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Has He Got the Goods?
West Town activist Peter Zelchenko has been gunning for Alderman Jesse Granato for eight years. He was a volunteer for Cynthia Soto when she ran against Granato in 1999, and he’s among those still bitter that she lost the runoff by only 347 votes. It was a nasty race, with accusations of intimidation, slander, and fraud hurled by both sides.
Eight months after the runoff Soto took over Granato’s old Ashland Avenue campaign office in her run for state representative. She discovered piles of discarded documents, and ever since, Zelchenko has been trying to persuade the FBI, reporters, and anyone else who’ll listen that they prove the machine stole the election for Granato.
Zelchenko says the feds looked over some of the materials but weren’t interested, and he admits that even fellow Soto volunteers were too de-moralized to get their dander up. So Zelchenko–a printer, graphic artist, and volunteer for Granato chal-lenger Manny Flores–put up almost $8,000 to self-publish 600 copies of a book about the stash, hoping to show that “an army of political opportunists, under general order by the city’s highest officials, entered and ransacked the First Ward and hoisted a very weak in-cumbent, Jesse Granato, back into power.” Titled It Happened Four Years Ago: Mayor Daley’s Brutal Conquest of Chicago’s First Ward, the book includes reproductions of what Zelchenko claims are forged absentee-ballot applications and handwritten notes suggesting payments were made to police and election judges.
“He has passed the information on to the proper authorities, and in four years Peter Zelchenko is the only person who thinks a crime has been committed,” says Granato campaign consultant Tom Carmik. “This guy doesn’t check his facts, doesn’t do any research. This guy has been harassing the al-derman, harassing the alderman’s staff.” He adds that Zelchenko has no proof that the documents are real or that they were in Granato’s campaign office.
“If [the office] wasn’t cleaned, why wouldn’t the owner call me and let me know?” says Granato. “If that’s where he got his information. I don’t know. Or if someone gave it to them, might have had it in their basement. I don’t know. Or someone could have fabricated it. I don’t know. First of all, I don’t handle that part of the campaign. My job is to go out and knock on doors.”
“If they want to do a libel suit,” says Zelchenko, “handwriting analysis, fingerprint analysis, testimony will show that these documents came from the First Ward Granato headquarters. Where else could they have come from? How else could I have gotten them?”
“This is a setup, and you know it,” says Carmik. “It’s very obvious–a week before the election–that this is a desperate attempt by a fledgling, failing campaign that has not gotten any ideas across.”
Flores says Zelchenko has circulated petitions for him, but he insists his campaign had nothing to do with the book. And he can’t understand why Granato thinks it did. “The only thing I can think of,” Flores says, “is that he’s so desperate he’s trying to pit us against the powers that be to galvanize support for his lacking campaign.”
Political Suicide: A New Twist
There’s probably no ward that machine Latinos would like to capture more than the 22nd, a Mexican community that’s been in independent hands since the 1980s. That’s why it was such a surprise when machine candidate Ray Diaz–he had the backing of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, which has been trying since 1995 to take out Alderman Ricardo Munoz–suddenly dropped out of the race on February 5, the last possible day.
Diaz, who’d been running a strong campaign, says Munoz threatened to publicize the order of protection Diaz’s ex-wife filed against him in 1998. Diaz says he wrote a letter withdrawing from the race and had his campaign manager deliver it to Munoz: “We said to Ricardo Munoz, ‘Here’s my withdrawal form. If you’re a man of honor, rip it up, and we’ll stay with the issues. But if you’re not an honorable man, take it in.’ What did he do? He personally delivered my withdrawal form to the board of elections.”
Munoz says it’s true that he delivered the letter, but he says there was no “honorable man” speech. He claims he was in the Loop and Diaz’s campaign manager asked if he wanted to go over to the board of elections. “I said, ‘Not a problem for me.'” He says that when they arrived at the board the campaign manager told him, “‘Here, you turn it in.’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ I grabbed the withdrawal-of-candidacy form and handed it over. I just wanted to make sure it happened before the deadline.” Munoz denies ever having threatened to make a public issue of the order of protection.
A dejected Diaz–whose staff now answer the phone “Vote for Daley!”–says he didn’t really mean to withdraw: “I actually thought that he was going to rip it up.”
If he can’t be the real alderman Diaz can still pretend. “My office will continue to operate,” he wrote in a letter to supporters that also ran as a newspaper ad, “and I will continue to provide services to residents of the 22nd Ward that the current alderman has failed to provide.”
