Some of us spent the primary election season consumed by the electoral machinations of Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle—and the almost potentially exciting race for court clerk. But it turns out that many of the smart and connected people in town had their money on a guy running for the board of the water reclamation district.
It could have something to do with the fact that he’s a Daley.
For those of you who don’t closely follow the wastewater system around here, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is the billion-dollar-a-year agency responsible for dealing with our sewage. It’s overseen by nine commissioners whose jobs have become coveted political posts in the last few years, since it offers an opportunity to shape the region’s environmental legacy, and to cash in on some sweet perks.
Well-to-do candidates have spent big money for board seats before, but it’s not often that an aspiring water rec commissioner attracts the interest—and checks—of many of the city’s most powerful politicians, business leaders, and government contractors.
Such is the good fortune of Patrick Daley Thompson, the first of Richard J. Daley’s grandkids to make a bid for office.
Most of the public had never heard of Thompson before the election season, but he's got good friends. With the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party, Thompson finished third among six water rec candidates in last week’s primary—virtually assuring him of a seat on the board, since three seats are up for election this fall and nobody's going to beat the Democrats.
Thompson also made a few valuable connections while working as lawyer in private practice. Here’s how Abdon Pallasch of the Sun-Times described his legal work in a recent profile: "He represents clients before various city boards; helped with the sale of more than $400 million in general obligation bonds for the water reclamation district; and is registered as a lobbyist with the city for six companies."
The prospect of Thompson helping shape our sewage treatment policies was apparently so inspiring that many of these friends decided to donate to his campaign.
In fact, records show that while Thompson raised a modest $166,320, his donor roster included the kind of clout-heavy names that many veteran politicians would envy—the kind that will also be helpful for any future runs for office.
• A couple of his favorite uncles—attorney Michael Daley, who gave $1,600, and former White House chief of staff William Daley, who kicked in $10,000. Michael Daley’s partner, Jack George, also gave $1,500.
• Lots of political insiders from the mayoral reign of his uncle, Richard M. Daley, including former alderman William J.P. Banks; lobbyist and former top Daley aide John Doerrer; lobbyist and former Cook County state’s attorney Richard Devine; CTA chairman Terry Peterson; and a committee controlled by Alderman Ed Burke, chairman of the City Council's finance committee.
• Business interests closely aligned with City Hall, such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Association of Realtors.
• Leaders of City Hall favorite Grosvenor Capital Management, one of the largest contributors to the campaign of Mayor Emanuel. A thousand bucks came from Michael Sacks, Emanuel’s handpicked vice-chairman of World Business Chicago, a city economic development organization. Another grand came from Sacks’s wife, Cari.
• Wealthy, prolific donors such as J.B. Pritzker and the Wirtz Beverage Company.
• Contractors like Riteway-Huggins Construction, John Burns Construction, and Heneghan Wrecking, each of which has done millions of dollars in work for the city and other local government bodies.
• Frank McMahon, a Burke ally who’s made millions of dollars marking up milk he sells to area school districts.
• Law firms that have billed local government agencies millions of dollars for legal work, including Freeborn and Peters, which was paid more than $3 million to defend the city in lawsuits filed by Iraq war protesters; and Katten Muchin Rosenman, which drew up the parking meter deal and now employs Richard M. Daley.
But it’s not just the insiders and machine heavyweights who knew a winning candidate when they saw one. Several of the area’s self-described reform politicians also contributed to Thompson, including Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, county commissioner Larry Suffredin, and water rec commissioner Debra Shore.
Shore, who finished first in the water rec primary last week, says she, Thompson, and fellow candidate Kari Steele ran as a trio after they were all slated by the Cook County Democratic Party. She says Thompson’s experience working with developers will be a good addition to the district board, since some suburban mayors are concerned that water rec projects will inhibit economic growth. “I think he’s a personable young man,” she says.
Suffredin says he’s been impressed with Thompson since serving with him on the board of the nonprofit Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “If you know somebody and their qualities are good,” Suffredin says, “no one should be mad at you for supporting a friend.”
To their credit, Suffredin and Shore have been fighting for open, efficient government for years. But it used to be that reformers were people who argued that elected officials shouldn’t be in the business of helping friends.
The good news is that the reform movement really has wide appeal these days. In fact, if we keep reforming the meaning of reform, soon everyone will be a reformer.