June 15, 2012 08:22 AM
Quite the Fare for Taxi Owner
Cab company gets fined by city for using salvaged vehicles on Chicago streets – then ends up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in government grant money.
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Khaled Mahmoud paid roughly $244,000 in fines and court costs last year, the result of a City of Chicago crackdown on cab owners who used rebuilt or salvaged vehicles as taxis.
City Hall didn’t hold a grudge, though. Shortly after the settlement was announced, in March 2011, the city helped Mahmoud upgrade his fleet by way of a federally funded program that aimed to put more eco-friendly cabs on the streets.
Of the roughly $1 million that was distributed under the initiative – dubbed the Green Taxi program – more than a third, or $379,000, was earmarked for Mahmoud. The money helped pay for 31 new taxis that run on compressed natural gas.
No other cab owner received more money. In fact, only two others pocketed more than $100,000; most were given $2,000 toward a new hybrid.
Mahmoud has given $12,000 to campaign funds linked to Bob Fioretti, the 2nd Ward alderman who sits on the city’s License and Consumer Protection Committee, which oversees the taxi industry.
Both he and Fioretti say the donations have nothing to do with Mahmoud getting so much "Green Taxi" money through the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "I didn’t speak to anyone about the grants," Fioretti says.
A city spokeswoman says Mahmoud’s past played no role in the decision.
"The point was to get as many green vehicles on the road as we can," she says.
In other words it’s not about green getting green. Hmm.
Willowbrook trustee "cleaning" up
Willowbrook Mayor Robert Napoli says there’s nothing dirty about cleaning the suburb’s vehicles at a car wash owned by a village official.
The village has paid King Car Wash nearly $8,000 since the company’s owner Frank Trilla was appointed to the board in February 2011. (Trilla was recommended by Napoli.)
Willowbrook didn’t start taking its cars to King once Trilla became a trustee. The mayor says the village has cleaned its fleet of about 20 police and administrative vehicles at the car wash since 2004.
Public records show the village has paid King, based in nearby Westmont, more than $33,000 over the last five years.
Using King is "convenient and cost-effective," Napoli says. "He gives us a 50 percent discount, which saves taxpayers money."
Willowbrook doesn’t have a contract with Trilla. And even though he now sits on the board, Napoli says the village has no plans to switch car washes or go through an open and competitive bidding process to allay any conflict-of-interest concerns.
If the mayor changes his mind, Trilla said that would be fine with him.
"That’s not why I joined the board, to protect my business interests," he says.
In other words, nobody’s getting hosed.
Are we a nation of wusses?
Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor who’s now a federal lobbyist, highly paid public speaker and NBC pundit, thinks so, and that’s the title of his new book, "A Nation of Wusses," which decries the failure of public officials to do the right thing because they’re afraid of voter backlash.
We say "amen" to the Edster, who stopped in Chi-town recently to hawk the book at a reception in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Co-sponsors of the event, which underscores the validity of the adage that "politics makes strange bedfellows," were Rich Daley, who shared the big city mayor’s stage with Rendell; Bill Daley and Fred Eychaner, colleagues in national Democratic circles; Neil Bluhm, who built a gaming empire in Pennsylvania with Rendell’s support; and Bulls/White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who shares Rendell’s love of baseball.
The guests included some of the Democratic Party’s top local supporters. As for Rendell, he says he never ran for president because "I didn’t want to give up three years of my life." And Bill Daley, who is looking fit and chill in his post-White House days, won’t say if he’s considering a run for Illinois governor in ‘14.
Public Eye’s not running for anything, but we are watching, and we noticed that none of the co-hosts, or guests, for that matter, qualify as the "wusses" Rendell writes about. That crowd apparently didn’t make the guest list.
This column, a weekly feature called Public Eye that appears in the Chicago Sun-Times, was written and reported by the BGA’s Andrew Schroedter and Andy Shaw. They can be reached at (312) 821-9035 or email@example.com.