Hearing examines whether ald. broke election law

March 30, 2011 3:15:30 PM PDT
Chicago Alderman Bernard Stone is facing tough questions about some campaign expenses he made. Stone appeared Wednesday at a State Board of elections hearing on the matter.

The long-time Chicago alderman could face fines if he is found guilty of breaking campaign laws.

It turns out the money in question from Alderman Stone, the 50th Ward incumbent, went to a political organization that targeted Debra Silverstein who is now his opponent in a bitter runoff race for Stone's seat.

The long-time alderman does not deny the money in question originated in his campaign coffers. He told the Illinois Board of Elections he did not know the cash was being funneled to another political organization to attack one of his opponents.

The 83-year-old Northwest Side alderman, with over half-a-century experience in city politics, limped on his now-familiar cane into the hearing that he described as political theater.

"This is a show," Stone sad. "This is a show by my opponent."

Questioned by the state election board's lawyer, the 37-year veteran city councilman said he was misled by a member of his own staff, which used Stone campaign funds to support a group calling itself "The Concerned Citizens of the 50th Ward."

"Actually, I'm the aggrieved party here. I don't understand why these questions are being asked of me," said Stone. "I was misdirected, my instructions were not followed, and by the time he explained it, he explained that he had misdirected the funds."

Silverstein, now the incumbent's runoff opponent, was the target of the Concerned Citizen's mailers, robocalls and alleged dirty tricks.

"He even made up lawn signs that said Rahm Emanuel and Bernie Stone when Rahm Emanuel had actually given me his support," said Silverstein.

Back at the hearing, Alderman Stone, who was also the treasurer of his campaign, admitted writing checks to "cash" that were used to pay the expenses of still unknown political workers.

"That was to pay for certain personal services of individuals," said Stone.

"He's the one that's writing the checks. I don't believe for a second that he didn't know what he was writing the checks for," said Silverstein.

If the hearing officer rules against Stone, he could be fined. The state election board does not have the authority to remove him from the April 5 runoff ballot.

While the alderman said he did not know he was paying for the anti-Silverstein brochures, he thought they were well done.

"Everything that Concerned Citizens put out in those brochures was true," Stone said.

While Silverstein is careful not to make an issue of Stone's age..., did call his style of politics out of date.

"I think that the people are ready for change and they need someone with a new vision and the determination to turn things around for the betterment of the community," said Silverstein.

Silverstein won 33 percent of the vote in February to 37 percent for Alderman Stone. The race is considered by both camps to very close.

The council's second longest-serving member is fighting for his political life.