November 6, 2019


Many questions are coming up after a Northwest Side representative was indicted on bribery charges recently.

Will he resign or not resign as committeeman? To remove him or not to remove him? Do the powers that be deny Mayor Lightfoot's council floor leader the appointment as committeeman and put in a non-Latino guy in a largely Hispanic district?

In Chicago, politics are always complicated. And the Oct. 25 arrest of state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3) on federal bribery charges has created complications in his Northwest Side Puerto Rican majority district and in the 36th Ward, where he is the Democratic committeeman. It also presents an opportunity for some payback by Toni Preckwinkle, who was vanquished in the 2019 city mayoral runoff by Lightfoot.

Arroyo, age 65, elected in 2006 and chairman of the Latino Caucus, was an assistant Democratic majority leader in Mike Madigan's House leadership until Nov. 1, when he resigned as state representative. Arroyo allegedly offered an ongoing $2,500 per month bribe to a state senator to support a sweepstakes gaming bill, and delivered the first payment last summer. The senator was wearing a wire. Arroyo is a registered lobbyist for V.S.S. Inc., which retained Arroyo's company, Spartacus 3 LLC, for $2,500-a month to lobby the City Council for a sweepstakes ordinance, which ultimately failed. Villegas was the sponsor of the city ordinance.

Madigan empaneled an investigative committee to expel Arroyo from the House, which was to meet Nov. 1, but Arroyo resigned before it convened, creating a vacancy in the 3rd District. Under state law, the district's Democratic committeemen - from Chicago's 36th, 30th, 31st, 35th, 38th, 29th, 26th, 37th and 1st wards, encompassing 82 precincts - must meet within 30 days to pick a successor, with a majority of the weighted-vote needed. There were 7,792 votes cast in the 2018 Democratic primary in the 3rd District, in which Arroyo was unopposed. Arroyo's replacement needs 3,897 weighted votes.

The 36th Ward has 2,906 weighted votes, or 37.2 percent. That means Arroyo, as committeeman, or whoever replaces him in the next month, needs to ally with another committeeman or committeemen with an aggregate of 997 votes to get his pick. Arroyo can kiss-off his longtime rival, the 31st Ward's Joe Berrios (858 votes), as well as the 35th's Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (995) and the 38th's Robert Martwick (811), both aligned with Preckwinkle. Their anti-Arroyo faction has 2,664 votes. The kingmaker will be the 30th's Ariel Reboyras (1,231), who has 16 percent of the weighted-vote, who did not appreciate the fact that Arroyo and Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) stuck their fingers into his 2019 aldermanic re-election contest, supporting Jessica Gutierrez, the former congressman's daughter, and deploying precinct workers. After an arduous campaign, in which Reboyras spent $295,192 and Gutierrez $470,047, the 16-year incumbent won the runoff 4,097-3,794. Now it's payback time.
Arroyo has made clear his intention to resign as ward committeeman and convened his precinct captains over the weekend of Nov. 2-3 to choose his replacement, which was Villegas, an Arroyo protege and ally who is Lightfoot's floor leader. He also made clear that he will not formally resign until the Villegas ratification is a done deal.

County party rules mandate that when a ward or township committeeman vacancy occurs, either through death or resignation, the local organization can meet and recommend a replacement to the county Democratic Party's executive committee, which reviews it and submits a recommendation to the 80-member full committee, which is all committeemen, for ratification. It's normally quite routine and perfunctory. Like when Joe Moore (49th) and Robert Murphy (39th) quit this year, and their selections were installed. But the county party chairman is Preckwinkle, the county board president, so replacing Arroyo is NOT ROUTINE. If the local organization does not submit a name, or if the executive committee rejects it, then the county party makes the pick. That's what Preckwinkle wants. And who she and her allies want as 36th Ward committeeman is Dave Feller, a longtime political operative who is on Sheriff Tom Dart's administrative staff. And Feller wants to be state representative, the pathway to that job requiring that he be committeeman real quick, so he can vote for himself for the 3rd District vacancy.

Preckwinkle, according to sources, did not sign-off on the Villegas recommendation, so Arroyo did not submit his formal resignation to Preckwinkle. The executive committee, which includes such heavyweights as Martwick, Carrie Austin, Don Harmon, Karen Yarbrough, Mike Zuccarello, Laura Murphy and Mike Rodriguez, as well as Reboyras, was called into an "emergency" session on Nov. 4 to consider removing Arroyo. The outcome was unexpected: Reboyras, according to sources, accused the committee of hypocrisy, inasmuch as Ed Burke (14th) is also under federal indictment, and there is that pesky constitutional presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So the committee passed a resolution ASKING both litigants to resign, but not DEMANDING it. So it's totally meaningless. Burke won't quit. And two potential felons are still committeemen.

