Hynes, Quinn point fingers in case of Burr Oak

January 30, 2010 9:02:58 PM PST
The investigation at Burr Oak Cemetery became the focus in the race for governor Saturday as Governor Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes exchanged accusations. Memos and emails first obtained by the ABC7 I-Team reveal that top officials in Comptroller Hynes' office knew in 2003 that there was a problem with unearthed human remains at Burr Oak.

Comptroller Dan Hynes concedes his office knew about unearthed human remains at Burr Oak Cemetery, and top aides even met with Burr Oak management.

However, Hynes, who wants to be governor, says neither he nor anyone in his office suspected occupied burial plots were being emptied and reused.

Hynes stopped short of apologizing for not digging deeper into the cemetery scandal.

"Hindsight is 20-20," he said Saturday.

In 2003, an internal email from the comptroller's office documented the discussions at the time:

"The main problem cemetery officials are encountering . . . is the discovery of human remains while they were in the process of cleaning and excavating."

According to the memo, it was a situation the head of Hyne's cemetery division wrote "sounds complicated...may have some legal implications... and needs follow-up and discussion."

That follow-up featured the suggestion to Burr Oak management that they take the matter up with two outside agencies.

"What we learned in 2003, 2004 was not what we later found out was going on at Burr Oak, which was the reselling of graves," Hynes said.

The remains were unearthed during excavation work necessary to build a mausoleum.

Hynes says the comptroller's office only regulates the finances of cemeteries, not burial ground conditions.

"What we did was refer it to an agency that deals with situations where you have unmarked graves or old cemeteries to find out what was going on," Hynes said.

His opponent in race, Gov. Pat Quinn, says the comptroller had an obligation to act.

"You don't push your responsibility away when you see something horrifically wrong. You come forward and do what Sheriff Tom Dart did, do the decent thing and straighten things out," said Quinn. "He's got more alibis than 'Alibi Ike.'"

"He was so uncaring, so callous that he didn't even lift up a finger, didn't bat an eye, didn't do anything," said Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush, who supports Governor Quinn.

"The governor has no limits to his own disingenuousness and shame to try and win an election," Hynes said.

Hynes says the email obtained by the I-Team was not discovered by his office until the ABC7 Chicago report. Asked why previous problems at Burr Oak weren't brought to the attention of the state's cemetery oversight task force during hearings this past summer, the Hynes campaign released a letter from the state's cemetery task force asking the comptroller for an an accounting of complaints about the cemetery over the previous five years. The remains were reported six years ago, but Hynes insists not revealing it was an oversight.

"This document was six years old. It was one piece of paper in tens of thousands of documents that the comptroller's office has," said Hynes.

"The bottomline is, when his office got information about human remains at Burr Oak, all human decency called for them to do something about it, not just have a bureaucratic response," Quinn said.

Dan Hynes says any outrage about overlooked red flags at Burr Oak should be directed to the cemetery's management.

Another set of documents obtained by the ABC7 I-Team reveal Burr Oak's former chief executive officer feared a grave-selling plot was under way in 2003.

Hynes' says he and his office were never ever aware of that memo. There has been no suggestion that he was.

Both Dan Hynes' handling of cemeteries and Pat Quinn's fallout with the late Mayor Harold Washington have been significant campaign issues in the race, evidence that both men think votes from African-Americans will be key for victory.

To that end, both Hynes and Quinn spent Saturday evening campaigning on the city's South and West sides, respectively.