Six months ago the city set up a $12 million fund earmarked for compensation in cases of patronage-related job discrimination. Since then, 1,451 claims have come rolling in. No doubt at least a few of them are pretty unusual. But perhaps the most unusual comes from a guy you’ve read about here before: Jay Stone, hypnotherapist, political activist, and son of one of Mayor Daley’s closest City Council allies, longtime 50th Ward alderman Berny Stone.
The Stones represent drastically contrasting political types. Berny, currently in his 34th year on the council, is a lifelong party regular who makes no bones about his belief in patronage. Jay is an independent who advocates term limits and campaign financing reform and rails against the machine politics that make aldermen like his father virtually unbeatable.
The $12 million fund grew out of a lawsuit filed by Michael Shakman almost 40 years ago. In 1983 Mayor Harold Washington settled with him, agreeing to a court-monitored decree that prevents city officials from considering political influence in personnel decisions. Over the past several years Mayor Daley has been asking U.S. circuit court judge Wayne Andersen, who oversees the decree, to release the city from the order, arguing that his administration is capable of policing its own employment practices. But Daley’s stance lost a lot of credibility when his patronage chief, Robert Sorich, was indicted in 2005. Last year Sorich was convicted and sentenced to 46 months in prison for overseeing a patronage scam in which test scores and job interviews were rigged so applicants with political clout were given jobs, raises, and promotions over more qualified candidates. (He remains free on bail while he appeals.)
Visibly upset by the indictment, Andersen appointed attorney Noelle Brennan to oversee city hiring. “I do not choose to live a life as a cynical person, but I certainly am going to look more carefully at representations made in this particular case in the future,” Andersen said from the bench when he announced his decision back in 2005.
In March the city, under pressure from Andersen and Brennan, agreed to set up the compensation fund. Brennan, whose office was flooded with last-minute petitions, will adjudicate the claims and oversee payment. She’s already expressed doubt that $12 million will be enough.
Most of the claims come from people who allege they didn’t get a job or promotion for which they were best qualified. But Stone’s stems from his unsuccessful 2003 campaign for alderman of the 32nd Ward. He ran against Ted Matlak, whose political patrons, committeeman Terry Gabinski and former congressman Dan Rostenkowski, are two of Berny Stone’s oldest political allies.
In that race Matlak used the advantages of incumbency–money, workers, name recognition, and endorsements, including Berny’s–to trounce the younger Stone with 77 percent of the vote. But this year Jay Stone got the last laugh: running on some of the same issues Stone had, Scott Waguespack narrowly defeated Matlak in a runoff.
Stone’s decision to file a claim was prompted by testimony from former Water Department deputy superintendent Donald Tomczak in the Sorich trial. Tomczak said he had dispatched an army of 200 or so city employees to work against Jay Stone. (Tomczak himself was sentenced to 47 months in prison in connection with the hired truck scandal.)
Stone contends that what Tomczak did to keep him from getting elected violated the Shakman decree. “Although the city didn’t make a direct employee decision involving my hiring, firing, promotion, etc, employment decisions involving city employees who campaigned against me were made to reward current and future city employees with jobs, promotions, overtime, and transfers,” he argues in his claim.
According to his petition, filed September 21, just a week before the deadline, Matlak and Tomczak also used clout and intimidation to force city workers and public officials to work against him. He charges that local Park District and library officials wouldn’t let him rent rooms to hold meetings, that a city employee challenged his petitions to have him removed from the ballot, and that city workers tore down his signs. At one point, Stone says, he asked state rep John Fritchey for his support. “Initially, Representative Fritchey said he was willing to help me,” Stone writes in his complaint. “Several weeks later my father said that Fritchey was told to drop out of the race and not to help me.”
On election day, according to his claim, Stone and his volunteers were up against “Tomczak and Matlak’s highly skilled, personally motivated and invincible political army of 160 to 210 campaign workers; most or all of Matlak’s campaign workers had government jobs.”
Stone’s seeking up to $380,000–the amount of money he would have made had he won the election and served a four-year term on the council. “Tomczak rigged my election through his admitted unlawful actions,” he writes in his claim. “The rigging of the 2003 election for 32nd Ward alderman was no different than the rigging of hiring and promotion of city employees through sham interviews. Moreover, the purpose of rigging job interviews and job placements was to undermine political competition and provide an unfair and in most cases unbeatable advantage to favored politicians, such as my opponent Alderman Matlak.”
As usual, Stone’s waging this fight on his own. His father doesn’t support him–he says he hasn’t even read the claim. “Jay tells me his version. All I know is what Jay says,” says the alderman. “And I don’t have an opinion about this.”
Matlak, Jay Stone’s old adversary, considers the claim baseless. “I won over 75 percent of the vote in that election,” he says. “I don’t know what Stone’s talking about.”
Fritchey’s irritated that he’s even mentioned in the complaint. “I never said I was going to support him,” says Fritchey. “After I met with him I thought Jay was a very nice guy, but a very nice guy doesn’t make for a very good candidate. I’m not trying to kick a guy when he’s down, but the vote totals showed that the constituents agreed.”
Stone’s claim sounds like a bit of a stretch to me. But Stone says he doesn’t care if the odds are against him. “I don’t think they should be allowed to get away with these kinds of abuse of power,” he says. “My claim shows that Daley used the illegal patronage system to undermine elections to maintain his political power and control. They should pay for it.”
Speaking of Matlak
In his glory days as alderman, Ted Matlak was infamously hard to reach, especially for reporters. You’d leave a message at his ward office and you wouldn’t know when–or if–he’d call you back. “Sorry,” he told me once, returning a call about three weeks after I’d phoned. “I’ve been busy.”
Things change. Matlak’s now selling real estate for Property Consultants Realty, a north-side firm owned by Bill Senne, who as Crain’s put it in a profile last year “is perhaps best known for a dozen loft conversion projects in Bucktown. He sees opportunity everywhere.”
Apparently Senne saw opportunity in Matlak, who’s more accessible than he ever was as alderman. When I called his office, the receptionist immediately forwarded me to his cell. For all she knew, I was a big-time landlord looking to buy or sell.
When I got him, though, Matlak was as taciturn as ever. “I’m a licensed real estate broker,” he said. “I got my broker’s license after I left office. I had a career change.”
How’s it going?
It’s fitting that Matlak’s making a living selling real estate. He never met a zoning change he didn’t like, and his willingness to upzone fueled the condo boom in Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Roscoe Village. Ultimately that’s what cost him, as congestion, traffic, and ugly outsize buildings turned residents against him. Now his loss is his gain. His part of town’s a great place to sell real estate–especially if you’re a former alderman with a lot of friends.
For more on politics, see our blog Clout City at chicagoreader.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jay Stone photo by Robert Drea.