Friday, January 25, 2008

Victory for clout in 21st Ward

Howard Brookins is running for state's attorney. If this dampens his chances this wouldn't be the only thing that would...
Take the fancy new brick homes springing from the old iron plant on the wrong side of the tracks at 105th and Vincennes in Ald. Howard Brookins Jr.'s 21st Ward.

Developers call it Renaissance at Beverly Ridge, but it's actually in Washington Heights. By calling the new subdivision "Beverly," after the wealthier more prestigious 'hood next door, the place sounds even better to buyers.

Regardless, Beverly Ridge gives hope to part of a neighborhood that has too many vacant lots, boarded-up homes and miscellaneous blight.

Brookins takes credit for scoring $87.1 million in public cash for the project developers, including $11.6 million from the city to entice developers to build.

Former Notre Dame free safety Patrick Terrell -- the same guy who broke up a pass in the end zone to help the Fighting Irish upset undefeated Miami in 1988 -- heads the joint venture with MGM Urban Properties.

In Brookins' ward newsletter, Terrell says, "Without Ald. Brookins' commitment, this project would not have gone anywhere."

After the deal was done, Brookins, who's running for Cook County state's attorney, says he remembers "asking these guys if we can refer people to them for work."

So, he did. One of the alderman's recommendations was his girlfriend, Ebonie Taylor, during his bitter divorce from his first wife, Nanette Brookins.

Ebonie Taylor, who married Ald. Brookins after his divorce was final, got hired to sell the Beverly Ridge homes -- which go for between $285,000 and $560,000 -- for straight commission.

Brookins said he didn't know exactly when his wife got the job, and she refused to answer questions about it.

When asked about Ebonie Taylor-Brookins' employment, Terrell got flustered and suddenly announced, "Listen, I got to catch a plane."
Neither Terrell's economic disclosure statement nor Brookins' ethics statements mention Taylor-Brookins' employment on a project that gets city funds.

Even if that seems a bit hinky to you, there may be nothing illegal about it. But government watchdogs say it raises questions about the redevelopment deal.
Brookins says he's done nothing wrong by recommending his wife for the job.

"Look, she's gotta work somewhere, and I know everybody. What does she do, not work at all?" Brookins said. "We both were not born to people of enormous means and she has to work. I could hire her as my chief of staff without any ethical questions, but I'm not doing that. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."

Besides, Brookins says his wife hasn't sold a home or made a dime at Beverly Ridge, yet.

"It would be nice if she could close some deals," Brookins said. "So she can get paid."

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