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Chicago's City Vote Includes Four Former Felons

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Chicago's City Vote Includes Four Former Felons


Chicago's City Vote Includes Four Former Felons

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Ex-felons, confusion and hopes for redemption will be on the ballot in Chicago tomorrow, as voters elect a mayor and other city officials. Four former aldermen who were convicted on public corruption charges while in office have campaigned for their old jobs. Two still a chance to resurrect their political careers, but the State Supreme Court ruled the others two ineligible, though their names do remain on the ballot. From Chicago, NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Chicago City Hall is a familiar stomping ground for federal prosecutors. Just last month, one of the city's 50 aldermen was indicted. And over the past two decades, at least 18 current or former aldermen have been found guilty of public corruption. There's not exactly a prison-yard-to-city- hall revolving-door mentality here, but it's not unheard of for a convicted Chicago alderman to try to reclaim a city council seat.

PAUL GREEN: Heck, we had one time an alderman who ran while he was in the slammer.

CORLEY: That's Paul Green, a Roosevelt University Political science professor who keeps track of such things. This election season, another notch was added to the city's list of dubious political distinctions. Four of the former felons announced they were running for office again. However, two of them - Virgil Jones and Ambrosio Medrano - were forced off the ballot after the state Supreme Court heard challenges to their campaigns. The court affirmed a state law prohibiting convicted public officials from running for municipal seats.

Medrano, convicted of accepting $31,000 in bribes in the 1990s, says the decision should have been left up to the voters.

AMBROSIO MEDRANO: I'm not debating the issue. The fact still remains that there is not enough time for me to appeal this in order for me to remain on the ballot. But we are going to research it, and we will be taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thank you very much.


CORLEY: Medrano was surrounded by a crowd of supporters who approved his decision, but in a hair salon around the corner from his campaign office, patrons like Jim Reyes(ph) were less forgiving. He says none of the former aldermen should be elected.

JIM REYES: I think if you're a crook and you're accepting bribes and you're not doing your job to the community or to the people that really need it, then you shouldn't be elected to any office.

CORLEY: With no time to reprint ballots or reprogram computers, the elections board will place notices in polling places telling voters any ballots cast for Medrano and Jones will not be counted. The campaigns of former alderman Percy Giles and Wallace Davis were not challenged. Giles, who took payoffs and extorted money from a company operating an illegal dump in his ward, is now a minister, who has a platform of helping ex-convicts. Wallace Davis, Jr., was convicted in 1987 for accepting bribes from an FBI mole.

Unidentified Woman: Small (unintelligible) and a small combo, well done.

CORLEY: Davis owns a restaurant, Wallace's Catfish Corner on Chicago's West Side, as well as several other commercial properties.

WALLACE DAVIS: I'm on the ballot. You cannot take me off the ballot.

CORLEY: He says regardless of the conviction, he was innocent, and he wants to be an example for other ex-offenders.

DAVIS: These young men who need a second chance, and candidacy to them represents a second chance and hope that once one pays their debt to society, your rights should be restored.

CORLEY: People who had come to eat in the restaurant, like Richard Harper, shared that sentiment. Harper said Wallace Davis' past should not be an obstacle.

RICHARD HARPER: Sometimes you make a mistake, you know, and you pay for that. But that don't mean that it should stop your life.

CORLEY: Another customer, Joanne Smith Scott(ph), says she couldn't vote for Davis tomorrow, but she had this advice for him.

JOANNE SMITH SCOTT: It's not his time, but don't give up his dream.

CORLEY: Whether it's a dream or reality will be certain tomorrow, after voters go to the polls. But in light of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling, either of the former felons is likely to face a legal challenge if he beats the odds and wins a seat in the city council. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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