Illinois Commerce Commission Chairman Carrie Zalewski plans to step down just shy of the end of her five-year appointed term, a decision she announced just days before the ComEd federal bribery trial begins.
But Zalewski — whose father-in-law, former Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), plays a role in the trial but has not been charged — said the federal case had nothing to do with her decision to leave her leadership post at the agency that oversees the state’s utility rates, including those of ComEd.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Carrie Zalewski also denied that that she was a subject of the investigation that led to the charges against four people accused of trying to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to benefit ComEd — and she doesn’t believe she’ll be called as a witness in the trial, which begins next week.
“I am not now and have never been the subject of this investigation,” Carrie Zalewski said.
When asked if she has been questioned or subpoenaed by federal authorities, Carrie Zalewski declined to comment.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss or speculate [on] an ongoing investigation,” Carrie Zalewski said. She answered the same when asked about any role of her husband, former state Rep. Mike Zalewski, in the investigation.
Carrie Zalewski will step down as chair on June 16. Her five-year term was set to expire on Jan. 15, 2024. She said she opted to leave sooner rather than later — with many docket items scheduled to stack up by the end of the year.
“I thought what was best for the commission and then the commissioner who would be replacing me is to leave now,” Carrie Zalewski said. “So they have a chance to sit with documents, understand them and make really informed decisions as opposed to leaving kind of in the middle of it.”
Her husband lost his 21st District House seat last year after serving seven terms. According to two sources, he plans to register as a lobbyist — but is awaiting his wife’s resignation to avoid any conflicts-of-interest.
Pritzker plans to nominate Doug Scott to replace her as chair, the governor’s office said. A former mayor of Rockford, Scott served as ICC chairman before as well as director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The governor also announced the appointments of Conrad Reddick and Stacey Paradis to the five-person board.
Pritzker was forced to defend Carrie Zalewski in 2020 after federal documents portrayed her father-in-law as profiting from the bribery scheme ComEd is charged with perpetrating. Pritzker said then she was doing a “good job as a public servant” and “it would be unfair for us to hold against her something that has to do with someone else.”
In May 2018, Madigan — through lobbyist Mike McClain — allegedly asked then-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore to hire former Ald. Mike Zalewski, the feds allege. Pramaggiore agreed that ComEd would pay him $5,000 monthly as a subcontractor through another firm, according to federal documents.
Along with McClain and Pramaggiore, those on trial include former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and former City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of a scheme to gain Madigan’s support for legislation benefiting the utility by landing the speaker’s associates jobs, contracts and money.
Carrie Zalewski on Thursday also denied that Pritzker asked her to step down from the commission.
“He picked me and has given me his nonstop support the whole way. I’m so appreciative of his continued support,” she said. “This is my decision and my decision alone.”
Carrie Zalewski came to the commission from the Illinois Pollution Control Board, where she spent nine years — and has worked in state government for 17 years as an expert in environmental and energy regulation.
She said she applied for the chair post on a website seeking applicants for Pritzker’s administration. And she denies being a Madigan appointee: “Not to my knowledge.”
WBEZ in 2020 reported that Carrie Zalewski was on a “Madigan clout list” — with Pritzker having hired 35 people recommended by the now indicted former speaker. The governor’s office on Thursday called Carrie Zalewski “a highly qualified attorney and state regulator who is accomplished and well-respected in her field.”
The governor’s office also said Carrie Zalewski personally reached out to members of Pritzker’s transition team about a position and was discussing a job with the administration prior to Pritzker taking office.
And they issued a lengthy recycled statement in defense of Carrie Zalewski, saying in part that Madigan’s list included “well-known people” and the notion that those hires impacted Pritzker’s ability to remain independent “ignores the fact that these are people who many others could have easily named as qualified candidates.”
Controversies aside, Carrie Zalewski — who is well-respected on both sides of the aisle — said she’s proud of the ICC’s work during the pandemic in getting help to people who needed it most — and in the newfound authority given to the commission by the passing of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.
“CEJA is the thing that let us put a ton in play quickly. There’s very tight statutory deadlines, and I’m proud to say we didn’t miss any of them. So things like, to put more storage on the grid and to bring more solar and to bring more technologies surrounding beneficial electrification or EVs [electric vehicles]. To bring all this together, to plan for this futuristic grid of the future is the thing that excites me the most,” Carrie Zalewski said. “And I’ll add that I really believe that we are leading the nation.”
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March 10, 2023 at 05:40AM