By Anitra Rowe, Chicago Sun-Times
Candidates challenging Ald. Ted Matlak in the 32nd Ward are speaking out on what they view as an ongoing cycle of corruption in Matlak’s office.
Challenger Catherine Zaryczny, a trial attorney from Ukrainian Village, is publicly citing testimony from the federal Robert Sorich corruption trial, in which convicted felon Donald Tomczak says he brought city Water Department workers into the 32nd Ward to campaign for Matlak.
Meanwhile, challenger Scott Waguespack, a Bucktown resident and Berwyn city coordinator who first brought attention to the Tomczak testimony, is airing a list of names — people who circulated nominating petitions for Matlak and who also appear on the “clout list” federal investigators documented in 2006.
Matlak did not comment directly on the issue, but through a spokesman said he would “never allow” city Water Department workers to campaign on his behalf, and he refutes the significance of a link between his petition signature collectors and the “clout list.”
Matlak campaign manager Michael Moffo says that while Matlak’s opponents “sling mud,” Matlak will be talking about the issues.
Zaryczny said 32nd Ward residents should know one thing about Matlak’s recent aldermanic campaign.
“They were paying for it,” she said.
Zaryczny said her suspicions were roused when she went door-to-door for her campaign and a number of 32nd Ward residents told her that pro-Matlak door knockers don’t seem to be from the area.
On a hunch that Matlak was connected to City Hall corruption, Zaryczny said she read thousands of pages of the federal transcript from the Robert Sorich trial.
“We did a lot of research,” Zaryczny said. “I think we struck a little gold.”
According to the federal transcript, when longtime city Water Department official Donald Tomczak was asked by an assistant U.S. attorney if he was assigned to help any aldermanic elections, Tomczak said he helped “Ted Matlak.”
Zaryczny said the testimony citing Matlak has been flying “under the radar.” Zaryczny said Matlak accepted an “army of workers” and should give tax payers the money he’s taken from them, in the form of overtime pay to campaign workers.
“He was benefiting from it directly,” said Zaryczny of Matlak. “He conspired with him (Tomczak).”
Zaryczny has asked the city Corporation Council and 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell, chairman of the Ethics Committee, to investigate Matlak’s actions, and the actions of 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts, who also was cited in the testimony as receiving Tomczak’s assistance.
Through his spokesman, Matlak said he would “never allow these things to occur,” and that any campaigns that use government time “should be prosecuted” and be made to “repay wages.”
However, Matlak said it’s “absurd to suggest that our campaign should do it.”
“As these political attacks fly over in the next few weeks, we’ll continue to talk about our accomplishments over the last eight years and the great things we can achieve over the next four years for the community,” Matlak said.
Candidate Waguespack on Oct. 1, 2006, released a press release about the Tomczak testimony.
“It is time for Ted Matlak to say no to political corruption and pay to play politics,” Waguespack said in the release. “He should renounce the tactics that he has used in the past to win election and stop using city workers as political workers.”
But Waguespack has conducted a more recent Matlak investigation.
Waguespack got photocopies of the nominating petitions Matlak filed with the Chicago Board of Elections and found that nine of those who circulated Matlak’s petitions are on the “clout list” federal investigators documented in 2006.
“It was very easy to do,” Waguespack said of his research.
Waguespack said this indicates that Matlak continues to rely on patronage for political support.
“The patronage machine props up Ted, year after year,” Waguespack said.
Waguespack said he doesn’t have anything against the people who circulated the petitions and that he goes to church with a number of them.
But Waguespack alleges that these individuals are doing Matlak’s campaign work in exchange for political “promotions and employment.”
Moffo, Matlak’s campaign manager, dismisses the relevance of the links.
“Welcome to the political silly season,” Moffo said. “While Alderman Matlak continues to fight against higher property taxes and for bringing green space and other capital improvements to the 32nd Ward, his political opponents will continue to sling mud.”
Zaryczny said she agrees with “what Scott’s research reveals.”
She said some of these signature collectors aren’t from the 32nd Ward, and that they’re probably not doing Matlak’s campaign work “out of the goodness of their hearts.”
Waguespack said 32nd Ward residents truly worry that if they don’t sign Matlak’s petitions, they won’t get certain city services.
“There is a real fear out there that people will be retaliated against,” Waguespack said.
Waguespack said that if elected alderman, he would ban ward office employees from making donations to or participating in his political campaigns, establish hiring practices based on professional qualifications rather than political connections, and expand ethics training for all employees.