Carol Felsenthal
On politics

How a City Council Watchdog Ruined Alderman Joe Moore’s Birthday

The alderman got a “Champions of Change” honor from the President on his 55th birthday. But legislative inspector general Faisal Khan spoiled the gift.

Joe Moore

Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Far North Side alderman Joe Moore turned 55 last Monday—the very day of the proud announcement from the White House that Moore would be honored the next day, Tuesday, for being one of the administration’s “Champions of Change,” as well as a  “a pioneer for political reform, governmental transparency and democratic governance.”

The President, and presumably his aides who make these picks, were impressed, the Chicago Tribune reported, by Moore’s policy of participatory budgeting, “letting constituents decide how to use part of his budget each year.”

Not bad for a Chicago boy who, on graduating from law school at DePaul, in 1984, went directly to work for the city’s law department. Then he stayed there until he was elected, in 1991, as alderman of the 49th Ward in East Rogers Park.

Unfortunately, that birthday Monday was also the day that Moore admitted that he had been questioned by the FBI about the firing of two aides: One in 2007, who was paid $13,497 in severance, and another,  a staff assistant, in November 2009 who received $8,709. The latter, allegedly, was paid to keep quiet about being asked to do campaign work on city time using Moore’s ward office.

According to a report in the Sun-Times, Moore has called the charges “completely false” and the woman who made them a “disgruntled employee,” a “very angry woman,” and “very disruptive force in the office.”

The ethics violation charges were contained in a report by legislative inspector general Faisal Khan, who, Moore charges, was left to “run amok” and who conducted “a very unprofessional investigation.” It should be mentioned here that Moore had opposed the creation of the legislative IG office, with duties limited to investigating the City Council. Moore favored giving city inspector general Joe Ferguson the power to investigate alderman. He also advocated last May for axing Khan, as preparation to the transition to Ferguson. So Moore’s charge, as he told the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman, that Khan “had a bone to pick with me” is not completely out of left field. 

Elected alderman as an outsider in 1991, Moore has been interesting to watch—a staunch independent during the reign of Rich Daley but far more compliant and reliable since the election of Rahm Emanuel. 

Research on 30 divided roll call votes since May 2011 conducted by UIC professor and former independent alderman Dick Simpson (with coauthor Melissa Zmuda) backs up this impression with hard numbers. Simpson concluded that the City Council presided over by Rahm Emanuel is a “rubber stamp.” On the subject of Joe Moore, Simpson noted that while Moore voted with Rich Daley 51 percent of the time from 2007-2011, he voted with Rahm Emanuel 97 percent of the time. 

I contacted Moore’s chief of staff Betsy Vandercook late Wednesday to request an interview with Moore.  She responded that she had forwarded my email to Moore and that he would be in touch “if he is interested.” I had yet to hear from him by post time.

Had he called me, I would have asked him about his attempt in late 2011 to leave the Council to become the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency chief. It appeared in November 2011 that Gov. Pat Quinn was ready to make that EPA nomination, until strong opposition to Moore from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce (and other business groups) gave Quinn his characteristic pause. Opponents were wary of Moore’s clean energy credentials and his support, as alderman, for the fois gras ban, the big-box ordinance (requiring a minimum wage of $10/hour at such big box stores as Walmart and Home Depot),  and the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

When it still looked like Quinn might nominate him, Moore was reported (by Springfield’s State Journal-Register and the Lincoln Courier of Lincoln, Illinois) to be hanging out in Springfield, lobbying state senators on his own behalf.

I also would have asked Moore if he made nice with Rahm so that the new mayor wouldn’t think twice, were Joe to get the EPA job, about doing what Joe and wife Barbara apparently desired—appoint her to her husband’s Council seat. It appears that Barbara Moore, a political consultant, might have had that maneuver in mind when she changed her mind about running for a slot on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board. 

This bit of choreography preceded the mayor’s vow to eliminate nepotism and charge a “blue-ribbon” committee with selecting successors—a pledge carried out in filling Sandi Jackson’s council seat but ignored in Wednesday’s appointment of Deb Mell to succeed her father.

Joe Moore, whose name was once synonymous with independence, does seem a changed man since Rahm’s inauguration. Council watchers took note when Moore blasted the BGA and Occupy Chicago for their reflexively anti-Rahm stands. They also noticed Moore’s break with the Council’s Progressive Caucus (now renamed the Progressive Reform Coalition) and his joining, along with nine of his colleagues, the milder, less argumentative, more pro-Rahm Paul Douglas Alliance. Dick Simpson writes that “this split in the progressive ranks makes the mayor’s control more complete.”

Moore counters, natch, that his new caucus is aimed at solving problems, not just “being reflexively anti-mayor.” Spoken like a real champion of change.

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