By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Four days before the June 16 mayoral election, the News published a story about candidate Ed Oakley under the headline, "Oakley's land near Trinity project poses no conflict of interest." The subhead said, "Tracts near Trinity project don't violate code, city says."
I was the one who had suggested Oakley might have conflicts of interest as chairman of the city council's Trinity River Committee because of land he holds near the Trinity River. Oakley told me later he requested an opinion from the city attorney because of my articles.
"This was asked specifically because of the allegations you made about the road alignment," he said.
Oakley has been outspoken and adamant in opposing the goal of the petition drive and referendum to remove a high-speed toll road project from within the proposed downtown river park. I said taking the road out of the park and putting it on Industrial Boulevard would have a direct impact on Oakley's holdings near Industrial Boulevard. But I also said an entire stream of other zoning and land-use decisions related to the Trinity River project had affected Oakley's properties.
Great. So here in my morning newspaper is an article that is going to give me the answer. No conflict. Says so right here in the headline: "Oakley's land near Trinity project poses no conflict of interest."
But when I get way down to the bottom of the article on an inside page, I see this statement: "City lawyers have not investigated the issue of Mr. Oakley's land holdings. In releasing its May opinion to Mr. Oakley, the city attorney's office emphasized its limited scope."
Uh. Wait a minute. The allegations were about land holdings. And when I look at this story carefully, it sounds as if the city attorney's opinion doesn't clear Oakley of squat. He could still be under suspicion for the Chicago Fire.
So is this one of those Morning News stories I'm supposed to hold up to a mirror? Should I warm the back of the page with a match to see if secret writing appears? Or should I just roll the paper back up and run downstairs spilling hot coffee all over my bathrobe and throw the front door open and see if I can hit a dog-walker in the face with it?
No. I should calm down. I should get a copy of the opinion for myself.
I do that. City Attorney Tom Perkins is very nice about it. Faxes it over. I read. And I guess this is the kind of opinion you get if you go to the city attorney in the last two weeks of a neck-and-neck campaign and ask his office to crank out a letter that will decide the election.
You get a letter that will not decide the election.
As you know, Oakley did not win the election. But the conflict issue persists because the Trinity River project is very much in play, especially because of the petition drive.
Oakley's conflict question has to do with multiple parcels of land he owns in the old Trinity industrial district right down by the river. Since 2002, Oakley has been chairman of the city council's Trinity River Committee, giving him great influence over the project. Five years ago when Mayor Laura Miller assigned him to this post, questions were raised about his possible conflicts of interest.
At the end of May when I spoke to Oakley campaign aide and advisor David Marquis about all this ("The Magic Touch," May 24), Marquis told me Oakley had sought a city attorney's opinion on his land holdings near the Trinity five years ago.
One mystery, then, would be this: If Oakley had a city attorney's opinion in hand five years ago, why did he have to seek a new one in the last weeks of his campaign? I asked Oakley that.
He said, "You don't need a written opinion unless somebody raises an issue. Because it became an issue I asked them to reduce it to writing."
OK. So he didn't actually have a city attorney's opinion five years ago. He had some advice. I raised the issue in the paper. So then he wants it in writing. Fair enough.
But when I sit down with the opinion and actually read it, I have even bigger problems than I had before. With Oakley. With the Morning News. And the headache.
For example, the city attorney's opinion, actually a letter to Oakley, says: "The Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan would have an economic effect on the properties you own within the Trinity River Corridor, and you have informed us that you have not participated in any matters involving the Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan; however our office has not conducted an independent review to confirm that you did not participate in matters involving the Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan."