe known as Operation Silver Shovel—and accepting $31,000 in bribes from convicted felon and waste hauler-turned FBI mole John Christopher—Medrano was asked to wear a wire to snare other corrupt politicians, but he refused.
The dean of Hispanic aldermen, Medrano was hailed as a stand-up guy and contrasted with then-Ald. Allan Streeter (17th), who was branded a “rat” for doing what Medrano had refused to do.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where people respect certain things and one of the things that they respect is that, if you get in trouble, you don’t squeal. You take it like a man,” Medrano said back then.
“I’m not a snitch. It’s just something that I don’t do. My problems have nothing to do with other people’s problems. Nothing. Not that anybody did anything wrong. Not that I knew that anybody did anything wrong. I didn’t want to even give that impression.”
Now, Medrano is right back where he started.
He was charged Thursday with two other businessmen with using kickbacks to try to win business from out of state hospital systems. Medrano’s friend, former County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, was also charged in that scheme as well as another corruption probe in Cicero.
Medrano’s second turn in the federal hot-seat came as no surprise.
After serving 30 months in federal prison, Medrano was virtually penniless. He had dabbled as a music producer and struggled to find a full-time job.
He tried to reclaim his 25th Ward seat in 2003, only to be trounced by Danny Solis. Medrano tried for a rematch in 2007, only to be thrown off the ballot by the Illinois Supreme Court two weeks before the election because of a state law barring convicted felons.
Four years later and still desperate to reclaim power, Medrano ran his son against Solis. The younger Medrano, now a $35.20-an-hour cement mixer for the Chicago Department of Transportation, finished third, but still managed to force Solis into a run-off.
The elder Medrano subsequently turned up on Moreno’s payroll.
He also turned up frequently on the floor of the City Council to schmooze with his old colleagues and to lobby them on behalf of private sector clients.
It happened so often that, during Rahm Emanuel’s first City Council meeting as mayor, aldermen approved new rules tied to a reorganization that prohibited convicted felons from gaining access to the Council floor.
“When you lose that trust because you got convicted, you do not retain the right because you were once an alderman to go back on the floor—in some cases, as a lobbyist representing
somebody. You’ve lost that right,” the mayor said on that day.
Solis, who proposed the rules change with Medrano in mind, could have gloated on Thursday, but he didn’t.
“I wish he had learned a lesson. His family deserved that,” Solis said of Medrano.
“I feel sorry for his family, if it’s true. I pray for the best for the family. The worst thing that could happen to me is if I shamed my family. That, I would never do.”
During the 2007 campaign aborted by the Illinois Supreme Court ruling, Medrano had characterized the $50,000 in campaign contributions that Solis had received over a ten-year period from Midwest Generation as “payoffs” and accused Solis of “selling out the community” to a polluter whose coal fire plants endangered the health of area residents.
“He said I was taking payoffs. It was below the belt. Maybe now, people will think twice about believing it,” Solis said Thursday.
Solis said he can’t understand why Medrano didn’t learn his lesson after one stint in federal prison.
“You do have temptation when you go out there and deal with people who want to make a quick buck,” he said.
“Sometimes you think it’s easy to get away with things and that people won’t find out. But, in this day and age with all the indictments and convictions, you’ve got to be crazy to even contemplate that.”