Aldermen’s campaign cash flows out of Austin

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West Side leaders often talk about economic development as the solution to their wards’ woes.

But when it comes to their own campaign money – hundreds of thousands of dollars, for Austin’s four aldermen combined – they spend the vast majority outside their communities.

Much of this money is spent on items they can’t get close to home, aldermen and experts note.

But during their recent City Council campaigns, aldermen spent thousands at printing companies, caterers and other businesses in distant wards and suburbs – often when options existed in their own wards, an AustinTalks analysis found.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th)

When Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) needed food for supporters on Election Day, for example, she spent $7,000 at a caterer in a neighboring ward instead of her own. Her campaign consultant – whom she paid more than $8,000 – lives in Georgia, and she hired a Far South Side woman for her bookkeeping.

Of the roughly $45,000 Mitts spent on her campaign, just $625 – about 1.5 percent – went to businesses within her ward: $435 to the Austin Voice Newspaper for advertising and $190 to a Dunkin Donuts (5201 W. Fullerton Ave.), according to statements filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Those numbers place Mitts squarely at the bottom of the list in a rank of Austin aldermen’s in-ward spending for the period July 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011. (Campaign filings for the second quarter of this year – the months of April, May and June – are due to election officials today.)

For the last six months of 2010 and the first three months of this year, Mitts spent about $40,000 outside her ward, filings show. She failed to list addresses for $5,170 spent on consulting and repairs, and her office declined to provide details on those expenditures.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th)

(Candidates are required to disclose names and addresses for all expenditures over $150, a state elections spokesman said, though failing to do so is unlikely to result in penalty. The five items Mitts failed to disclose addresses for are all over $150; Ald. Deborah Graham also failed to provide addresses for two expenditures.)

In-ward spending for Austin’s other three aldermen ranged from 8 to 25 percent between July 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, AustinTalks found. (See below for details about your alderman’s local spending. Not sure who your alderman is? Click here.)

AustinTalks checked campaign reports filed with the state Board of Elections. Under state law, payments under $150 per filing period may be reported as “non-itemized,” and addresses need not be reported. Since it is unknown where this money was spent, non-itemized expenses – ranging from $0 to $4,124 per candidate per filing period — were excluded.

In some cases, aldermen had no choice but to shop far from home.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th)

It would have been virtually impossible to find a local substitute for Clear Channel, for example, the billboard-owning giant where 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin spent $26,081 on advertising; likewise for the $4,555 Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) spent on phone services at AT&T, or the $3,645 worth of “robo-calls” Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) commissioned from a Washington, D.C., company.

“It must be recognized that certain specialty business services are not as readily available within (the 37th) ward as there are perhaps in other areas of the city,” a Mitts spokeswoman wrote, “which makes procuring them locally somewhat more challenging.”

Some services required for a campaign simply are not available in every ward, said Dick Simpson, a former North Side alderman and chair of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Their first concern is putting together a viable campaign,” Simpson said. “(We have to ask,) what do they have in their ward that can supply them?”

Ald. Michael Chandler (24th)

High-end printing companies that are environmentally friendly and union-run, for example, aren’t in every ward, Simpson said. But things like web design and supplies for campaign headquarters are sold everywhere and can be bought locally, he said.

Malcolm Crawford, who heads the Austin African American Business Networking Association and operates Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center, said there’s little excuse for traveling elsewhere for readily available services like catering or accounting.

“We have all of that within the ward,” said Crawford, whose Sankofa center received $300 from Ald. Graham’s campaign. “We have plenty of local caterers, good caterers … You talk about spending local, and you talk about supporting your ward, and then you go out and do that?”

Crawford also noted that, while perhaps not all unionized, there are many “good printers” in Austin who “would love to get some of that business.”

“Sometimes you have to go against the grain in order to help people out,” he said.

Spokespersons for Ervin, Mitts and Graham each responded with a written statement saying the aldermen supported businesses in their wards whenever possible. Each said the services they need are not always available in their communities.

“I truly believe that if we are going to attract new businesses and help our current businesses grown in the 28th Ward, then they need our help and support,” Ervin said in his statement. “It’s going to take time to build our ward into the economic power engine that it should be today.”

Chandler did not respond to requests for comment.

Chandler – whose itemized expenses totaled less than $29,000 between July 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, the lowest of the four aldermen – spent $2,350 in his 24th Ward, just over 8 percent.

Inside his ward, Chandler spent $2,000 at Luis Printing (3058 W. Cermak Rd.) and $350 at Murphy Hill Art Gallery, a rental for a fund-raiser at 3333 W. Arthington Ave., the same building where his campaign office was located.

Outside, he spent $3,150 at another printer in the 28th Ward and $8,750 on yard signs from a promotional products maker in southwest suburban Bridgeview.

Ervin (28th) and Graham (29th) ran more expensive campaigns and shopped more at businesses in their communities – though their in-ward spending is somewhat inflated by reimbursements to themselves or to staff members who live in their wards.

