BUDLONG WOODS — A Northwest Side aldermanic challenger charges that a local chamber of commerce serves as a "political machine," but the incumbent counters that it's been beneficial to the ward and that the accusation "shows how uninformed they are."
The campaign of Dianne Daleiden in the 40th Ward questions the approximately $50,000 a year the Lincoln Bend Chamber of Commerce has been receiving from the city. "The problem that I see is that this chamber of commerce is basically a political machine for the alderman," said Andy Finko, attorney for the Daleiden campaign.
"There are very close ties to the alderman," Finko said. "They're all supporters of" Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th).
Finko charged that the lion's share of the annual city grant the chamber receives goes to Executive Director Melissa Acciari, who according to state filings has pulled down a salary of $45,900 the last couple of years.
"There's really no accountability for the money," Finko said. "What does it do? ... I don't know."
Finko cited state filings showing that the chamber contributed $300 to Citizens for Patrick O'Connor, the alderman's campaign war chest, just last September. More troubling, he added, was that Acciari's husband, Michael Acciari, a city Streets and Sanitation worker, has contributed more than $14,000 to O'Connor — and no other state-monitored political campaigns — over the last 15 years.
Finko charged the donation from the chamber is akin to "public funds that are used for political activity, and public funds cannot under any circumstances be used for supporting or opposing a candidate."
O'Connor immediately lashed back, saying, "Mike Acciari and I went to school together and played football at Mather High School together. We have been friends pretty much all our lives." O'Connor said Acciari's father got him his first job — at Kiddieland.
"The fact that a person who is a close friend contributes to me politically, I don't know that's something somebody would want to make a bad thing out of," O'Connor added.
O'Connor also defended the work done by the chamber, which claims on its website to "promote civic welfare of the community," especially in beautification and in addressing storefront vacancies.
"Lincoln Avenue is a tough street to work from the attitude of a chamber," O'Connor said. "They helped us to build momentum to get motels down," specifically the "no-tell" motels the area was infamous for, the remnants of a stretch of motels when Lincoln Avenue was the primary entry from the northwest for drivers coming into town in the era before the Kennedy and Edens expressways.
"They've really helped us to fashion some good planning, and this has been going on for years," O'Connor said. He credited the chamber most recently with helping to bring a Colombian bakery and a Middle Eastern restaurant into the area.
According to O'Connor, the city grants are apportioned by the Department of Planning and Development and the Budget Office, and the chamber has to meet strict guidelines submitting plans on how the money will be used. "They wouldn't get renewed year after year if they weren't producing," he said. "I think the Lincoln Bend Chamber of Commerce has done a great job."
Melissa Acciari could not be reached for comment. Her chamber phone message and email account both said she's out of town until next week.
Daleiden said that Lincoln Bend Chamber of Commerce has received funds from community-development grants for years. She said it "employs one person, the spouse of Mr. O'Connor's lifelong friend and neighbor — and that friend is also a regular, lifelong contributor to his political campaign." Daleinen concluded, "It may not be illegal, but I question whether it is ethical."
O'Connor blamed it all on political infighting ahead of Tuesday's election, saying, "If this is a complaint that emanates from them, it just kind of shows how uninformed they are."
O'Connor and Daleiden are the only candidates on the ballot in the 40th Ward race. O'Connor has been in the City Council since 1983, when he was part of the so-called Vrdolyak 29 opposed to Mayor Harold Washington during his first term in office.
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