CHICAGO — The ABC7 News I-Team has learned that long-time Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal is facing accusations of conflict of interest. The allegations come less than a week after Chicago’s mayoral election. Some of the charges are included in a federal lawsuit against Neal.
The Chicago Board of Elections is the public agency that determines whether candidates are legal, composes ballots, manages election machinery and finally counts the votes. For 11 years, prominent attorney Langdon Neal has been chairman of the election board. Neal is now facing criticism because of his work as a private lawyer who does millions of dollars in legal business with government agencies. It is not criminal but, some say, is questionable.
A federal lawsuit alleges that Neal’s law firm has “done more work for the City of Chicago than any other firm.” The suit claims that Neal’s firm does more than $4 million annually in city legal work and $10 million in land acquisition and eminent domain cases.
“This is bondage. This is political slavery,” said veteran South Side activist Maurice Perkins, who says he has filed the lawsuit on behalf of all Chicago voters, demanding that a federal court remove Langdon Neal from the city election board.
“We don’t want people getting $10 million in no bid contracts from the city and then overseeing our elections where the mayor and incumbent alderman that vote on his contracts are serving. It’s a glaring conflict,” said Perkins.
Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal defended his conduct and reputation, telling the I-Team: “We have 50 years of doing business with the city. So for him to allege this now, and in 50 years of practicing nobody has ever raised this, is kind of questionable to me.”
Neal is the offspring of one of Chicago’s best-known political families. His father, the late Earl Neal, handled major legal projects for the city under six mayors. His grandfather was a judge.
ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie asked Neal “How much money do you or your firm obtain annually in city contracts?” Neal said: “I’ll have to look at the records to tell you that, but last year probably about $2 million.”
But that’s not his firm’s only government work. According to Chicago Board of Education records, they pay Neal’s law firm a $500,000 a year in legal fees and Chicago Transit Authority officials Neal’s firm receives $700,000 a year for no-bid legal work. That is in addition to the millions of dollars Neal’s company makes representing clients in commercial zoning cases in Chicago. It is not illegal, but is improper, according to Chicago’s Better Government Association.
“This is a guy who much of professional life in one fashion or another depends on the good graces of the City of Chicago,” said BGA Executive Director Jay Stewart. “Yet we expect him to rule fairly and impartially on Mayor Daley and other officials knowing he got $4 million in business from them.”
The I-Team asked Neal: Why shouldn’t there be a problem with that for the voters of Chicago? “Why should there be a problem with it?” said Neal.
Neal says, evaluate him on the dozens of elections he has supervised without personal scandal or compromise and the continued support of Cook County circuit court judges who appoint him to the $90,000 a year part-time job as election chairman.
There is also this: Langdon Neal’s law firm has contributed to candidates running for office in elections that Neal oversees. “I don’t think you’ll find any recently, because, if that is the case, it shouldn’t be,” Neal told the I-Team.
State election records cite numerous donations from his firm to Chicago candidates within the past five years and as recently as 2005 from a law firm that he claims 99 percent ownership–his wife owns the last 1 percent.
“That’s some of his money,” contends the BGA’s Stewart. “That’s some of his money through the firm.”
But Neal disputes having made any personal contributions through his firm.
“I don’t do it personally… I do I have a problem with that,” Neal said.
If Landgon Neal wanted to serve on the State of Illlinois Board of Elections, he could not. The state ethics law prohibits registered lobbyists from serving as an election commissioner and Neal has to register as a lobbyist to do zoning work. Neal says if such a requirement were put in place, he would stop city zoning work because he considers his election role to be an important public service.