As the chairman of the City Council’s police and fire committee, 29th Ward alderman Isaac Carothers is one of City Hall’s more recognizable characters. Reporters generally have no trouble tracking him down when they need a quote. So it’s curious that Sheriff Michael Sheahan’s employees who are trying to serve him with a summons for a civil suit haven’t been able to find him.
“What do you mean the sheriff can’t find the alderman?” says Brenda Smith, Carothers’s chief of staff. “The alderman’s not hard to find. He’s in his office–downtown or in the ward–every day. Something’s strange about this.”
Jerald Wilson, the freelance publicist who’s suing Carothers for not paying him for the work he says he did, agrees. “Let’s think about this,” he says. “The sheriff’s office can’t find the chairman of the council’s police committee. Something funny’s going on.”
Carothers is a 46-year-old throwback to the tough west-side political bosses like former alderman Bill Henry. Over the past few years he’s steadily built a powerful organization in Austin and Garfield Park, thanks in part to his close ties to Mayor Daley. He’s let rivals and their supporters know that he intends, as Wilson puts it, “to be the big man in this end of town.”
Wilson, a political strategist who comes up with snappy quotes and has a taste for allusions to the Bible, Shakespeare, and ancient history, says, “I’ve known Ike for a long time–I’ve known his family. I know his father, the former alderman William Carothers, and his grandfather, Ike Sims–that’s who the alderman’s named for. I knew the alderman when he was just coming up. He was just one of those intimidating no-neck guys. He thinks he doesn’t have the edges now that he’s chairman of the police committee. You always see him standing behind Daley–like they’re joined together.”
Wilson has worked for many of Carothers’s closest council allies, including aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Shirley Coleman (16th) and former alderman Vilma Colom (35th). “I write press releases, I give them advice, I write their speeches,” he says. “There are not many black professionals who do this. But I’m getting it done.”
In January, Wilson says, Carothers asked if he would help his aunt, Anita Rivkin-Carothers, in her campaign for Congress against Danny Davis. (She lost in the March primary.) Wilson’s lawsuit states, “After several verbal discussions and submissions of past work by [Wilson], [Alderman Carothers] agreed to contract the plaintiff’s company for public relations services for approximately 2 months. [Wilson] then submitted to [Carothers] an outline of the services that would be provided and a Retainer Invoice in the amount of $2,500.”
The suit charges that as of March 3 Carothers hadn’t paid Wilson the $2,500 fee, even though Wilson had “prepar[ed] a news release…attended a number of ward and campaign strategy meetings where he took notes and pictures to be used for press presentation…and made a number of campaign strategy and issue recommendations to [Carothers].” Wilson says he still hasn’t been paid. “I did the work, but he didn’t pay me. I’d call him up, and he’d say he’d get back to me. I talked to him in the council, and he said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ I wrote him a memo about it. He said, ‘I’ll straighten it out.’ I’m tired of this double-talk. Folks want to be big shots, but then they don’t want to pay their bills. Black aldermen are always complaining about blacks not having other black people to do business with them. And now they got one–me–but Carothers won’t pay me.”
On April 12 Wilson filed his suit, charging Carothers with “fraudulent, deceptive practices, theft by deception and theft of services” and seeking $5,000 in damages. Wilson filed it himself. “I’m not a lawyer, but I know enough about the law to know how to write a suit,” he says. “It’s ridiculous that it had to come to this.”
The clerk of the circuit court directed the sheriff’s office to deliver a summons to Carothers at his ward office, at 5937 W. Madison. “That’s the logical place to have him served,” says Wilson. “I filed and waited for a notice regarding my court date.”
By mid-May, Wilson hadn’t received a court-date notice, so he called the county circuit court clerk’s office. “They looked in their records and said, ‘Sorry, but the defendant hasn’t been served,'” says Wilson. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘The sheriff’s people tried to serve him, but nobody was there.’ I couldn’t believe it–there are always people there. Alderman Carothers is there a lot himself–well, he used to be until he started following Mayor Daley around like a lost lamb. If he’s not there when you walk in, you ask when he’ll be there, and they’ll tell you. I could probably go there right now and find him. This is almost funny–the sheriff can’t find Carothers. If they can’t find him, well, all I have to say is they must not be looking for him.”
Sheahan’s two chief spokesmen, Sally Daly and William Cunningham, didn’t return repeated calls for comment. But according to records with the circuit court clerk’s office, Wilson did indeed file a suit, and the sheriff’s office did indeed try to serve Carothers.
“The summons was returned ‘not served,'” says Mary Nolan, a spokeswoman for circuit court clerk Dorothy Brown. “It doesn’t say why they weren’t served.”
According to the sheriff’s summons statement on file with the clerk, an unnamed deputy sheriff first tried to serve Carothers on Wednesday, April 14, at 7:02 AM. On Tuesday, April 20, a deputy returned to Carothers’s ward office at 7 AM. A deputy returned that same day at 11:16 AM. According to Smith and Carothers, the deputy never asked when Carothers would be in the office.
Wilson isn’t impressed by the efforts of the sheriff’s office. “Think about it,” he says. “The server shows up at seven in the morning–when everyone knows an alderman’s office is closed.”
When I called Carothers for comment, he said it was the first he’d heard of Wilson’s suit. “I don’t know anything about this,” he said. He also said he didn’t have an agreement with Wilson. “He says $5,000? Yeah, OK. I don’t believe I owe him anything. I’m not aware of him doing anything for me. I may have introduced him to some people, but I didn’t hire him. If I hire you to do something, I take care of you.”
Carothers also said he didn’t understand how the sheriff couldn’t manage to serve him, since he’s in his office almost every day. “They can’t reach me? You did it on one phone call,” he said. “Anyone who wants me–they know where I am. I’m not hiding. We have regular office hours. Someone’s always at the ward office. I’m at the City Council. I was very prominent in the last meeting.”
Wilson isn’t deterred. He say he might hire a private summons server to serve Carothers in the City Council chambers. “To find him all they have to do is go to a council meeting,” he says. “Wouldn’t that be something–serving Alderman Carothers on the council floor? It would almost make it worth the wait.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.