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Emanuel makes first post-election mistake

Monday, Feb 28, 2011

* Apparently, Judy Erwin didn’t tell Team Emanuel that she’d just been busted for ethics violations and the Emanuel people didn’t check. Oops

A veteran politician Rahm Emanuel named to his mayoral transition team resigned her high-level state job last summer and paid a fine for conducting political business on state time, according to a newly filed ethics report.

Judy Erwin, a co-chair of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, said late Friday night that she would resign her new post on his transition team after the Tribune contacted her and the campaign. She said she hadn’t informed Emanuel of the ethics violation.

Erwin, the former executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, admitted using her office e-mail and phone while working on a campaign committee for presidential candidate Barack Obama, using staff resources to plan her trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and engaging in campaign fundraising activity while on the job, the state’s Executive Ethics Commission ruled in a decision filed Feb. 16.

The ethics commission said she cooperated with the investigation by the executive inspector general, reimbursed the state, agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and promised to never work for the state again. She resigned Aug. 15.


In the filing, Erwin’s explanation was that she “was not careful enough in separating her political work from her state responsibilities . . . and also that she had become accustomed to using administrative assistants in the private sector in a way that is not permitted in the public sector.”

But the commission found it “particularly troubling” that Erwin had made a campaign contribution to a state representative who was chairman of a committee overseeing the Board of Higher Education’s budget.

“This suggests that she was responding to a real or imagined pay-to-play incentive within state government,” the commission wrote in its filing.

While there were clear violations in the ethics report, that campaign contribution amounted to just $125 to former Rep. David Miller. Not exactly a king’s ransom.

* Roundup…

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- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Chad - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 6:44 am:

    Sorry to see this happen to Judy. She was a delight to lobby as a Rep., and always presented a clean-cut image. This just shows the risk to not understanding and carefully following the ethics rules these days. You do not need to reach the level of Blago-style flouting of rules to come to the attention of the enforcement folks. Just one disgruntled employee and all is displayed before the world.

  2. - Alternate view - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 7:15 am:

    Erwin had a “gets-it-done” reputation, but my experience of her from direct observation during various projects was that she was often arrogant and threw her weight around when she was a committee chair, in unnecessarily brutal ways. So her getting banned from doing that seems like karma to me now.

  3. - Jasper - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 7:31 am:

    I thought his first mistake was not following mayoremmanuel into that time vortex. That would have been the smart move — win and go out on top.

  4. - Canned Yard - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:24 am:

    Was the Judy Erwin story in the papers prior to this? I don’t quite remember any major headlines on it, though I’m sure the Executive Inspector General’s Office would have released such a report to the public.

  5. - 4 percent - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:33 am:


    It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who intentionally and knowingly broke laws. Given her experience, she clearly knew that you cannot do political work on state time. She was arrogant enough to think she could get away with it.

    Doing something once (or maybe twice) could be construed as accidental. Doing it 18 times cannot.

  6. - jeff - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:36 am:

    The $125.00 is peanuts. The main focus of the complaint that she agreed with is she engaged in political activity while serving at a high level position in state government. To quote the report she should have known better. If she knew better why didn’t she tell Rahm?

  7. - Anon - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:58 am:

    If you play in this game long enough and have the type of personality she did it is bound to bite you in the rear. Could not have happened to a nicer person.

  8. - Honest Abe - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:02 am:

    Illinois has instituted mandatory ethics training for its employees. The online test has to be completed annually. Erwin’s violations are textbook examples of the type of prohibited political activities that actually highlighted in the test preparation materials.

    I am surprised that the ethics complaint against Erwin did not make the news when it occurred. The case was decided on a summary judgment basis.

  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:06 am:

    I always thought Erwin was one of the sharpest knives in the drawer, so the ethics violations and her failure to notify Emanuel are pretty shocking.

    But it seems clear she was guilty of both. Bad choices.

  10. - dupage progressive - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:21 am:

    It’s a shame this happened to a good person like Judy Erwin. I completely agree with her side of the story that for people who go between the political & gov’t world, it’s hard to be 100% vigilant about keeping politics & govt. separate. I’m guessing the number of people who are guilty of this mistake and who live in both worlds like Judy is a high number.

  11. - Jim - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:41 am:

    Even if she didn’t tell Rahm, wouldn’t his people have vetted the transition team and found this out on their own? A simple Google search may have turned up this issue, especially in these post-Scott Lee Cohen days.

