Thursday, May 25, 2006

Follow the Money

In case you missed it, the Sun Times had an excellent editorial the other day, digging into the inexplicable contributions in the 17th Ward Democratic Organization:
As Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, says, the first rule of investigative journalism is "to follow the money," and that's exactly what his organization did, sniffing out political contributions sent to the 17th Ward Democratic Organization by public housing contractors. The contributions would have made sense if the 17th Ward was home to Chicago Housing Association developments, but there is no CHA building anywhere in the ward.

What was the connection then? The only link appears to be Terry Peterson, the former alderman of the 17th Ward who is now head of the CHA. Hmmmm. Why would contractors -- some from out of state, want to send cash to the 17th Ward, now represented by Peterson's former chief of staff, Latasha Thomas? Although the ward took in fewer total contributions last year than it did in 2004, a greater percentage came from CHA contractors -- 61 percent vs. 37 percent in 2004. And almost two-thirds of the contributions from CHA contractors went to the 17th Ward, with the $27,595 left over sent to other wards. "Does it raise a red flag?" asks Stewart. "Does it concern us? Absolutely . . . I can't think of a logical reason why CHA contractors are so interested in a region where none of those CHA facilities are located." Neither can we. And no one is answering the questions posed either by Stewart or our reporter Eric Herman.

The revelations by the BGA add to the concern about general City Hall corruption and the way aldermen operate within their wards. Aldermen protest they do not want the city's inspector general looking into their business, and they want federal monitor Nicole Brennan out of their way. But it's obvious they really do need someone to keep an eye on them.

This brought to mind other connections in the realm of housing on the taxpayer's dime, between Governor Blagojevich and one of his major campaign fundraisers and contributors, "Tony" Rezko, a developer, who at one time listed a Wilmette address. (Rezko's protege Kelly King Dibble just happens to be head of (IHDA), the Illinois Housing Development Authority). The State Journal Register:

Meanwhile, KELLY KING DIBBLE, who has been named executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority since Blagojevich became governor,was vice president for business development at Rezmar Inc. before joining IHDA.

Crain's Chicago Business reported last year that, before Dibble's appointment, Rezmar pulled out as general partner from at least eight IHDA housing developments. Dibble told the publication she had played no role at Rezmar in the IHDA dealings.

IHDA, under the "Affordable" Housing Act, is extending its reach into the suburbs, with lucrative opportunities for developers for up-front fees, etc.

With north suburban real estate being so pricey, any "affordable" housing development would require taxpayer subsidies... a misuse of scarce public resources to benefit only a few. See previous post, Profitable Non-Profits. This post features Richard Koenig, of the Wilmette-based Housing Opportunity Development Corp., a member of the Metropolitan Planning Council's Housing Committee. And then there is BPI, with its roots in Evanston and deep ties to local Democrats, including Rep. Julie Hamos, one of the chief proponents of the housing legislation targeting suburbs in her district, which she pushed through with no hearings in the district she claims to represent. Members of BPI's board have been heavy contributors to her campaigns.

In Chicago, developers have sought major subsidies. Rezko had an major application pending for a TIF last year, when some of his other activities came under investigation, so the Metropolitan Planning Council backed away from its support. In Crain's:

A real estate developer whose dealings are under investigation by City Hall is a leading member of an investment group that is asking the city for what would be the largest property-tax subsidy ever for a Chicago development.

Seeking as much as $140 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) is a partnership headed by Antoin S. "Tony" Rezko, whom the city recently accused of benefiting from a phony minority front for two Panda Express restaurants at O'Hare International Airport. The money would cover infrastructure costs for Riverside Park, a massive $1.7-billion mixed-use project the partnership plans to build along Roosevelt Road in the South Loop. Yet the recent news about Mr. Rezko's O'Hare restaurants — breaking just days before the city received the TIF request — was less than optimal timing.

"I suspect that anyone who is having current business dealings questioned by the city is going to have future business dealings questioned by the city," says Peter Skosey, vice-president for external relations of the Chicago-based regional advisory group Metropolitan Planning Council.
According to the Washington Post, via Archpundit, the governor's wife Patti, a realtor, had also worked with Rezko.

In a recent editorial, the Chicago Tribune lauds the "40-year fight for fairness" undertaken by fair-housing groups, and cites The Metropolitan Planning Council and BPI as carrying on the fight. An astute letter to the editor takes issue with the Tribune:

For these groups, "fairness" is not the traditional idea of ensuring equal opportunity by removing explicit racism and discrimination, but equal outcomes and socialism. For these groups, the fact that there are no formal or informal barriers to integrating neighborhoods is not enough; there must be forced and/or subsidized economic or racial integration. This is a far cry from the "equality" that many of us have fought for over the years, and one which, fortunately, most Americans do not support. These organizations do not deserve the Tribune's endorsement either.
No one would argue with the necessity at the time to actively promote non-discrimination in housing, which is now the law of the land and has been achieved in practice. But any fair observer now can only conclude that those who pay lip-service to "fair housing" benefit from a political spoils system that rewards developers and their political sponsors.....

An invitation to corruption on our dime.

No comments: