- Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
- Alyx Pattison, a candidate for alderman in the Second Ward, says the parking meter was a horrible idea, though it made her former law firm a good chunk of money.
Nobody likes the parking meter deal—especially at election time. Six and a half years after the City Council signed off on former mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to sell off the metered parking system, candidates are still campaigning against it.
It happened again recently in the Second Ward, when one of the six contenders for alderman sent out a mailer blasting the deal. “They sold the parking meters and we didn’t get a say,” the flyer states. “Alyx Pattison wants to put a stop to it.”
But Pattison herself has a connection to the meter privatization: before running for alderman, she worked for the very law firm that drew up the contract in 2008.
Pattison was an attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman from 2003 through 2013, the last year and a half as a partner. She says she specialized in litigation and didn’t work on the meter deal. In fact, she says she didn’t even know Katten had drafted the deal until it was disclosed to the public.
“Over 600 lawyers work at Katten,” she says. “For me to know what everyone is working on at any one time is kind of silly. And even if I did, it wouldn’t change the way I feel about the privatization of assets. I think it’s irresponsible and reckless.”
Yet it’s a specialty that made her old firm money. Katten was paid more than $1 million for its work on several city privatization deals, according to city records: $100,000 for its legal work on the 99-year lease of the Skyway, $60,000 for the 99-year lease of downtown parking garages, at least $75,000 for the attempted 99-year lease of Midway airport, more than $217,000 for the abandoned privatization of the city’s three garbage and recycling sorting centers, and $662,760 for the contract governing the meters.
After he stepped down as mayor in 2011, Daley privatized himself by joining Katten, where one of his best friends, Terry Newman, is a leading partner.
Pattison has counted on contacts at the firm to help fund her run for the City Council. Katten attorneys have contributed more than $15,000 to her campaign—her single largest source of donations, according to state board of elections data.
But she says none of this presents a conflict of interest for her. She says she didn’t work directly on any of the privatization deals and downplays Katten’s role: “Once the mayor and the council made a decision to sell the assets, a law firm had to draft that contract.”
This isn’t the first time Pattison has taken flak for a flyer. In January she was called out by the Fraternal Order of Police for a mailer in which she was pictured talking with a police officer—only it was actually one of her staffers dressed up like a cop. Impersonating a police officer is illegal.
Pattison and her rivals are all trying to distinguish themselves in the new Second Ward. The ward was hacked to pieces during the last remap as a way for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies to punish current alderman Robert Fioretti. Instead of running in a ward that no longer included his own home, Fioretti decided to challenge Emanuel for mayor. The ward now includes spare parts from the Gold Coast, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Ukrainian Village neighborhoods.
Some of the other challengers have their own powerful connections. One is Brian Hopkins, a former aide to Cook County commissioner John Daley who’s tried to downplay his ties to the Daley family; and attorney Cornell Wilson, who’s been backed by secretary of state Jesse White.
All of the Second Ward candidates have called for greater government transparency. Pattison’s parking meters flyer was meant to highlight her proposal to require the City Council to hold public hearings before the privatization of any assets.
Of course, the council has already had chances to slow down the privatization process. Sixth Ward alderman Roderick Sawyer introduced an ordinance in 2012 that would require aldermen to study the costs and benefits before signing off on a new deal. But Emanuel’s allies have refused to bring the measure up for debate or a vote.
Still, Pattison says she would take Sawyer’s proposed ordinance a step further by pushing for public hearings before any asset selloffs are approved.
“The problem with the authorization of the sale in the first place was that it lacked public debate, it lacked any sound reasoning, and it lacked any real projections into the future of its economic impact,” she says.
She’s onto something there. The City Council took all of two days before voting 40-5 to approve the meter deal, in which the city turned over control of the parking system for 75 years in exchange for $1.2 billion up front. Studies subsequently found that the system was probably worth several times that amount.
And buried within the contract Katten drew up were a number of provisions that turned out to be very expensive for taxpayers. One requires the city to pay back some of the money every time it takes a meter out of commission for street repairs or any other purpose.
Two years ago Emanuel cut a deal to mitigate some of those payments, but in exchange he turned over even more spaces to the private parking meter company. The City Council wasn’t allowed access to all of the records and data generated in the negotiations, but aldermen approved the new terms anyway by a 39-11 vote.