Where's Mine?

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t's been 40 years since Mike Royko suggested Chicago take on a new motto, Ubi Est Mea -- "Where's mine?"

Still, loads of city politicians continue to live up to Royko's maxim by making sure any good they do for the city also benefits a buddy, crony, lackey, lover or blood relative.

Take the fancy new brick homes springing from the old iron plant on the wrong side of the tracks at 105th and Vincennes in Ald. Howard Brookins Jr.'s 21st Ward.


Developers call it Renaissance at Beverly Ridge, but it's actually in Washington Heights. By calling the new subdivision "Beverly," after the wealthier more prestigious 'hood next door, the place sounds even better to buyers.

Regardless, Beverly Ridge gives hope to part of a neighborhood that has too many vacant lots, boarded-up homes and miscellaneous blight.

Brookins takes credit for scoring $87.1 million in public cash for the project developers, including $11.6 million from the city to entice developers to build.

Former Notre Dame free safety Patrick Terrell -- the same guy who broke up a pass in the end zone to help the Fighting Irish upset undefeated Miami in 1988 -- heads the joint venture with MGM Urban Properties.

In Brookins' ward newsletter, Terrell says, "Without Ald. Brookins' commitment, this project would not have gone anywhere."

After the deal was done, Brookins, who's running for Cook County state's attorney, says he remembers "asking these guys if we can refer people to them for work."

So, he did. One of the alderman's recommendations was his girlfriend, Ebonie Taylor, during his bitter divorce from his first wife, Nanette Brookins.

Ebonie Taylor, who married Ald. Brookins after his divorce was final, got hired to sell the Beverly Ridge homes -- which go for between $285,000 and $560,000 -- for straight commission.

Brookins said he didn't know exactly when his wife got the job, and she refused to answer questions about it.

When asked about Ebonie Taylor-Brookins' employment, Terrell got flustered and suddenly announced, "Listen, I got to catch a plane."
Brookins makes no apologies

Neither Terrell's economic disclosure statement nor Brookins' ethics statements mention Taylor-Brookins' employment on a project that gets city funds.

Even if that seems a bit hinky to you, there may be nothing illegal about it. But government watchdogs say it raises questions about the redevelopment deal.

"The average person on the street would probably consider it interesting. . . . It's not because the wife of an alderman is involved in real estate," said Jay Stewart, Better Government Association executive director.

"It's when the wife of an alderman is involved in selling a project that gets city funds in the alderman's ward, that he was clearly instrumental in bringing together, that it does raise a red flag, sure.

"Should the project get a second look? Yes."

Brookins says he's done nothing wrong by recommending his wife for the job.

"Look, she's gotta work somewhere, and I know everybody. What does she do, not work at all?" Brookins said. "We both were not born to people of enormous means and she has to work. I could hire her as my chief of staff without any ethical questions, but I'm not doing that. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."

Besides, Brookins says his wife hasn't sold a home or made a dime at Beverly Ridge, yet.

"It would be nice if she could close some deals," Brookins said. "So she can get paid."

Royko would be proud.

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3 Comments

Mr. Konkol. I am offended that you call the neighborhood that I live in, Washington Heights, the "wrong side of the tracks". I think that most people know the boundaries, but unfortunately, the development is called Beverly Ridge as opposed to The Heights or some such other name. I personally am glad that this neighborhood of hardworking people is getting the much needed new housing, businesses, etc., that has been happening all over the city. If you drive through, of course, just like most places in the city (including Beverly) you will see some grass not cut and questionable landscaping and some boarded homes (they don't board the empty ones in Beverly (but there are foreclosures there, also) but you will see in Washington Heights many people going about business just like our neighbors to the West. Going to work, school, etc. This area was hard hit with the HB4050 fiasco and the real estate foreclosure escapades but we are still holding on to hope and change here in Washington Heights. Until recently, there had not been a vacant home on my block in the last 17 years that I have lived in my home. I can see you writing to disparage Brookins, but why disparage a whole community for one person.

Mark,
Good article, but it seems that this behavior is acceptable in Chicago. Same people still keep getting re-elected. Everyone in the city knew that Troutman was stealing, but it wasn't until she was under federal indictment did people elect someone else. The zoning laws must change. They will be kept that way, because alderman's wives need job. Aldermen need contributions. In response to that earlier post. Beverly sells better than Washington Heights.

People are already spooked out of buying homes, and now Ald. Brookins expects to move property by having the woman who he cheated on his wife with being the deal maker? How is this supposed to work? Maybe his wife should fill out a job application at Target. They like hiring thin women.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on January 25, 2008 9:15 AM.

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