A former aide to Chicago Ald. Joe Moore (49th) is speaking out about ethical violations that she claims she witnessed when she worked in the alderman’s office between 2006 and 2009. The claims, first detailed in a report released Monday by the city’s legislative inspector general, have put the reform-minded alderman on the defensive.
Anne Sullivan joined Moore’s re-election campaign shortly after she was let go as campaign manager for his rival, Don Gordon, in a runoff election. She later became a legislative aide in Moore’s ward office, eventually specializing in housing matters.
Sullivan was terminated in November of 2009, and alleges the reason was that she sounded alarms over potentially illegal ethics violations in Moore’s ward office. “There was a paid city intern, a student intern, that was working at the front desk, like at the front door of the office,” Sullivan told WBEZ, “and they had him putting mailing labels on an invitation for a fundraiser for Toni Preckwinkle that Joe Moore was hosting at his home.”
City and state laws prohibit public servants from engaging in political activities that use government resources and property, and that are done on city time.
“I told the kid he shouldn’t be doing that, and I emailed Joe Moore and told him about it,” Sullivan continued. She claimed that Moore was away from the office that week, but that his Chief of Staff, Betsy Vandercook, initially disputed the veracity of Sullivan’s claim. Vandercook did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Sullivan said Moore told her that when he returned to his office, the staff would have a meeting to discuss the matter. “But then we never had a staff meeting,” she said.
Instead, according to Sullivan, when Moore returned to his office he took her to a restaurant in Rogers Park and told her that she was terminated. He also offered Sullivan three-and-a-half months of pay, roughly $8,700. “But for that I had to agree to walk away from the ward office, and not talk to anybody about anything that occurred in the ward office, or about anybody in the ward office, or badmouthing anybody,” she said.
Sullivan said she had not accrued enough unused vacation time or overtime to justify the payment, but she claims she accepted it because she thought city employees were entitled to severance pay. Sullivan said she later called the city’s human resources office and was told that the city of Chicago does not give severance pay to public employees.
“I hung up the phone and had a panic attack,” Sullivan said. “Because I felt like I had been set up, like I was now embroiled in something illegal, and I felt like Joe (Moore) knew that, and he had me.”
Sullivan said she called the City Inspector General’s office to inquire if the payment was illegal, but dropped it because she didn’t want to sign a formal complaint. But a year later, Sullivan said she spoke with the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois on the advice of a friend. She claimed that office helped arrange for two FBI agents to interview her.
The FBI declined to comment on whether it is investigating the alleged violations. Moore did acknowledge in an interview with WBEZ that he was interviewed by FBI agents about the matter.
But the alderman disputed much of Sullivan’s account on Tuesday, starting with the allegation that an intern labeled political flyers in his ward office. “I wasn’t there and this is not something that I’m familiar with,” he said. Moore also said did not recall receiving any e-mail from Sullivan about the matter. Moore added that Sullivan often made allegations about staff members in his office, “and almost all of them were unfounded,” he said.
“She was a very disruptive influence in the office,” said Moore. Others who worked with Sullivan on Moore’s re-election campaign and in the ward office told WBEZ that she had a tendency to “burn bridges” with those around her, and that her working relationship with Moore was often tense.
Moore denied that he terminated Sullivan because of any allegations of illegal activity, but rather claimed it was for insubordination. ”I told her that things just weren’t going well in the office with her, that I was going to have to let her go.” He claimed the severance pay was for overtime hours.
According to the report that first revealed the alleged violations, Moore also paid taxpayer-funded severance in excess of unused vacation days to a former chief of staff, Kevin Cosgrove, amounting to $13,497. Cosgrove did not respond to WBEZ’s request for comment.
The accusations against Moore were publicly aired on the same day the White House announced he was to be honored as "a pioneer for political reform, governmental transparency and democratic governance." The progressive alderman, in office since 1991, was the first in the city to implement a constituent-driven budgeting process in his ward. According to news reports late Tuesday, the White House was withholding the honor in light of the pending investigation.
On Monday, Moore emailed a written statement to the media, denying any misconduct, and calling the office of Faisal Khan, the Legislative Inspector General “run amok with a lack of professionalism...” Moore also claimed Khan never interviewed him about the allegations, which Khan disputes.
The complaint against Moore was among 132 filed with Khan’s office between July 2012 and July 2013, of which 25 were investigated. Khan said that’s far more than were filed in the previous year.
“There’s more public awareness as to the existence of this office,” he said. “Now since we’ve been out trying to raise awareness of this office, allowing the taxpayers and the citizens of Chicago to come forward and speak to us, I think that’s a reasonable explanation as to why these numbers have increased.”
The investigations now go to the city’s Board of Ethics.