In all my years in Chicago, I have never seen Crain’s Chicago Business (THE paper of the business community) go after the Mayor and his cronies like this. They promise a fuller account in Monday’s print edition, which I’ll post then.
Question: will Hynes ask Higginbottom to step down from his finance committee until the matter is settled; but if not, has he been neutralized as a fundraiser for Hynes, in any event?
Crain’s Chicago Business
October 25, 2003
Political ties too hot to handle?
Fire fallout hits Daley, Stroger
By Steven R. Strahler
After four tenants died in a 1996 inferno in a housing complex managed by his company, Elzie Higginbottom worried that the tragedy could imperil his access to government contracts, a process lubricated by his political fund-raising efforts.
But the deals kept on flowing. Later that year, in fact, Cook County decided to buy a Loop office building and hire a joint venture co-owned by Mr. Higginbottom’s East Lake Management & Development Corp. to handle the 35-story property, the one where six people perished during a fire earlier this month.
The blaze and questions about building safety precautions, as well as fire-fighting procedures, pose huge political liabilities for Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. They also imperil the pair’s relationship with Mr. Higginbottom and his joint-venture partner on the project, U.S. Equities Realty Inc.
While legal immunity could shield the county and city from costly judgments, no such comfort exists for Mr. Higginbottom and Robert Wislow, another avid political courtier who heads U.S. Equities, a real estate developer, manager and broker.
"The potential is in the tens of millions of dollars, I’m serious," says Frank W. Nagorka, an attorney who has defended the city and other government bodies in fire-related litigation. Adds Terrence Lavin, a personal injury lawyer and president of the Illinois State Bar Assn., "They have no immunities at all. In terms of their exposure, ordinary negligence is available" to the plaintiffs.
As the first lawsuits naming the management company, but not the city or county, were filed last week, Chicago law firm Shefsky & Froelich Ltd., where U.S. Equities is a major client, went on full alert.
Later in the week, however, the assignment was transferred by the building’s insurer, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., to Stephen B. Frew at Kiesler & Berman, according to Shefsky’s James Wilson. Mr. Frew could not be reached immediately for comment.
The political fallout is intensified by the rage of another prominent politico, Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, who barely escaped and won’t sit still for a whitewash from a promised independent investigation that also would be expected to assess Chicago Fire Department management under Commissioner James Joyce.
Says one source with access to the mayor’s inner circle, "Daley is not going to cover for Higginbottom on this one. Joyce is all right unless they can prove in these trials if there was fire malpractice. If (his bosses) have to throw him under the bus, they’ll throw him under the bus."
Reached at home, Mr. Higginbottom said of the fire at 69 W. Washington, "It was an unfortunate occurrence," but withheld further comment, citing litigation. At his home, Mr. Wislow declined to take a call.