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No conflicts of interest here, lobbyist insists

Monday, February 07, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Well, no one ever said it was going to be easy for a lobbyist to become an elected official and avoid conflicts of interest as he keeps lobbying other government bodies.

But Larry Suffredin says he thinks he has done a good job navigating that ethical minefield as he simultaneously serves as a maverick member of the Cook County Board and lobbies in Springfield, the Chicago City Council and Washington, D.C.

Suffredin is one of the pack of self-styled "reformers" who have taken on County Board President John Stroger's administration, forcing him to back off some tax hikes last year. They appear poised to do the same this year.

Fought tax hikes

But Stroger accuses Suffredin of engaging in self-serving conflicts of interest. When Illinois Restaurant Association President Colleen McShane steps to the podium to speak against Stroger's proposed 2 percent hike in the hotel and restaurant tax and Suffredin rises to also speak against the tax, he does not stress that McShane is one of his major clients and that he lobbies in Springfield for the restaurant association.

"He represents the restaurant association as a lobbyist, getting paid for that and being critical of our reaching out for a luxury-type tax on food and beverage services," Stroger said on WBEZ last week.

Suffredin's defense is he only lobbies for the restaurant association in Springfield, not Cook County.

"I'm opposed to it not because they're opposed to it -- I'm opposed to it because I think it's wrong," Suffredin said. He has consistently argued against Stroger's proposed tax hikes since taking office. "I have never represented the restaurant association on any matters at the county. I have no economic interest in this."

Suffredin sold his interest in Leona's restaurants years ago, he said. Though his law firm, Shefsky and Froelich, represents developers, Suffredin's crusade to let a developer -- any developer -- rehab Cook County Hospital does not stand to benefit him because no developer his firm represents is bidding to redevelop the property.

Gave up some clients

Last year, Suffredin asked SBC officials why they could not charge lower rates for the pay phones at the Cook County Jail. Stroger allies asked if the fact that Suffredin lobbied for some of SBC's competitors motivated his questioning. "I objected because the rate per minute was so high," Suffredin said, adding, "None of my clients are in the pay phone business."

Other phone companies around the country are able to charge lower rates at other jails. In response to questions from him and other commissioners, SBC was able to marginally lower the rate.

"We have an ethics act which I follow scrupulously," Suffredin said. He abstains on votes involving Abbott labs, a client in which he owns stock. He refrains from debating settlements the county makes with detainees at Cook County Jail who allege brutality because his firm has represented the Cook County sheriff on some of those cases, he said.

"I gave up representation of certain clients when I got elected because I thought they would present certain conflicts: ... I gave up representing R.J. Reynolds; I gave up representing Brookfield Zoo; I gave up representing Peoples Energy," he said. "Taking this job has cost me a lot of money. But I volunteered for this job, and I was elected. I don't have any second thoughts."


In addition to lashing out at Cook County Board member Larry Suffredin, Board President John Stroger has, at times, accused each of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" on the board's opposition bloc of hypocrisy:
*Forrest Claypool, as Mayor Daley's former chief of staff and superintendent of the Chicago Park District, hired political cronies and laid off workers, Stroger has said. Claypool cut the Park District work force 25 percent, meaning he had to let go a lot of political hires, angering ward committeemen such as Stroger, Claypool said.
*Michael Quigley was right-hand man to Ald. Bernie Hansen (44th) when Hansen was one of the white "Vrdolyak 29" group during the "Council Wars" years. Quigley reminds Stroger that Stroger backed Jane Byrne over Harold Washington for mayor.
*Tony Peraica tried to get his law partner, Tom Garrette, appointed a Cook County representative to the Metra board. Peraica said he wanted someone he knew was willing to fight.

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