Anna Valencia balks at releasing emails, but why? Crain’s Juice Springfield Memo

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As a candidate for Illinois secretary of state, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia has been arguing that she and not former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has the reputation and record to hang onto a seat Democrats have owned for nearly three decades.

So why did Valencia write or receive more than 600 emails on her official Chicago city email account referencing her husband, one of his lobbyist clients, or both? And why has Valencia so far refused to release copies of those emails?

Welcome to the latest twist in the contest to succeed the retiring Jesse White in a job that, traditionally, has been one of the stepping stones to higher office, like governor or U.S. senator.

There’s no love lost between the two Democrats vying for the nomination, with Giannoulias trying to give the impression that the race is all but over, and Valencia (and other Democrats) wondering about Giannoulias’ past ties to the financially collapsed Broadway Bank, an issue that helped sink his 2010 race for the U.S. Senate against Mark Kirk. Ald. David Moore, 17th, also is seeking the Democratic nod.

Anyhow, the latest development concerns Valencia, not Giannoulias.

In a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, a Giannoulias ally asked for and passed on to his campaign requests for copies of all emails to or from Valencia that also included the key words “Monterrey,” “Reyahd” or “Kazmi.”

Those are a reference to Valencia’s husband, Reyahd Kazmi, and the company for whom he has worked as a lobbyist, Chicago-based Monterrey Security.

The office has rejected each of the three, successively small FOIA requests on grounds that they would be unduly burdensome.

The third, dated Jan. 7, asked for such emails from 2017, when Valencia became clerk, to 2019. The grounds for the rejection: It would take 3 to 5 minutes each for a lawyer to read through and, if necessary, redact information in 612 emails that fit the FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right—612 emails, all on Valencia’s official, city-provided, taxpayer-funded email account.

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Asked about that, Valencia’s office spokeswoman Treshonna Nolan, said the office wants to comply but needs the request to be narrowed to something more reasonable.

“We are operating under the assumption that the emails between Clerk Valencia and her husband, Ray Kazmi, pertain to scheduling requests and shared calendar invites.”

But why was that handled in a city account? And why so many—612, roughly one per every work day for two years? Nolan said she didn’t know. Nor, she said, has she reviewed the emails herself, though an office lawyer did pull a sample.

There’s another possible explanation: That Valencia has something to hide.

In 2017, when Valencia headed intergovernmental relations for then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Daily Line reported that Kazmi registered as a lobbyist for a city vendor.

Emails obtained by the Giannoulias ally indicate she also used her influence to try to get an invitation to an Emanuel speech for her husband and pastor, and helped win a spot on the Chicago Public Library Board for a Monterrey executive.

Valencia’s political spokeswoman, Payal Patel, says Kazmi wasn’t retained by Monterrey until later. According the Chicago Sun-Times, he was retained to help the company retain a lucrative contract at Soldier Field in 2018.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration hired the company in 2020 to help protect neighborhood businesses amid the protests over the killing of George Floyd. But the firm has no current contract with the city, Team Lightfoot says.

Either way, the latest word is that Valencia’s office has contacted the FOIA seeker and indicated it might be able to provide the emails if they only covered a year at a time.

We’ll see. Says Nolan: “Our legal team always works with requestors to narrow their searches and get requestors the documents and information they need.”

Monterrey and its execs have donated $16,050 to Valencia campaign funds since 2017, with Kazmi reporting lobbying fees of $39,000.

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January 13, 2022 at 03:31PM

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