"I would be offended if a non-Latino" was named for either or both the 3rd District or 36th Ward vacancies, said state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20), who represents the adjoining district to the east. Martinez is running for Circuit Court Clerk in the upcoming March 17 primary, and for 33rd Ward committeeman. Martinez is closely allied with Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th), who was closely allied with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as Public Safety Committee chairman. Under Lightfoot, Reboyras has been marginalized.

"We want an open process" for the 3rd District pick, said Martinez, speaking for herself and Reboyras. "We want all applicants to present themselves, and we want a Latino chosen," she added. Arroyo is not going to be marginalized. He wants a seat at the table to choose his House successor, either himself or Villegas. He has interests to protect, especially that of his son, county commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr., as well as Villegas. Having Feller take over his ward would be inadvisable.

And therein lies another complexity. Because the 36th Ward has the largest 3rd District weighted-vote, Arroyo, if still committeeman would chair the meeting to pick his successor - whether Feller or Villegas. Ramirez-Rosa has threatened to boycott the proceedings. The word "tainted" is being batted around. Count on this: Arroyo will not quit anytime soon.

This squabbling among politicians is not atypical. Deceit, duplicity and double-crossing are endemic.

The 2010 census created a new Hispanic-majority 36th Ward, effectively neutering Alderman Nick Sposato in 2015. So Sposato ran and won re-election in the 38th Ward. Arroyo was viewed as the presumptive new boss of the new ward, in the Hermosa-Avondale-Montclare area, which was just west of Berrios's 31st Ward. The growing Hispanic Fullerton-Belmont corridor extended from Cumberland east to Western Avenue. Deals were being made.

The first was the SON-SWAP. Berrios in 2014 was the assessor and county Democratic chairman and his 31st Ward alderman was Ray Suarez. Anticipating the new 36th Ward in 2015, the deal was that county commissioner Edwin Reyes be dumped, that Luis Arroyo Jr. get that job, and that Omar Aquino, son of Suarez's best buddy, get the 36th Ward aldermanic seat. After young Arroyo beat Reyes in the 2014 primary, the elder Arroyo declared the deal null and void. Aquino in 2015 ran for alderman, but Arroyo backed Villegas, who topped Aquino 4,594-3,656, or 55.7 percent in the runoff, winning 21 of 30 ward precincts.

The ongoing power struggle spilled into the 31st Ward, with Arroyo providing money and manpower to Millie Santiago, who upset Suarez by 79 votes in the runoff. Call it the BIG HURT. And then there was the BIG DECEIT in 2016, in which Arroyo had complicity. Berrios and his organization promised to get nominating petitions for state senator William Delgado, a 10-year incumbent. They also circulated petitions for Aquino, and got his signatures BEFORE they went back to the same people to get Delgado's signatures. Aquino filed at the last moment, and then challenged Delgado's signatures. Delgado withdrew and Aquino went to Springfield.

By 2019 Arroyo had secured his ward power base, and Villegas was unopposed. But Arroyo proved a paper tiger. Of the ward's 24,704 registered voters, he delivered just 1,283 votes to his endorsed mayoral candidate, Susana Mendoza. In the runoff, Lightfoot trounced Preckwinkle 4,532-1,002. He abandoned Santiago and failed to beat Reboyras.

Getting back to Arroyo, who was born in Puerto Rico and spent 27 years as a city employee, beginning as a bricklayer. He has done well for himself. He had $253,816 on-hand in his campaign account as of Sept. 30. He also had $98,438 on-hand in his Arroyo Open PAC, and Luis Jr. had $62,749. Alderman Villegas had $29,562 on-hand, an unimpressive amount for somebody so influential. But don't worry, in politics money tends to flow out of nowhere when needed.

After his arrest and arraignment, Arroyo issued a statement sagely noting that once a person (or politician) is "past their period of peak effectiveness...they should call it a day...and enjoy" the rest of their life. In other words, if one engages in self-enriching activity, get out before you get caught. Arroyo will not enjoy the rest of his life, as the feds will now poke around into his finances, but he can leave a legacy in the 36th Ward by putting Villegas in charge and protecting his son, whose term expires in 2022.

Feller is already circulating petitions for committeeman and state rep. The fun is just beginning. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.