Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a stiff challenge in his bid for re-election, and the April 7 runoff could hinge on his support for controversial red-light cameras. The devices -- which automatically ticket cars that appear to have violated Chicago traffic laws -- have generated $500 million in revenue since they were introduced in 2002. But with the cameras often ticketing cars that only ran through yellow lights or went just a few miles per hour over the speed limit, and with a study showing the cameras deliver few safety benefits, polls show two-thirds of Chicagoans consider the camera program “a bad idea.”
Emanuel’s opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has pledged to suspend the red-light camera program if he is elected. And though one of Emanuel’s most prominent allies has called on the mayor to “rethink” the program, Emanuel steadfastly supports the cameras, saying they are “supposed to work as a deterrent" to unsafe driving.
An International Business Times review of city records shows the mayor’s support for the program may be about something more than traffic safety or generating revenue. Those records reveal just days before Emanuel awarded a lucrative red-light camera contract to Xerox State and Municipal Solutions, his former top congressional aide, John Borovicka, became a lobbyist for a government relations firm representing Xerox.
The ties run deep between Borovicka and Emanuel, who both declined IBTimes request for comment. Borovicka first began working for Emanuel in 2001, eventually serving as his campaign manager in his successful 2002 race for Congress. Borovicka served as Emanuel’s political and district director for the six years Emanuel served in Congress. Federal records also show Borovicka met with Emanuel in the White House when Emanuel was serving as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
According to city records, Borovicka was hired in October 2013 by John C. Corrigan & Associates as a subcontractor to lobby on the firm’s behalf. Those records show Corrigan had been hired by Xerox in February of the same year. Just 18 days after Borovicka was hired by Corrigan, the Emanuel administration gave the $44 million red-light contract to Xerox.
City documents filed by Xerox show the company paid Borovicka to lobby for the contract in October 2013. Yet in city lobbying disclosures filed by Borovicka, his arrangement with Corrigan & Associates allowed him to obscure any connection between his lobbying work and Xerox’s business with the city. Borovicka was technically a Corrigan subcontractor. As a result, his city lobbying records did not disclose any connection among himself, his employer and Xerox. He listed only the lobbying firm itself as a client -- not the firm’s underlying corporate clients. Those records do show Borovicka lobbying the mayor’s office and the city's Department of Procurement Services just before Xerox’s red-light camera contract was sealed.
“Chicago unfortunately has a pay-to-play system, which stems from a failure of political leadership to enact campaign finance reform,” said David Melton, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan good-government group. “The best practices for lobbying is complete disclosure of the entity which is hiring lobbyists. Unfortunately, every time a lobbying reform passes, lobbyists find a way to skirt the requirements.”
Questions have swirled around Emanuel’s support for the red-light cameras because the system is so unpopular. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune published an investigation showing Emanuel had substantial ties to the original company, Redflex, which had been hired in 2003 to run the cameras. Soon after becoming mayor, Emanuel pushed hard to expand the program, and he has endorsed their use as a matter of law and order -- even as his own motorcade was caught running red lights. A close Emanuel ally was found to have received money from Redflex to promote the cameras and to hire the city employee who had managed the program for the city. That employee, John Bills, and former Reflex CEO Karen Finley were indicted for bribery. Both Bills and Finley pleaded not guilty.
Emanuel’s administration gave a six-month contract extension to Redflex in January 2013, two months before federal law enforcement officials opened a criminal investigation into the company. The administration then finalized a new contract to Xerox in October 2013 while Borovicka was a subcontractor for Xerox’s lobbying firm.
Because subcontracting arrangements obscure the links among contracts, lobbyists and public officials, the American Bar Association has called for more disclosure of such arrangements.
“Subcontracting of lobbying activities is a very prevalent industry,” said Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, whose watchdog group has pressed for stronger lobbying disclosure laws in states and cities. “Frequently, those who wish to influence public policy or the awarding of a government contract and avoid disclosure hire a ‘strategy firm’ to manage the lobbying campaign. They will employ pollsters and public relations firms to handle communications with the public, buy television, radio and print ads, all intended to influence official actions by the government -- and yet none of it [is] disclosed to the public.”
Borovicka was hired directly by Xerox State and Local Solutions in October 2014, a year after the new contract was awarded. The most recent city records show he remains on contract with the firm.