The [Tuesday] Papers
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday steered clear of the controversy posed by Ald. Edward M. Burke's public role as chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee and the $3.6 million that Burke's private law practice has cost the city by winning property tax appeals for business clients," the Sun-Times reports.
"Every public official has to speak for themselves about what's both legal and appropriate, as I have in my own career," the mayor said after cutting the ribbon at a new Mariano's grocery store in the South Loop.
But doesn't it bother you, Rahm, that Burke has gotten rich in part on the backs of Chicago taxpayers, whom you present yourself as the protector of? (My question, not theirs.)
"I can speak for the law department of the city of Chicago. We're going to pursue every case to make sure that the taxpayers' interests are protected . . . I know what my responsibility as mayor is and what the law department's responsibility is," Emanuel said.
So you think the taxpayers' interests have been protected to the utmost in cases involving Burke?
Again, my question, not theirs.
Theirs, and the Rahm's reply:
Pressed on whether he would do what Burke is doing, the mayor said, "I just answered that question."
But you didn't, Mr. Mayor. You did lie, however.
"The mayor's claim to pursue all property tax appeals is contradicted by the facts. The law department rarely challenges the lawsuits that Burke files, with just one court challenge in the past three years, records show.
"And City Hall is legally barred from contesting the majority of Burke's appeals to the state - those seeking less than a $1 million cut in property assessment - under a 2002 measure Burke helped to pass in the City Council."
A better question for the mayor might be this one: Mr. Mayor, you campaigned on themes of change and reform. The kind of double-dealing and influence-peddling we see Alderman Burke - and others - engaging in is just the kind of Chicago Way politics that taxpayers have long been tired of. Knowing that change and reform has to start at the top, why don't you declare that from this day forward we're really going to do things differently in Chicago? And that means I'm 1) asking Alderman Burke to knock it off, and 2) introducing legislation tomorrow that will finally tighten up our conflict-of-interest rules for real in order to regain the trust of our citizens and prevent this sort of abuse in the future?
A follow-up might be: Why are you afraid to call out Ed Burke?
I only discovered after posting the column that I missed two similar stories. Let's take a look.
"Like Ald. Edward M. Burke, two powerful Democratic legislators from Chicago also run law firms that do big business winning property-tax refunds for their clients," Tim Novak reported.
"Madigan & Getzendanner, headed by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago), has gotten more than $43.9 million in property-tax refunds since 2003 for Chicago landowners and $13.6 million for suburban Cook County property owners, according to the Cook County treasurer's office, which issues the refunds.
"Madigan's firm won most of those victories in court in Cook County, where judges awarded his clients more than $53 million in refunds in that period.
"Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is a partner in a law firm that has won more than $27.7 million in property-tax refunds in Chicago and suburban Cook County since 2003 - Thompson Coburn, a St. Louis firm that merged with Cullerton's old firm, Fagel & Haber."
So they're all in on the racket.
"Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says the Senate president 'doesn't handle' any tax appeals himself, that the firm has five other lawyers who handle those cases, including his brother, Patrick Cullerton."
And I'm sure the firm's clients have no idea who John Cullerton is.
The best part of the story, though, came from Novak's Facebook page, where he wrote:
"The call to the law firm of Madigan and Getzendanner was never returned. Didn't think I should involve Steve Brown, the speaker's taxpayer-funded spokesman, to explain the speaker's law firm."
And finally, this too from Novak:
"Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has taken more than $140,000 in campaign contributions in the past five years from lawyers and firms who go up against her office seeking property-tax refunds for their clients, records show.
"As the lawyers for the Cook County treasurer's office, Alvarez and her staff have fought hundreds of cases filed by attorneys seeking property-tax refunds. Those attorneys frequently end up working out settlements with Alvarez's office to resolve their cases."
It's all legal-like, of course, but what's legal is not the same as what's ethical - especially considering that those who appeal to the law are the same people who write it.
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Posted on October 8, 2013
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