For years, Mancari Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Oak Lawn had asked the Village of Oak Lawn’s leaders for assistance in extending the dealership’s footprint on 95th Street.
The problem was that Mancari was landlocked by a U-Haul business on 95th Street and Oak Lawn Park District property to the north. Mancari made it clear that he was willing to pay whatever it took to get the land and he made reportedly generous offers to both property owners.
But nothing was done until the Village of Oak Lawn interceded on his behalf.
Shortly thereafter, Mancari’s political contributions to Mayor Sandra Bury’s Political Action Committee skyrocketed and the dealership’s advertising in the Village owned Newspaper intensified raising questions of pay to play in the village of Oak Lawn.
First the Village attempted to convince the Oak Lawn Park District to enter into a complicated three way land transfer that would have moved the Oak Lawn senior citizen center to old bathhouses at Memorial Park. When the Park District balked at the idea, the Village of Oak Lawn contacted U-Haul corporate offices to apply pressure to the local owners.
By April 12, 2016, Village Manager Larry Deetjen had convinced the U-Haul to move its operation to property owned by Mancari at 89th and Cicero in exchange for allowing Mancari to acquire the adjoining 95th Street property and expand the dealership.
The village board approved various motions for special use permits and zoning permits to allow the businesses to operate on the properties.
Soon thereafter, at the next village board meeting, the Village Board by a 5-1 vote approved printing and mailing a village owned newspaper, Oak Lawn Matters, despite warnings that the paper would be a political tool of the Mayor and would lose money. The paper has lost every month but Mancari has been a regular advertiser, purchasing a full page ad in each issue at a total annual cost of $24,000 based on prices provided by John Fanning of Fanning Communications, which is paid to operate the “newspaper”.
While Mancari was always a political contributor to various campaign funds, including those of Jane Quinlan, Bob Streit, Alex Olejniczak, Tim Desmond, Dan Lipinski, Lisa Madigan, the Unity Party, the Coalition Party, and George Ryan, he had never contributed in the amounts in which he did after the Bury administration “facilitated” the property transfer that moved U-Haul off of 95th Street and expanded the dealership. The word “facilitated” is used in the petition filed with the Village of Oak Lawn, seeking approval.
On September 9, 2016, in addition to the $24,000 in advertising purchases, Mancari made a $2,500 donation to Mayor Sandra Bury’s Political Action Committee. On March 13th of this year, he dropped an extra $10,000 on Bury. In total, that’s $36,500 to benefit Bury’s agenda.
Mancari’s reported contributions to the PAC already are double all other contributions from any other source, including several doing business with the village under no bid contracts.
What is Pay to Play?
We have a business that was looking for zoning changes for a while and the village’s assistance in moving a neighbor in order to expand. For years, nothing was done and then all of a sudden the village pushed the other business out.
Around the same time, the beneficiary of the village’s assistance started dropping big money into a municipal election. $36,500 in a town where there may only be ten thousand votes
Hana Callaghan, a government ethics expert with the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University said that government officials owe a duty to make sure there is not even an appearance of impropriety when it comes to donations.
She said that courts have held that you need evidence of a quid pro quo to convict someone when donations are made in connection with some governmental action.
Callaghan said that the public disclosure of campaign contributions such as the recent $10,000 donation “alerts voters to who or whom the politician may be beholden to”. She said that stories like this one allow the electorate to be informed and vote accordingly after making that decision.