- Al Podgorski /Sun-Times Media
- Jesus Garcia answers a question at a debate in front of the Sun-Times editorial board on January 30.
A front-page Sun-Times story yesterday linked Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s cosponsorship of a measure that benefited a law firm to his son’s free legal representation by that firm. Garcia told me yesterday he thinks the story raises a “completely false controversy” and is “totally misleading.” (For the record, the Reader and the Sun-Times are owned by the same company.)
Garcia is the leading challenger to Rahm Emanuel in the mayor’s race. The Sun-Times story, written by Dan Mihalopoulos, pointed out that in 2012, commissioner Garcia cosponsored a county board measure providing for a $100 million bond deal—a measure that awarded Mayer Brown the job of bond counsel. The story also pointed out that from 2007 to 2010, lawyers for Mayer Brown had successfully defended Garcia’s son, Samuel, pro bono, against a felony charge.
Garcia told the Sun-Times he didn’t ask Mayer Brown to represent his son, who was 24 when he was charged with aggravated assault in 2007. Jesus Garcia was not in public office then; he’d been an alderman and a state senator, but in 2007 he was executive director for a Little Village nonprofit. He was elected to the county board in 2010. When the bond deal was voted on in 2012, it “never entered my mind” to recuse himself from the Mayer Brown measure, he told the Sun-Times. Mayer Brown ultimately made $89,000 from the bond-counsel job, the paper reported.
Garcia told me the appointment of Mayer Brown was largely procedural and unanimously backed. He said the firm’s name “appeared in the middle of a dozen other parties that participated” in aspects of the bond deal, and that he didn’t even think of the fact that the firm had previously represented his son.
He said he thought the Sun-Times “used this ethics angle to get at other stuff having to do with some of the problems my son has had. Has my son made mistakes? Absolutely. Does that have anything to do with me? I don’t think so.”
Samuel Garcia and another man were arrested in 2007 and charged with aggravated assault, a felony, and criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor. Police alleged he shouted a gang affiliation and a threat, then threw a hammer at a car in which two off-duty Chicago police officers were sitting. The man who was with Garcia threw a baseball bat at the car, according to a police report.
Samuel Garcia’s lawyers later maintained he mistook the off-duty officers for gang members. In a 2010 bench trial, he was convicted only of the misdemeanor, and sentenced to probation.
In 2013, he was arrested again after another confrontation with an off-duty officer. Police alleged he tried to crash his car into the off-duty officer’s car, yelled threats and a racial slur at the officer, and threw a cup of liquid at him. He was charged with felony aggravated assault and aggravated battery to a police officer.
He was represented this time by a private lawyer not associated with Mayer Brown. Last February, he pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, a misdemeanor, and got probation again. A spokeswoman for Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez told the Sun-Times that the state’s attorney’s office wasn’t aware Samuel Garcia was Jesus Garcia’s son when it offered the plea deal.
On his campaign website, Jesus Garcia calls for “comprehensive solutions to violence,” including restorative justice programs. “Those who have committed acts of violence need to be held accountable” but also deserve the chance “to learn from their errors” and to “forge productive and meaningful lives,” his website says.
I interviewed him at length in November, December, and January for a profile I was writing about him. He talked about gangs and crime in Little Village. But he never told me about his son’s criminal cases, which I was unaware of.
“I was prepared to talk about it if you raised it,” he said yesterday. “It’s not something that I start conversations with. You don’t walk around saying, ‘Hey, I got a son who’s made some stupid mistakes.’ I try to be respectful of my son and his family and their privacy.”
I asked him if he told Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, about his son’s criminal record when she urged him to run for mayor. He said she’d wanted to know if he had any skeletons in his closet, and he’d told her his son was on probation.
Did he expect Samuel’s criminal record to surface during the campaign? “I did,” he said, “especially with how much money Rahm has for opposition research.”