Ex-ComEd lobbyist, implicated in bribery scheme, ‘endorsed’ Pritzker picks to run tollway

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The Illinois Tollway authority’s top two officials got their jobs from Gov. J.B. Pritzker after being “strongly endorsed” by a group that includes John Hooker, a former ComEd lobbyist who has become embroiled in a bribery scandal involving the utility and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Will Evans, a former Peoples Gas executive, was named chairman of the tollway board in early 2019, soon after the Madigan-led General Assembly passed legislation restructuring the panel in the name of reform and allowing Pritzker to fill posts with new faces.

Around the same time, Pritzker tapped former Chicago Housing Authority official Jose Alvarez as the tollway’s $223,200-a-year executive director, running day-to-day operations of the government agency.



Jose Alvarez, executive director of the Illinois Tollway authority, tapped for the post by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019.


Jose Alvarez, executive director of the Illinois Tollway authority, tapped for the post by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019.
Sun-Times file

“In the case of both chairman Evans and executive director Alvarez, the Business Leadership Council, including John Hooker, strongly endorsed their work,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh told the Chicago Sun-Times in November, referring to a group that advocates for African American businesses and executives. “As the governor looked to build the most diverse administration in state history, the administration took care to seek out recommendations from respected leaders in a variety of industries. Both appointees went through interviews, reference checks and background checks.”

At the time, Hooker was chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority board, an appointed post he has since left.



Will Evans, chairman of the Illinois Tollway authority board.


Will Evans, chairman of the Illinois Tollway authority board.
Illinois Tollway

The business group’s leadership is a who’s who of Black power brokers in Chicago, including John Rogers Jr. of Ariel Investments, Loop Capital’s Jim Reynolds and former ComEd chairman and CEO Frank Clark, previously head of the Chicago Board of Education.

Abudayyeh singled out Hooker as a key voice behind the appointments of Alvarez and Evans.

Though not identified by name, Hooker was referred to a week ago when federal prosecutors unveiled the corruption case against ComEd, the electric company they said engaged in bribery in the hopes of winning passage of favorable legislation from Madigan, who holds huge sway on rate hikes and other regulatory matters.



Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.


Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
AP

According to court records in the corruption case, longtime Madigan confidante Michael McClain and a lobbyist identified by the Sun-Times as Hooker hatched a plan to help two Madigan associates by funneling money to them as subcontractors through a consulting company. Contracts and invoices falsely listed those payments as being for advice on “legislative issues” and “legislative risk management activities,” according to prosecutors.

Hooker, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said: “The governor had no way of knowing about these allegations and urges anyone involved in the federal investigation to be forthcoming with authorities. He is satisfied with the work of the tollway leadership, including expanding opportunities for minority contractors and reducing motorist fines to create a more fair system.”

For more than four decades, Hooker was a top ComEd executive, lobbying for the company with the state.

He continued to lobby for the utility after retiring in 2012, working for outside firms with McClain and later Michael Kasper, a longtime attorney for Madigan’s political operation.

Alvarez worked with Hooker, a friend and mentor, when both were at the CHA.

A tollway spokeswoman said the agency hasn’t been contacted by federal authorities. She said Evans approached Alvarez for the job.

Evans declined an interview request.

26-Delivered

via Chicago Sun-Times

July 24, 2020 at 11:50AM

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