Throughout her political campaigns to lead the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Anita Alvarez tried to separate herself from the so-called old boy’s network of local politics.
Referencing her first victory for office in 2008, Alvarez’s campaign web site reads: “Anita scored a dramatic upset in Cook County politics.” One newspaper endorsement during the campaign called Alvarez “a rare Hispanic [woman] in an old boy’s club” – an endorsement highlighted on her campaign site.
Yet Alvarez benefits from plenty of old-boy political support financially and organizationally. She’s raised almost $4 million in campaign donations since the fall of 2007, including large contributions from well-known power brokers and thousands of dollars from her own employees, the Illinois State Board of Elections web site shows.
She counts Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, the powerful head of the City Council’s Finance Committee, among her most generous donors. Burke is supporting her in what looks to be a competitive upcoming primary March 15 for state’s attorney. Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan (D-Ill.) is backing Alvarez, adding an organizational advantage for the incumbent.
Burke’s financial support to Alvarez includes $29,000 in contributions from Friends of Edward M. Burke between 2008 and 2014 and another $24,000 from Burke’s Burnham Committee between early 2008 and mid-2013, state campaign records show.
James “Skinny” Sheahan – a former aide to ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley and brother of former Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan – backed Alvarez in her inaugural campaign.
Alvarez began her career under Daley in 1986 when he was Cook County state’s attorney and years later she would be criticized for failing to re-examine the case of David Koschman, who died in 2004 after being punched by Daley’s nephew Richard Vanecko.
It was another former Alvarez boss, former State’s Attorney Richard Devine, who initially decided not to charge anyone in the Koschman case.
Daley’s brother Michael Daley and his law firm gave Alvarez’s campaign $3,500, including a contribution in August.
Another Daley brother, William Daley, gave in-kind contributions of $2,382 in 2008 for a fundraising reception. He said he hasn’t decided who he’ll support in the current state’s attorney campaign.
Michael Daley didn’t return calls. His law partner, Mara Georges, formerly City Hall’s top attorney under Mayor Daley, described Alvarez as a long-time “personal friend.”
Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb – appointed special prosecutor by a judge to investigate the Koschman case and who ended up charging Vanecko with manslaughter – also gave Alvarez’s campaign $1,000, in a check logged by her campaign July 31.
Webb said Alvarez gave a talk at his law firm Winston & Strawn and he felt it was appropriate to contribute.
Other large financial supporters of Alvarez have included a who’s who of politically connected individuals, including: One-time Rod Blagojevich fundraiser Niranjan Shah, former Daley administration official Gery Chico, and attorney and former McPier board chairman Ted Tetzlaff.
Chico, the former Chicago Board of Education president, and his law firm gave almost $16,000 to Alvarez. Tetzlaff and his law office gave almost $3,000.
Devine was a backer in 2008 when Alvarez first ran for office. His political committee Citizens for Richard A. Devine gave $44,800 to Alvarez from 2008 to 2013.
Initially, Devine supported another one of his former prosecutors, Robert Milan. Devine threw his support behind Alvarez after she beat Milan in the Democratic primary in early 2008. Devine said he hasn’t committed to any candidate for the upcoming state’s attorney’s race.
As for the perceived image of an old boy’s network, “I never considered it a big deal,” Devine said. About half the prosecutors under Devine were women, he said.
“Her rise to leadership, in my mind, was not an extraordinary thing,” Devine said. “Women have been doing jobs in the state’s attorney’s office for years.”
Another big donor: Daniel Gallagher, who gave more than $13,000 to Alvarez mostly between late 2007 and mid-2012. In early 2014, Gallagher was appointed by Alvarez as chief of the civil actions bureau of the state’s attorney’s office.
Alvarez took about $18,000 in contributions from 16 donors identifying themselves as employees of the office of Cook County state’s attorney, state records show.
Those contributions don’t include money given by Gallagher, who donated prior to joining the office. The employee total also doesn’t include $3,000 in donations from Daniel Kirk, Alvarez’s first assistant state’s attorney, former chief of staff and ex-campaign chairman.
Alvarez took campaign money from defense attorneys who faced her prosecutors, records show. She took campaign donations from law firms that got business from the state’s attorney’s office.
Her single-largest contributor is her husband, Dr. James J. Gomez, who loaned at least $640,000 to Alvarez’s campaign.
The law offices of plaintiff attorney Robert Clifford gave more than $345,000 in mostly in-kind contributions. Clifford is chairman of Alvarez’s campaign finance committee. Attorneys from Clifford’s firm gave another $51,000.