Chicago aldermen caught by red light cameras

As speed camera debate comes to a head, we chat with aldermen about their own traffic crimes

April 17, 2012

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Before the aldermen voted on Wednesday, WBEZ political reporter Sam Hudzik dropped by Eight Forty-Eight to give an update on the traffic cameras

 


 

The Chicago City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to put cameras near parks and schools to catch speeders.

Traffic cameras are nothing new to Chicago. The city started using red light cameras in 2003, and since then has sent out more than 3.8 million tickets. More than a few of those landed in the mailboxes of people who'll be voting on the mayor's plan.
 
Can't cameras recognize clout?
 

You're probably thinking, "Well, aldermen in the last couple decades have been guilty of tax evasion, tax fraud, mail fraud, racketeering, extortion, bribery. So, what's a skipped red light or two so long as no one gets hurt?"

"I ran a red light at Diversey and California. I have never ran it again since I got the ticket," Ald. Dick Mell of the 33rd Ward announced at City Hall.

Mell wasn't shy about his "criminal" history. In general, though, there wasn't an outpouring of confessions at City Hall when a committee debated speed cameras last week.

But thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we got a list of red light camera tickets sent to people whose names match those of Chicago aldermen. The city refused to provide identifying information like home address or license plate number, so we can't be sure which of the tickets belong to aldermen, or to someone with the same name.

Still, that list helped spur some admissions.

Pay up

The name Ameya Pawar popped up once.

"Yeah, I think in, what was that in '07?" Pawar thought aloud. "Yeah."

It was 2009, according to our list, but whatever. Pawar, a freshman alderman, said he doesn't remember anything about how he got the red light ticket.

"In fact, I didn't know that I got it until much later," Pawar said. "I remember just doing a search, was paying another parking ticket and saw that it came up, so I just paid it."

"I just paid it" was a common answer from aldermen when I asked about their red light tickets. They wanted to make sure I knew - I mean they wanted to make sure you knew - that they learned their lesson.

Deterred, eventually

Like 10th Ward Ald. John Pope. He got some red light tickets.

"Yes, I did. Three of them to my knowledge. And they were a great deterrent," Pope said.

Well, not the first couple times, apparently. But maybe by that third ticket.

"I am a more conscientious driver as a result," Pope said. "So it does work."

There are zero red light cameras in Pope's Southeast Side ward, so he didn't get the tickets there. He remembered one on the North Side.

"The light was turning yellow and I tried to get through the intersection, and I saw the flicker of the camera, and realized that it was a red light camera," he said. "I thought, $100 ticket. I said, 'You got to identify $100 to pay that ticket.'"

Suburban assistance

When I walked up to Ald. Mary O'Connor of the 41st Ward and started asking my question, she ever so slightly covered up her face and laughed.

"I did get some red light tickets over by, I think it was like Devon and River Road or something like that," O'Connor said. "It happened to me three times, I think."

They were for right hand turns on a red, O'Connor said. At first she didn't believe it.

"You're thinking, 'I stopped. I stopped. Or I slowed down.' And of course, I didn't. And then when you go back and on the website and look at it, it's very obvious that you did the wrong thing and I paid it," O'Connor said.

The tickets she was talking about weren't actually from Chicago cameras.

"They were in Rosemont," she said with a laugh. "I helped Rosemont out."

But the database we got from Chicago does list O'Connor's name a few times. She put the blame on employees of her catering business who drove a vehicle registered in her name.

"The first few times I paid it as a business," she said. "And then...had each child, young adult, sign a waiver that they would be responsible for that ticket and they should be abiding by the rules of, you know, the law."

I guess that's not an unreasonable request by a boss.

O'Connor is not the only alderman disappointed in young offenders.

Frazzled father

"Well, my daughter gets one a week," 36th Ward Ald. Nick Sposato exaggerated. (We found about a dozen tickets in the name of his 28-year-old daughter.)

"Frustrates me so much," he said. "Because I say, 'Just stop, avoid it, go a different way.' But she just doesn't get it sometimes."

Sposato's personal driving record is a bit better.

"Proud to say I've only received one red light ticket," Sposato said. "I couldn't even remember where I was. I think it was like North and Ashland. And I was like, you get it six weeks later, whatever it is. It's not in a timely fashion. I can't remember what I had for lunch two days ago. Let alone...so it was literally five or six weeks later and I'm like I don't even remember being in that area."

The photo convinced him, though, and Sposato paid up.

Tardy tickets

Still, he has concerns about how long it takes for drivers to get red light tickets and how long it'd take for them to get speed camera tickets if the city council goes along with Mayor Emanuel's plan.

The ordinance would give the city up to 90 days to mail most traffic camera tickets to vehicle owners.

Not that Sposato - personally - thinks he'll get a speeding ticket. He doesn't speed on city roads, the alderman said. Only on the highway.

"I'm guilty of that. If you try to do 55 on the highway, they're going to run you off the road," he said.

The speed camera proposal is expected to come up for a vote in the city council Wednesday.