Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson is trying to navigate city rules and the expectations supporters have for his administration while he puts together his leadership team.
As Johnson prepares to take office in less than a month, one of the heads of his transition team has sought a waiver from the city’s Board of Ethics to avoid violating a policy designed to stop former employees from coming back to lobby or influence subjects they worked on for the city.
Johnson earlier this month named Maria Martinez as a legal adviser on the team that’s helping him get organized and set his priorities as he prepares to succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The inauguration is May 15.
But Martinez, now a lawyer for Croke, Fairchild, Duarte & Beres, was on the city payroll until January representing the Lightfoot administration’s interests in Springfield, and the city’s so-called revolving door policy precludes former employees from coming back within a year to do certain kinds of work.
So the Johnson team sought to preempt any problems, according to Johnson spokesman Ronnie Reese.
“Out of an abundance of caution, our transition team proactively reached out to the Board of Ethics,” Reese said in a statement to the Tribune. “Through those conversations, the BOE and our team concluded that a waiver request was the prudent course of action to address any potential concerns.”
Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin declined to comment on whether the board discussed the situation with the Johnson team or approved a waiver, but said if such a waiver was granted the board would take it up at its next meeting.
[ What to know as Brandon Johnson prepares to become Chicago’s next mayor ]
It’s just one of the issues facing Johnson as he tries to build a team he can trust to help him start quickly delivering on his promises to change the way City Hall operates.
At least two of the five transition leaders Johnson named — senior adviser Amisha Patel and intergovernmental affairs adviser Erica Bland-Durosinmi — don’t live in Chicago.
There’s no prohibition on transition team members living in the suburbs, since they aren’t city employees who are subject to requirements that they reside within city limits.
But Johnson often touts his West Side bona fides as an Austin resident and seeks to highlight his commitment to residents of Chicago’s poor and working class neighborhoods after campaigning on a pledge to “tax non-Chicagoans before we tax our own residents.” So his reliance on non-Chicagoans merits notice.
Patel, who’s the former executive director of Grassroots Collaborative and Grassroots Illinois Action, and Bland-Durosinmi, vice president at the Service Employees International Union Healthcare, have strong credentials that make them good fits for the Johnson transition, Reese said.
[ Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s top staff members bring different perspectives to City Hall but say they strike ‘a good balance’ ]
“As a community organizer and leader of tens of thousands of rank-and-file Chicago union workers, respectively, they have vast knowledge of not just city politics and policy, but all levels of government throughout the state of Illinois, which will be essential to the success of Mayor-elect Johnson’s administration,” he said in a statement.
“There are few people better-qualified to lead our transition team and lay the foundation for a better, safer and stronger Chicago.”
Lightfoot ran into some trouble early in her term when she brought Wilmette resident Lisa Schneider-Fabes into her administration.
Schneider-Fabes served as Lightfoot’s transition team manager. She then got hired as a vice president at the quasi-governmental World Business Chicago organization, which detailed her to City Hall, allowing Schneider-Fabes to collect a salary while evading the residency rules.
She resigned several months later as city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office was looking into the arrangement.
Meanwhile, the name of another Johnson transition team leader, intergovernmental affairs adviser D’Javan Conway, appeared earlier this month on a list of potential defense witnesses for James Weiss.
The son-in-law of onetime Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, Weiss is set to face trial soon on federal charges alleging he bribed a state representative and a state senator for help on legislation benefiting sweepstakes gaming machines.
Conway is a onetime staffer for now-indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan, and has in recent years counted among his Springfield lobbying clients Exelon, the parent company of ComEd. The utility has been in the news in recent weeks during the “ComEd Four” trial in which federal prosecutors allege ComEd officials sought to influence Madigan by funneling bribes to a roster of his cronies.
Reese said Conway doesn’t know why his name is on the defense list, which contains about two dozen names.
“Mr. Conway has provided consulting services for dozens of political committees, corporations and unions throughout his career, and briefly worked with the Illinois Retail Sweepstakes and Promotion Association in 2018-2019,” Reese said. “Mr. Conway has no current relationship with Mr. Weiss and hasn’t spoken to him in years.”
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April 25, 2023 at 05:21AM