by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who is facing scrutiny of federal investigators, has dropped out of the race to be re-elected as Democratic Ward Committeeperson in the 34th Ward.
Austin needed to file 925 valid signatures on her nominating petitions to get on the ballot for March, and filed a total of 1,423 petitions, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
However, an objection was filed against her petitions, and a review by a hearing officer determined she had only 516 valid signatures, or 409 fewer than she needed, according to board spokesman Jim Allen.
Austin filed a letter withdrawing from the race Monday afternoon. The board had not yet voted on removing her from the ballot.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1). With this wisdom in mind, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for the position of Democratic Ward Committeeperson of the 34th Ward,” she wrote.
Her withdrawal from the committeeperson race will not affect her position as alderman. She’s been alderman of the 34th Ward since 1994, and the ward’s Democratic committeeperson since 1995.
“As this duty comes to an end, it in no way lessens my commitment and dedication to the Democratic Party, community and citizens of this great city,” Austin wrote in her withdrawal letter.
Party committeepersons represent their party organization in the ward, and are responsible for helping get out the vote, as well as voting to endorse the party’s slate of candidates in election years, and for filling vacancies in Congress and the Illinois General Assembly.
In June, federal agents raided Austin’s ward office near 111th and Normal on the Far South Side. Agents left the office in unmarked vehicles after removing what appeared to be computer equipment and boxes of evidence.
Austin has not been charged with any crimes, and it was unclear if she was the specific target of the raid.
“I really have done nothing wrong,” Austin told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov the day after the raid. “I’m going to try to get back to what people elected me for. I was a little rattled yesterday after doing the press conference. That’s about all I can say.”
Sources close to the Austin investigation told Kozlov the case has no ties to indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), or former Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who wore a wire for the feds in the Burke case. Austin’s case is entirely separate.
Burke was indicted in May on racketeering and bribery charges. Federal agents raided Burke’s ward office and City Hall office last November and again raided his City Hall office in December before announcing the first charges against him in January.
However, sources close to the investigation told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov that Austin’s case has no ties to Burke.
Burke, 75, pleaded not guilty to a sweeping corruption indictment. He resigned earlier this year as Finance Committee chairman but was re-elected to a record 13th full term, despite the federal charges.
Federal prosecutors have accused Burke of trying to shake down the developers of the Old Main Post Office building and a Chinese businessman seeking a sign permit in exchange for hiring Burke’s private law firm.
Former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) wore a wire for federal investigators as part of that probe. Solis resigned as Zoning Committee chairman in January after news of his cooperation with the federal probe broke. He did not run for re-election and has not been charged with a crime.
The indictment against Burke alleges he told Solis he would not help the New York-based company redeveloping the Old Post Office unless it hired Burke’s law firm to do tax work.
Burke told Solis in January of 2017: “The cash register has not rung yet.”
Eventually, the post office developer hired Burke’s firm at a $45,000 fee over three years. In return Burke supported a TIF subsidy for the project, without revealing his conflict of interest.
In addition, the indictment alleged that Burke used his position to squeeze tax work for his law firm out of Chinese businessman Charles Cui in exchange for Burke’s help in obtaining a sign permit for a building Cui owns near the Six Corners intersection.
Austin wasn’t the only candidate to withdraw from the 2020 elections in Cook County on Monday. Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger also withdrew as a candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. He was facing a challenge to his nominating petitions.
Stroger also ran for MWRD commissioner in 2018, but was removed from the ballot for not filing enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions. That came after he had earlier announced he would run for Cook County Board President, but later said he couldn’t get enough signatures and would run for MWRD commissioner instead.