Munoz, who can be a bit of a Goody Two-shoes, sees the potential here for an image makeover: “It doesn’t hurt me to be known as a little bit of a bully.”
They Go Way Back
Three years ago Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle declined to support Norman Bolden’s application for an empowerment-zone grant. “I made it clear to him that it was public money and that the projects I supported in my ward were either those put forward by not-for-profits or not-for-profits in joint ventures with for-profits,” she says. “In general, I was not going to be in the business of enriching one property owner. There had to be some sort of public benefit.”
Bolden, a senior account executive at WGCI, owns two buildings on 43rd Street. In 1999 he leased office space in one of them to Charles Williams, who was challenging Preckwinkle for her seat. Later that year Bolden applied for the empowerment-zone grant, asking for nearly $600,000 to help him rehab his buildings and open a restaurant in one of them; he promised to create up to 60 jobs for nearby residents.
The empowerment-zone program’s coordinating council, which reviews grant applications, put Bolden’s proposal on that year’s list of recommended applications, which was sent to the City Council in March 2000 for final approval. The following month the coordinating council took Bolden’s project off the list. Bolden then filed a federal suit against Preckwinkle, former empowerment-zone director Ron Carter, current director Wallace E. Goode Jr., and planning and development commissioner Christopher Hill, charging that his proposal had been unfairly removed. The suit is still pending.
Now Bolden’s running for Preckwinkle’s job. The alderman says she’s brought jobs and affordable housing to the ward; Bolden says the ward needs more of both. “Here in the Fourth Ward there are 200 city-owned vacant lots,” he says. “A lot of those should be developed for affordable housing. I believe that small business is the pulp of any community. A lot of businesses have closed down. With the proper assistance, these businesses can be up and running and employing residents.”
Is Bolden’s campaign payback?
“It’s not personal with me,” he says, “by any means.”
And That’s Her Real Hair
The Wig Party–the south-side political machine of the toupee-wearing Shaw brothers–is dying out, just as its 19th-century namesake did. Four years ago Robert Shaw was alderman of the Ninth Ward and William Shaw was the local state senator. When Robert retired in 1999 he tried to pass the ward on to his son, Herbert. Herbert lost to Anthony Beale, an ally of the area’s most powerful minister, the Reverend James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church, and of its most powerful politician, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
Last fall the Shaws plotted to retake the Ninth. Robert’s old chief of staff, William Lockhart, circulated petitions to run for alderman. Then in November, William Shaw lost his senate seat to Meeks, and all of a sudden the Shaw machine had no engine, no wheels, and no driver.
Lockhart never filed, but the party standard has been picked up by 29-year-old Necole Muhammad. She was a secretary in Robert Shaw’s ward office and ran for state representative in 1996, when she was known as Necole Robinson (she’s since converted to Islam). Alderman Beale is too cozy with Jackson and is not “an approachable person,” she says. “He’s kind of arrogant. People may have had issues with the Shaws because they’re country or whatever, but they’re people people.”
Beale insists that he is approach-able, pointing out that he has walk-in hours on Monday evenings and meets with block-club presidents every four months. “I have never turned down an appointment in four years,” he says. “We have completed 103,000 service requests. The people are being serviced now. When I took over I got flooded, absolutely flooded. People told me, ‘I’ve been trying to get a tree trimmed for four years.'”
The Ninth is one of Chicago’s remotest wards. The Altgeld Gardens housing project is five miles from an el stop. In Riverdale, on the banks of the Calumet, nearly two-thirds of the residents live below the poverty line. In Roseland there’s a storefront church on every block and 27 hip-hop clothing stores, but no supermarket. Beale is negotiating to bring a 24-hour grocery store to the old Horizon Foods site at 115th and Michigan. And he wants a “legitimate restaurant”–he mentions Old Country Buffet, which is popular with the after-church crowd. “I’ve appointed a business advisory board,” he says. “We’ve discouraged clothing stores, barbershops, beauty salons. I’m helping a lady bring a bakery into the community.”
Beale also denies Muhammad’s charge that he’s in Jackson’s pocket, though he does note that Jackson has put money in the ward’s pocket, including funds to repair the 103rd Street bridge and a grant for a 40-unit apartment building for seniors. “Senator Shaw,” he says, “didn’t give me a dime in four years.”