City Hall pushes mayoral hopeful to resign from panel

November 12, 2010

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Chip Mitchell/WBEZ
Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús says he won’t step down from Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mayor Richard Daley’s administration is asking a Chicago mayoral contender to step down from a city zoning panel.

Daley spokeswoman Jackie Heard says Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús’s campaign could raise questions about his impartiality as one of five members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. “What if a political opponent of his had business before the board?” Heard asks.

But De Jesús says he won’t resign unless he wins the mayoral election: “If I’m not breaking any laws and there are no rules being broken, I’m not stepping down.”

De Jesús says he learned that the Daley administration wanted him off the board about two weeks ago, when he got a call from Joan Coogan, director of the city’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “She said, ‘The mayor would like you to step down,’ ” the pastor recalls. “Immediately what I thought was that the mayor doesn’t want to give the perception that he’s endorsing me.”

De Jesús heads a large Humboldt Park congregation called New Life Covenant. Daley appointed him to the zoning panel in 2007. The post adds weight to De Jesús’s claim that he’s a competent administrator, not just a charismatic preacher.

The pastor has made his presence known in other parts of city government. In 2008, De Jesús led some clergy members who helped derail a planned city high school for LGBT students. Last year, De Jesús organized a group of ministers and aldermen who demanded more Latinos in top police posts.

Later in 2009, Billy Ocasio stepped down as 26th Ward alderman and pushed Daley to put De Jesús in that seat. Daley rejected the pastor, despite the mayor’s tradition of following an outgoing alderman’s successor recommendation.

De Jesús criticized Daley when announcing his mayoral bid last month. The pastor called Daley’s parking-meter privatization “a poor decision” for Chicago businesses and residents.

“People have taken our voice and our vote for granted,” De Jesús told a rally of some 400 mostly religious supporters at the Humboldt Park boathouse. “For far too long, the city of Chicago has not wanted to hear us. But today there’s a new wind coming from every corner of the city of Chicago--coming from heaven.”

The pastor wouldn’t be the first member of a city board to step down to focus on running for mayor. Lawyer Gery Chico resigned as City Colleges chairman last month. Spokeswomen for both Chico and Daley say the candidate arrived at the decision without any urging from the mayor.