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City Council Approves Ban On Aldermen Lobbying Other Elected Officials

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With the feds investigating lobbying practices at energy giant ComEd, and also raiding the offices of several local and state officials across the state in recent months, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday banned aldermen from working as paid lobbyists, and barred other elected officials from lobbying the city.

Without debate, aldermen approved an ordinance that would prohibit all city elected officials and employees from being paid by a private client to lobby any government body in Illinois, at either the state, county, or municipal level. Likewise, it would prevent any other elected officials in Illinois from being paid to lobby the City Council, or any city department or agency on behalf of a private client.

The measure was sponsored by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who chairs the council's Ethics Committee, and Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th).

At a committee hearing on the ordinance earlier this month, O'Shea called the lobbying ban "commonsense legislation" to prevent what he said is a far too common problem of elected officials profiting from interests that conflict with their government duties.

"How many times do we have to wake up and read the newspaper and see something else?" he said. "We need to send the message to the people that we represent in our communities that the buck stops here, and the bullshit's gonna stop."

However, some aldermen have raised concerns that the ban would hurt some professional lobbyists who also serve as elected officials in small towns out of a sense of civic duty.

"When we say all elected officials, I think we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this one," Ald. David Moore (17th) said. "We have to make sure that this is written well, that it does not affect those good elected officials who are doing good work in the city, state, and county."

However, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) pointed out that virtually every regulation the city has ever put into place has had an adverse impact on people who weren't regulated before. She said the ban is necessary to avoid conflicts of interest for city officials, even if it might hurt some lobbyists.

"It isn't because it's fashionable, it isn't because it's popular, it's because it's needed," she said.

Chicago Ethics Board executive director Steve Berlin explained that the lobbying ban would not prevent any elected official from lobbying on behalf of their constituents, or from performing their official government duties.

Lawyers seeking city action on zoning matters would be exempt from the ban.

The lobbying ban is a clear response to a sweeping federal government investigation of ComEd and parent company Exelon and their lobbying practices. The lobbying ban also was prompted by federal charges filed against state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who is accused of bribing a state senator in exchange for the senator's support of sweepstakes-related legislation that would benefit one of Arroyo's lobbying clients.

Several aldermen also have fallen under the federal microscope in the past year. Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has been indicted on bribery charges, and was forced to give up his seat as powerful chairman of the Finance Committee. Former Ald. Danny Solis did not run for re-election this year after it became public that he had worn a wire for the feds, recording conversations with colleagues including Burke for two years. And federal agents raided Ald. Carrie Austin's ward office earlier this year, seizing printed documents as well as computers and electronic files. Austin and Solis have not been charged with any crimes, however.

In other business on Wednesday, Ald. Raymond Lopez delayed a final vote on a proposed $1.2 million settlement with the family of 26-year-old Heriberto Godinez, who died during a burglary arrest in 2015.

Godinez's family accused officers of misconduct and excessive force during the arrest on the night of July 20, 2015.

Dashcam video made headlines at the time of the incident. It showed Godinez thrashing about as he was handcuffed, and also showed a Chicago Police officer place his foot on Godinez's neck while arresting him and then shifting his weight. First Assistant Corporation Counsel Renai Rodney told aldermen earlier this week that video also showed another officer standing on Godinez's chest for about 90 seconds.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said an autopsy determined Godinez died from cocaine and alcohol poisoning. A second autopsy requested by Cook County prosecutors also blamed Godinez's death on a cocaine overdose, but a third autopsy commissioned by his family blamed his death on asphyxia, pointing to abrasions on his neck, and damage to his carotid arteries.

Lopez has argued that approving a settlement with the Godinez family would essentially be signing off on a "hush money" over the death of a "coke-fueled" gang-banger.

Also on Wednesday, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) held back a final vote on a zoning change sought by a medical marijuana firm hoping to move from Lakeview to a larger facility in Wrigleyville. Cresco Labs, owners of MedMar Lakeview, are seeking to build a new dispensary at 3524 N. Clark St. so it can expand its current operations.

Tunney said he wanted to wait on final approval of that zoning change while aldermen were debating an ordinance that would have delayed recreational pot sales in Chicago by six months.

"What we wanted to do is to see where the argument was going today," he said.

Now that the proposed delay in recreational sales has been defeated, Tunney said he'll call for a vote on MedMar Lakeview's zoning change in January.

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