The election to choose Cicero’s next president is less than 70 days away, and there’s already been plenty of action.
The decision of Cook County Judge Edmund Ponce de Leon was a blow to Dominick, the incumbent and elected leader of the city with the state’s highest percentage of Latinos, 87, of the 189 Illinois communities with at least 25,000 people, according to an Hoy analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The decision came at the end of a year in which Dominick has not had much success raising money for his re-election.
As of December 18, he had only raised $1,000 from sources other than the Cicero Voters Alliance, his political organization. On January 3 his organization gave $50,000 to Dominick, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
By contrast, challenger Juan Ochoa, who is backed by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, raised $102,158, according to the data. Joseph Pontarelli raised $15,700, while Lizveth Mendez and Ruperto De Loera had not recorded any donations.
Hoy looked into the donations Dominick has received since October 2004, the year he first sought the town’s presidency. The top seven individuals or organizations that gave the most money accounted for 46 percent, of close to half, of the $358,206 raised by Dominick during those years.
A look at the largest donors highlight some of the controversies that some say have been a consistent element during his reign.
“None of what you’re telling me is surprising to me, given Mr. Dominick’s bankrupt character,” Ochoa said, calling some of the top donors “unscrupulous characters that have been funding his campaign.”
The top donors
After the voter alliance’s contribution of $56,234, Jeff Pesek has the second-highest level of donations.
Pesek gave $43,809 to Dominick’s campaign in 2004 and 2005.
In 2011 the Sun-Times wrote that Pesek and his brother Craig received $850,000 in city contracts after Dominick’s victory in the 2005 election.
Jeff Pesek, president of the Morton High School District 201 board, which oversees several thousand students from Cicero, Berwyn and other suburbs, has been partners in business with admitted wholesale cocaine dealer Enrique “Henry” Rendon, according to court testimony and documents, the Sun-Times said.
Pesek did not return calls for comment, but Dominick spokesman Ray Hanania said that Pesek and his brother Craig have been two of Dominick’s most loyal supporters. He said the Sun-Times article “stretched” to try to cast a negative connection between Pesek and a childhood friend.
“The worst thing anyone could say was that the he had a childhood friend who got in a lot of trouble,” Hanania said about Pesek. He called it “normal” for elected officials to hire qualified supporters to achieve their vision.
Hanania added that Ochoa has several people working with him who are Latin Kings working with him who are are identified as “Leaders” of the Latin Kings by the Chicago Crime Commission. “Why are problems with the Peseks a story, for example, but not the Latin Kings?” he wrote in an email.
With $30,911, newspaper El Dia gave the third-highest amount of money to Dominick. The donations, which took place in 2004 and 2005, continued a pattern of giving for the publication. It had donated earlier to Ramiro Gonzalez and Betty Loren-Maltese, the two presidents before Dominick.
El Dia did not return Hoy’s calls for comment, but the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says journalists need to avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and to remain free of associations that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Hanania noted that the donations took place between 2004 and 2005 and said Dominick cut ties with El Dia after that.
“We got rid of them after 2005, but we don’t consider them a newspaper,” Hanania said. “The whole family has been involved in politics for years.”
Tea-Rific Beverage Inc., a dummy corporation tied to a $16 million money laundering operation, according to the Sun-Times, was the fifth-highest donor with $10,000.
The company was allegedly used to launder millions of dollars stolen by two family members of Cicero’s current town attorney, Michael Del Galdo, the Sun-Times said.
The law firm of DelGaldo and Giglio, headed by Michael Del Galdo, gave an additional $2,000 to Dominick.
Hanania said he hadn’t heard about Tea-rific’s alleged wrongdoing.
Dominick’s sister Cindy Dombrowski, who gave $7,683 to her brother, was in sixth place.
Dominick came under criticism in 2005 for appointing Dombrowski and his mother to a taxpayer-funded advisory board, the Chicago Tribune wrote.
At the time Dombrowski pledged to return the $8,320 she received as an annual stipend for serving on the Animal Welfare Commission, the Tribune said.
Dombrowski could not be reached for comment and Hanania said he did not know if the return ever happened. He also said that the criticism of Dominick for engaging in nepotism was unfounded because two of his sons worked for the town before his election.
Finally, Citizens for Moreno, the organization for former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, who in November 2012 indicated through his lawyer a willingness to plead guilty to corruption charges, gave $7,500 to Dominick.
Looking toward the election
Manuel Rodriguez, spokesman for former donor and current employee Joseph Pontarelli, declined to comment on any particular donor to Dominick.
But he did say that Pontarelli seeks to put an end to that type of campaigning.
“In reference to donors, we run a clean campaign,” Rodriguez said. “Our campaign is directed toward ending nepotism, crony favoritism, or pay-to-play situations.”
Hanania was not concerned about Ochoa’s fundraising edge, expressing confidence in the campaign’s ability to get its message out to the community. He added that he expected that the Dominick campaign will have at least one fundraiser in December and January, and, possibly, multiple events in February before the election.
“We’re very confident that whatever money we raise will be used to educate the citizens about the good Larry has done for the town,” he said. “We’re going to raise the money we need to get the message out. Most will come from Cicero.”