O’Donnell’s bio full of misleading statements

Candidate Tom O'Donnell at the Coonley School candidates forum. Credit: Steve Stearns

A mailing by the 47th Ward Democratic party and flyers distributed at the Ward forum held at Coonely School last week tout Tom O’Donnell’s involvement in the Ravenswood Community Council as evidence of his community service and depth of experience.

However, a study by The Bulldog of filings by the RCC with the Illinois Attorney General indicate an organization in disarray, with community service activities being a sideline to serving businesses, and with faltering charitable contributions.

O’Donnell, the annointed successor to 47th Ward Democratic boss Eugene Schulter, is leaning heavily on experience gained at the RCC. However records seem to indicate O’Donnell hasn’t been fully engaged at the RCC, despite his claims.

It is part of a biography presented to the public by O’Donnell. A biography that is filled with misleading statements and half truths, The Bulldog found.

O’Donnell’s reliance on the stewardship of the RCC can be found in a statement in his flyer “Dedicated to serving you” where he states he was “10-term president of the Ravenswood Community Council.” O’Donnell also spoke to the Independent Voters of Illinois- Independent Precinct Organization, in answer to their questionnaire: “I have been President of the largest Community Organization in the 47th Ward for the past ten years.”

The statements filed with the AG put that claim into question. A 2003 IRS Form 990 on file indicates the president at the time of filing, August 16, 2004, was Frank Crescenzi. Later in the same document, a list of officers and employees for 2002 lists O’Donnell without a title and a different man, Manual Sugaro, as the president of the group.

[See the questions put to O'Donnell by The Bulldog and the response from O'Donnell below.]

Further, a previous study of commission minutes maintained by the RCC for its management of SSA31 record meetings nearly every month, with records going back to January 2009. O’Donnell is recorded as being present at only one commission meeting of the SSA31 in the two year period.

SSA31 is managed by RCC. Historically the SSA provides RCC with between 63 percent and 97 percent of its annual revenue.

SSA stands for Special Service Area. Created by the city, SSAs collect a property tax levy to fund “enhanced” services such as cleaning snow and trash from sidewalks, landscaping and other improvements within a business or industrial district. SSAs in Chicago often use their funding to pay chambers of commerce to manage an area. That proved to be a contentious issue when Mayor Richard Daley proposed cutting payments to chambers in the 2011 budget.

Schulter was so incensed by the proposal to cut the chambers off that he vowed to vote against the $6.2 billion city budget budget unless the $3.5 million subsidy to chambers was restored. The subsidy to RCC amounted to $32,303 in 2009, city records indicate.

As reported by The Bulldog at the time, the cuts are part of $243.8 million in savings outlined by the Chicago Inspector General and the Civic Federation, but largely rejected by sitting members of the City Council, including Schulter.

Errors of omission

O’Donnell explained his interest in and commitment to public schools by noting he had two children who attended public schools. The statement from the Coonley forum echoes a statement on his web site when O’Donnell described himself this way: “the father of two Chicago Public School graduates…”

To the Sun-Times, O’Donnell said “I have two children, Lilly and Megan, both of whom have attended public schools here…”

However one daughter graduated from Gordon Tech, a Catholic high school in 2006.

The ommissions continued in O’Donnell’s statements to the IVI-IPO. That group, which offered its endorsement to Schulter prior to his withdraw, asked about previous political experience. “Please be specific” the site instructed. O’Donnell listed work for Paul Simon, Barack Obama and John Kerry.

Prominently missing was his work as a chief of staff for Schulter and the fact previously reported that he passed petitions for Schulter in the current election.

O’Donnell’s response

Tom O’Donnell has been on the board of the Ravenswood Community Council for the last 10 years, in addition to being a member since the mid-1980s. Under his leadership, the Ravenswood Community Council has done an excellent job of providing services for senior housing, senior access to emergency services, and keeping sidewalks safe and clean. Council services, especially street and sidewalk beautification in front of local businesses, can make the difference between a vibrant economic area and an area where businesses close their doors. Tom is proud of his years of volunteer service with the Ravenswood Community Council, and as alderman, looks forward to continuing his work of promoting public safety, helping businesses and providing vital services throughout the ward.

– Dan McDonald, campaign manager

Questions to O’Donnell

The Bulldog put pressure on O’Donnell over the weekend to answer questions contained in this report. In the interest of transparency below is the e-mail sent to the candidate.

The Bulldog intends to post a story on Monday morning regarding some claims in your bio. We need you to give us statements about a number of issues.

It is late on Saturday, but we will call you and your COS tomorrow morning. We will make a number of calls. However, if you decide again that you will not answer or will not return our calls, we will publish as planned on Monday. Some effort must be taken on Sunday to show you will respond to these questions.

  • That in the years 2009-10 the SSA 31 commission held 21 meetings, roughly one each month. That you did not attend any of these meetings
  • That you claim you were president of the RCC for ten consecutive terms. However IRS forms 990 indicate that the president in 2002-3 was Manual Sugaro and further that in 2003-4 the president was Frank Crescenzi.
  • Regarding the RCC
    • That in the year 2007 the RCC had negative assets.
    • That the RCC had qualified financial statements for the years 2005-7, representing at least three of the six years you say you were in control of this group.
    • That qualified audits ended with the selection of a different accountant.
    • That despite significant financial difficulties in 2007 and a loss of half of its income, the RCC did not cut staff or other overhead. That staff accounted for more expense by a large measure each and every year you have managed the group than programs designed to help senior citizens or other citizens.
    • We would like to know how many homes were repaired last year through the HRAIL program and how many cell phones were provided by RCC. We would like these numbers for the past five years. We would like to know all program details of RCC initiatives and SSA 31 initiatives for the past five years.
  • We would like to know where you say your children attended school, where they graduated from, including dates of attendance.
  • We would like to know why you did not fully inform the IVI-IPO that you served as Eugene Schulter’s Chief of Staff or that you passed petitions for Schulter in the current election.

We do not want to receive an e-mail response about these issues as we have follow-up questions about many of these issues. An e-mail is not adequate as a response. We have to hear you discuss these issues in an interview. The reason for that demand should be obvious.