Ervin spent $22,071 of his roughly $90,000 campaign in the 28th Ward – about 25 percent, filings show. For restaurants and catering Ervin shopped within his ward, spending hundreds at MacArthur’s restaurant (5412 W. Madison St.) and B&B Entertainment (4422 W. Madison St.).

He filled up his car with more than $1,200 in gas from Gas Plus (3940 W. Washington Blvd.) and paid a 28th Ward man $195 for “transportation.”

Perhaps inflating Ervin’s in-ward spending numbers is $11,000 to his assistant and 28th Ward resident Emma Robinson for “work off city time,” food and campaign items, an Ervin spokesman said, as well as $3,000 for rent for Ervin’s campaign office, a building the alderman owns, according to a city disclosure.

Outside his ward, Ervin looked to the west suburbs for some services, especially consulting. He paid a Forest Park campaign consultant more than $2,800 and a Bellwood campaign spokesman $2,250. Ervin also had a car serviced for $294 in Maywood, the suburb where he used to serve as village manager.

Ervin also spent more than $11,000 at a Sho-Shot Graphics, a printer in the near West Side’s Ukrainian Village. (An Ervin spokesman said the alderman has since hired a 28th Ward business for printing and mailing.)

Ald. Graham, who is now serving her first elected term, spent $20,044 in her 29th Ward – roughly 23 percent of her $87,000 in total itemized spending.

The address of several recipients – including Woo Ah, LLC, to whom the alderman paid $9,260 in rent over the nine-month period – could not be confirmed and were therefore excluded from the analysis.

Many of Graham’s bigger purchases were outside the 29th Ward – including $2,561 on office furnishings at a west suburban Villa Park Wal-Mart, $3,645 for a fund-raiser at downtown’s Weber Grill and $4,471 for food at Symone’s Catering in west suburban Bellwood.

Still, Graham led the four aldermen in the number of, if not the total value of, expenditures within her ward.

She spent $7,000 for fliers and palm cards at Mahogany Graphics (5623 W. Madison St.) and $1,160 on T-shirts and supplies at DLV Printing Service (7 S. Austin Blvd.). She spent $512 for a nearby storage unit and $600 in fees for the local Austin Bank of Chicago.

Graham also hired ward residents for small jobs, paying one resident $500 to DJ two events, another $500 to clean her office, and a third $400 to perform as “K-Meister the Magician” at an event.

Crawford, an advocate for Austin businesses, said he would support a rule that required aldermen to spend campaign money locally whenever possible.

A “community resource book” listing businesses within the Austin community would also make the businesses more accessible, he said.


Ald. Michael Chandler (24th)

Total itemized spending for July 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011: $28,623

Spending in ward: $2,350 / 8.2 percent

In-ward purchases: (2)

  • $2,000 to Luis Printing, 3058 W. Cermak, for printing
  • $350 to Murphy Hill Art Gallery, 3333 W. Arthington, 3rd floor, for a fund-raiser hall rental

Click below to view a full list of expenditures:

Alderman’s response: Chandler did not respond to requests for comment.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th)

Total itemized spending for July 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011: $89,442

Spending in ward: $22,071 / 24.7 percent (Note: Includes $3,000 paid for rent on Ervin’s campaign office at 261 N. Pulaski Road. – a building the alderman owns, according to his Statement of Financial Interest filed with the city. Excluding that payment, Ervin spent $19,071 in his ward, or 21.3 percent.)

In-ward purchases: (8)

  • $458 at MacArthur’s Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison St., for meals
  • $3,000 to 261 N. Pulaski Partnership, 261 N. Pulaski Road., for rent (see note above)
  • $822 to B&B Entertainment, 4422 W. Madison St., for fund-raising food and expenses
  • $195 to Rodger Earskines, of the 2600 block West Jackson Boulevard, for transportation
  • $1,207 to Gas Plus, 3940 W. Washington Blvd., for gasoline
  • $11,000 to Emma Robinson, a 28th Ward employee and resident, for meals and consulting
  • $436 to Staples, Inc., of 2558 W. Cermak Road., for supplies
  • $4,540 to USPS, 4220 W. Madison St., for postage

Click below to view a full list of expenditures:

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th)

Total itemized spending for July 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011: $87,024

Spending in ward: $20,044 / 23 percent (Includes $1,482 to Graham for payments or reimbursements for campaign expenses. Excluding that expenditure, Graham spent $18,562 within the 29th Ward, or 21.3 percent.)

No address provided on filings/address could not be confirmed: $10,060

  • $400 to Claiborne Wade, for a fee
  • $500 to William Barnes, for electrical work
  • $9,260 to Woo Ah, LLC, for rent on Graham’s campaign office (In filings, payments to Woo Ah, LLC were listed under Graham’s campaign office address of 5755 W. Division St.; however, an Internet search shows Woo Ah, LLC may be based in north suburban Northbrook. By press time, a Graham spokeswoman had not responded to a request for clarification, so this expenditure was not counted.)

