After descent into alcoholism cost him City Council seat, Proco Joe Moreno hits the comeback trail

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Proco Joe Moreno walks with supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in May 2019 after a hearing on charges that he had filed a false police report.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Former Chicago Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) is talking openly about the alcohol-fueled downward spiral that cost him his City Council seat and nearly denied him his freedom.

Moreno, 50, is trying to reclaim the job he lost to Ald. Daniel LaSpata after a self-destructive string of scandals that derailed his once-bright future.

Those headlines included flashing his aldermanic star to intimidate a woman during a parking dispute and being charged with insurance fraud and obstruction of justice for falsely reporting his 2017 Audi had been stolen from his Wicker Park garage when, in fact, he had loaned it to a girlfriend.

The tailspin continued after his political demise, when Moreno was charged with drunk and reckless driving after crashing his Audi into eight parked cars on Astor Street in the Gold Coast.

In January 2021, Moreno spent a week in jail for the DUI on orders from a judge who branded him an “extreme danger to the community.”

Six months later, he pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from the insurance fraud case and received “second-chance probation,” allowing him to clear his record once probation was complete. That’s what happened in August, paving the way for him to at least attempt a political resurrection.

But Moreno doesn’t stand a chance unless he can convince 1st Ward voters to forgive and forget.

Now, Moreno is taking another step on his comeback tour.

In a soul-searching interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Moreno talked about going into his own tailspin after failing to talk a beloved friend and precinct captain out of committing suicide.

Former 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno walks out of the Cook County Jail in January 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He talked about being haunted forever by the gunshot he heard during that phone call with Joe Muntaner on Mother’s Day 2017.

“He told me he had a gun. He was gonna do it. That I’m the only one who loved him. I said, ‘That’s not true.’ He asked me to take care of his family. I said I would, but ‘I can’t take care of your family as well as you.’ I was trying every angle I could to not have him do this and to tell me where he was, which he would not,” Moreno recalled in the interview on Thursday.

“Then, finally, the gun went off and I was screaming into the phone, yelling, ‘Joe!’ And there was no answer.”

Moreno said he’s not using Muntaner’s suicide to explain his own inexcusable and illegal actions. But if you’re talking about “triggers” for a descent into alcoholism, this was it.

“I didn’t sleep. I had nightmares. And I blamed myself. … [I was] dealing with it by abusing alcohol so I could forget about it every night,” the former alderperson said.

“It was the unhealthy, incorrect and wrong way of dealing with it. But that’s what I did.”

The seven weeks Moreno spent at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s rehab program turned his life around.

“The first meeting or two, I was pessimistic that it was going to go anywhere. And I met some of the greatest people that I’ve met in my life … going through similar challenges that I did,” Moreno said.

But near the end, he added, “they give you a nice little send-off,” where he spoke.

“And I said … ‘I’m one of the most hard-headed people there are. And when I started this program, if someone told me that I would miss this program when I was done with it and that it would change my life, I would have said you’re crazy.’”

After rehab, “almost all” the guilt Moreno had felt since his friend’s suicide was lifted from his shoulders.

“I still think about Joe Muntaner all the time. But I think of him more in a way that I celebrate him, rather than in a way of blaming myself and re-running that terrible day in my head. … I remember him in a more beautiful way for the beautiful person that he was,” he said.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno joking with reporters during a City Council meeting in October 2015.

Sun-Times file

During his nearly decade-long run as alderperson, Moreno championed the cause of private booters patrolling private business lots. He was the prime mover behind Chicago’s 7-cent plastic bag tax. He pushed for affordable housing amid accusations he was too cozy with the developers whose contributions filled his campaign fund.

Before launching his comeback bid, Moreno funded a poll in the 1st Ward, which includes parts of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and West Town. He said 66% of those surveyed want him to focus on combatting violent crime.

“If I wasn’t approached by significant stakeholders in the ward over the last year and a half to come back, I wouldn’t be running again,” he said.

“But to see all of the things the community and I accomplished — especially on the public safety front — go to waste? To see the ward stagnant at best, going backwards in a lot of ways? I can’t sit by on the sideline and not get back in.”

LaSpata could not be reached for comment.

The state’s attorney’s office said Moreno’s probation was “terminated satisfactorily” on Aug. 17, one year earlier than planned, over its objections.

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November 4, 2022 at 12:03PM

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