If Chico wins mayor, how will clients fare?
BY CHRIS FUSCO AND TIM NOVAK Staff Reporters
Gery Chico says he believes his wife's firm would no longer do business with the city if he is elected.
Since Mayor Daley took office 21 years ago, his former law firm -- Daley & George -- has done a booming business at City Hall.
The firm -- headed by the mayor's younger brother, Michael Daley, and Jack George -- has helped clients win city approval for development projects requiring zoning changes and, in some cases, taxpayer financing.
One of the best-known candidates vying to replace Daley -- Gery Chico, the mayor's former chief of staff -- also heads a law firm that's a go-to player for clients that do business with the city or want to get various city approvals. Chico, in fact, is the only mayoral hopeful now doing business at City Hall, according to financial-disclosure forms candidates must file to run in the Feb. 22 election.
Chico says that, if elected, he'd leave Chico & Nunes, the law firm he runs with Marcus Nunes, another former city employee.
He also says he'd put in place a reform requiring competitive bids any time the city wants to hire private lawyers. Chico says, "As mayor I will require that all city legal work is competitively bid. We will use requests for proposals and/or quotes to select all lawyers for city legal work, and my old firm would not be eligible to compete for such work.''
But the 14-member firm could keep on lobbying City Hall on behalf of clients, just as it does now, according to Chico's campaign spokeswoman.
"As a mayor who would have left the practice of law entirely, he would not be legally entitled -- nor would it be appropriate -- to dictate to any private business how they conduct themselves or whom they represent," Chico spokeswoman Brooke Anderson says.
And then there's the issue of how Chico would deal with his former clients approaching a Chico administration for contracts and other city deals.
"Any decisions that come before the city would be made on the merits," Chico says.
Last year, Chico & Nunes worked for 89 clients that did business with the city or that hired the firm's lawyers to lobby city government, according to documents filed with the Chicago Board of Ethics. Eighteen of those clients hired the firm to do both legal and lobbying work.
In all, the 89 clients paid the firm at least $445,000 in 2009, records show.
Among the clients: Azteca Supply Co. and its president, Aurora Venegas, who pleaded guilty Friday to a single criminal charge and avoided a fraud trial that was to have begun today. Federal prosecutors accused Venegas of lying to City of Chicago officials to obtain certification as a woman- and minority-owned business so she could get government deals that are set aside for such businesses.
Venegas is a longtime client of Chico's law firm, which lobbied city officials to renew and expand Azteca's certifications as a "minority business enterprise," a "woman-owned business enterprise" and a "disadvantaged business enterprise." Chico's law firm says it "has never participated in or advised any client to perform improper activities."
According to Chico's disclosure statement, SPC Consulting, owned by his wife, Sunny Chico, received a total of more than $50,000 in fees last year from seven clients doing business with Chicago's public schools and three clients doing business with the City Colleges of Chicago.
In March, Daley appointed Chico as chairman of the City Colleges board. Chico resigned from the board in October to run for mayor. He never voted to give business to any of his wife's clients, his campaign spokeswoman says.
Chico also is a former Chicago Board of Education president. He left that role before his wife's company was created.
The Chicago schools paid Sunny Chico's firm $65,245 last year to hold "parental workshops," records show.
Chico says he'd limit his wife's business if he's elected mayor.
"If I'm privileged enough to be mayor, I believe what she will do is no longer do business with the city," Chico says.
Instead, Chico says his wife would likely donate her services to the schools.