  12. - steve schnorf - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:55 am:

    You take the goo-goos on your team, I’ll take Erwin on mine, I’ll sleep well at night. “Responding to pay-to-play”. Jesus! You take the IG on yours, I’ll sleep better yet.

  13. - Adam Smith - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:08 am:

    Judy is a class act who knows her stuff and would have been an asset to Rahm.

    It appears clear that she crossed a line that she should have recognized. It is just another example of how completely ingrained the culture of sleaze is in our state.

    People in elected and appointed offices constantly engage in “politics.” The development of agendas and promoting them is inherently political and it is how things get done. And it is legal.

    What they cannot engage in is “campaigning.” The specific activities of getting a candidate votes in an election.

    It shouldn’t be that hard to tell the difference, but even smart people like Judy seem to blur the lines every day.

  14. - 3rd Generation Chicago Native - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:15 am:

    Better to resign sooner than later. Getting out in front of it before the media uncovered it and this became a forced resignation always looks better, less damage.

  15. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:22 am:

    How did she “become accustomed to using administrative assistants in the private sector” when she had been at the Board of Higher Education since 2005. She was three years into her directorship, plus 10 years as a legislator, when she violated the ethics law and should by then become accustomed to the public sector. Sharp knives should be at the cutting edge. Her excuse is lame.

  16. - Leave a light on George - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:25 am:

    @ Schnorf

    The rules have changed and they are being enforced.

  17. - Bill - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:37 am:

    She should have never been placed in that job in the first place. Washed up politicians should not be given high paying jobs to sweeten their pensions. Judy’s state pension is $196,000 per year thanks to good ol’ Rod. Maybe Rahm can find something for her at streets and san..

  18. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:54 am:

    Your led is wrong.
    Emanuel’s first post election mistake was declaring victory.

  19. - Responsa - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:19 am:

    Better it is brought to light now rather than later and that Judy is out before she had barely started. This embarrassing oopsie out of the gate will make Rahm and Co. much more careful about vetting potential employees and about naively listening to other people’s well-intentioned recommendations going forward. So that’s a good thing for Chicago government. Judy Erwin did not comport herself well by arrogantly accepting such a high profile job in such a public way.

  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:32 am:

    Question: “If you have to resign your state job, and you are banned from working for the state for life, which you agreed to that as punishment … at what point do you think its ok to be part of a government transition team?”


    Judy IS (she is not dead, people) a nice enough person, but that is not the issue here. Judy pays 4 LARGE, admits wrongdoings, AND (not a choice, or an ‘OR’…) is BANNED from working for the state. Judy can’t tell Rahm’s crew “Look, I can help quietly, but do not name me to a government transition team, I have some baggage …”

    On the other hand …

    If Judy told them, and now they are covering up the fact that Rahm didn’t care and thought it could slide by, and asked Judy to say Rahm’s crew knew nothing to help Rahm savea little face … well … that would have some legs, wouldn’t it?

  21. - Louis Howe - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:34 am:

    Mr.Schnorf…It’s been my experience, both in the legislature and politically, that Ms. Judy is on a team as long as her personal career benefits. When given a better offer, she jumps ship. Of course, the republican deal makers respected that personality trait. Democrats, not so much.

  22. - chad - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:53 am:

    This type of political activity continues to go on constantly across the entire base of legislative and executive branch employees. The smart people use their hotmail accounts on lunch break using their privatly-paid iphones off state property. However, there is a ton of this going on that is not as pristine. The violators have been saying to themselves that these are mere “technical violations”, but the Erwin example will stress, once again, that the rules have changed and are being enforced. This is as easy to catch as an expense account cheater, and the evidence will last forever. People should fall in-line.

  23. - Loop Lady - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:57 am:

    Not Rahm’s mistake, but Judy’s lack of honesty when asked to be part of the team.
    She does this and lands on her feet with Axelrod.
    No down side for her, isn’t that special?

  24. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 6:02 pm:

    I like Judy and feel badly for her, but cmon. The rules changed years ago and all my friends who work for government carry two cell phones and two email accounts for a reason. I totally get that you might slip once or twice (like Jerry Stermer did). But they’ve got her on a lot…and fundraising on the state phones is just hard to explain these days.

    I wish her well.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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