In-ward purchases: (17)

  • $597 to ABC Bank, 5645 W. Lake St., for fees and service charges
  • $750 to Lovell Ballard, of the 1000 block of North Massasoit Avenue, for a donation, DJ services and Block Club Convention
  • $200 to Columbus Park Nursing & Rehab Center, 901 S. Austin Blvd., for the activity department
  • $1,162 to DLV Printing Services, 7 S. Austin Blvd., for t-shirts, table covers and printing
  • $399 to Dunkin Donuts, 6336 W. North Ave., for food
  • $512 to Extra Space, 2051 N. Austin Blvd., for storage
  • $1,482 to Deborah Graham for expenses (see note above)
  • $337 to H and H, of the 2300 N. Monitor Ave., for catering
  • $1,019 to Brandon Johnson, of the 5700 block of West Superior Street, for campaign services
  • $154 to Let’s Celebrate, 5216 W. Jackson Blvd., for luncheons, a holiday reception and supplies
  • $7,197 to Mahogany Graphics, 5623 W. Madison St., for flyers, invitations and envelopes
  • $300 to Mandell United Methodist Church, 5000 W. Congress Parkway., for a donation
  • $4,125 to Victoria Prewitt, of the 1700 block of North Moody Avenue, for campaign services
  • $300 to Sankofa, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., for a donation and title
  • $400 to Keith Shorter, of the 5400 block of West Van Buren Street, for K-Miester the Magician
  • $609 to The Flower Pot & Basket Shop, 5631 W. Madison St., for the Women’s March
  • $500 to Elton Brady, of the 5900 block of West Lake Street, for office cleaning

Click below to view a full list of expenditures:

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th)

Total itemized spending for July 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011: $45,050

Confirmed spending in ward: $625 / 1.4 percent

In-ward purchases: (2)

  • $435 to Austin Voice Newspaper, 5236 W. North Ave., for advertising
  • $190 to Dunkin Donuts, 5201 W. Fullerton Ave., for Election Day expenses

No address provided on filings: $5,494

  • $1,000 to Tash Brown, for consulting
  • $325 to Robert Huntley, Jr., for maintenance repairs
  • $1,200 to Monica Jones, for consulting
  • $2,969 to Robert McKinley, for consulting

Click below to view a full list of expenditures:

(Note: In addition to her expenditures, Mitts transferred $18,000 in late 2010 to the New 37th Ward Democratic Organization, a committee designed to “support Democratic candidates, political education and community service” in her ward.

That committee spent about $95,000 from July 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011 – about 11 percent of which was spent in the 37th Ward. It is unclear how much of that was spent on Mitts’ campaign as opposed to other ward expenses, and Mitts is not listed as one of the committee’s officers, according to a Board of Elections spokesman.)

9 thoughts on “Aldermen’s campaign cash flows out of Austin

  1. Pingback: Aldermen’s campaign cash flows out of Austin – AustinTalks | 3d Printer Site

  2. ervin spent that much? isnt emma ed smiths old chief of staff?? why isnt he on t.v ? since the hail storm caused more then ten million in damage to the conservatory,he should be all over the place trying to raise money to fix about all these unfenced vacant lots? 150 dollars a day in fines.I guess the city isnt that business ? he hasnt dined once yet at the inspiration about the lights on washington between albany and kedzie? they have been off for two weeks.emma keeps saying thats the second ward.even though its the 28th,wow they dont even know there own ward.glad to see austin talks keeps up the fine work of keeping the west side in poverty.maybe ervin can bring a shoe store or barber shop to the ward.well another day,time to bend over and let the 28thward F all its residents again.

  3. This is teriffic info. Too bad more don’t follow the numbers to get a better idea of what is going on vs listening to words that are not true :-0

  4. Mookie: The conservatory is Park District property. Let the Park District fix it, they are a separate taxing authority with no City Council oversight.

    Your comment about bringing a barber store to the 28th is hilarious!

    W Jones

  5. Its one of the few brightspots of the west side.all Im saying is the alderman should be more vocal about getting it pick up the shards of glass will cost at least two million dollars.take a look around the west side.nothing but unemployed people.when the contract gets handed to a all white,out of state company to clean it up,I would be asking why OUR alderman was’nt trying to get this job for the west side residents.and if you look at garfield park its pretty clear that the park district is’nt going to be spending any money on it.look at humboldt they have transformed it into a beautiful,family friendly park.garfield is one big liquor/drug store.

  6. Every issue of this publication provides valuable analysis and information. As residents we must take action.

    Our elected officials will perform at the levels that we allow. If we do not demand more, it may be that we will not get more.

    What do we, as a community, believe that we deserve ? What we believe determines our actions. Silence is approval and acceptance.

  7. While I was supporting Ms. Leonard for the 24th Ward, I would like to know what did dizzy Dixon spend and where in her losing effort.

    Good information.


  8. Thanks everyone, for your comments. Sel, according to the Board of Elections website, Dixon only filed one report for the nine-month period we looked at, for 7/1/10 – 12/31/10. She reports $0 in contributions and $205 in spending for that period.

    You can see that expense report here:

    Hope that is helpful.


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