Less than two years after getting out of federal prison where he served time for a public corruption conviction, former West Side alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers is attempting a political comeback.
While state law bars Carothers from trying to win back a seat on the Chicago City Council, he's free to run for the Cook County Board.
In recent weeks, he has asked at least three current elected officials to back him for the County Board seat now held by Earlean Collins, who represents the Far West Side and nearby suburbs, including Oak Park. Carothers also announced his candidacy at a recent 37th Ward Democratic organization meeting.
Collins, who is not seeking re-election, and Ald. Deborah Graham, a former state lawmaker who came up through Carothers' old 29th Ward organization and succeeded him on the City Council, both said they declined Carothers' request for an endorsement. They prefer to remain neutral in a March Democratic primary that could include as many as a dozen candidates.
But Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, a Carothers protege, is backing him.
"I think he has done his time and it's up to the voters to decide whether to give him a second chance," Mitts said.
Carothers volunteers at the 37th Ward service office on weekends, Mitts said. He also works for a foundation that helps ex-offenders find jobs, she added.
Attempts to reach Carothers to discuss his bid and the issue of political redemption were not successful Tuesday.
Carothers was an alderman for 11 years, rising to become chairman of what is now the Public Safety Committee, until he resigned in 2010 around the same time he pleaded guilty to bribery and tax fraud. Carothers admitted to backing a zoning change in exchange for $40,000 in work at his home. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison and was released in March 2012, according to federal prison records.
Carothers was a third-generation public official. His father, William Carothers, was sent to prison three decades ago for trying to extort remodeling work for his ward office in exchange for building permits.
David Morrison, of the Campaign for Political Reform, said Carothers could have a tough time explaining himself to voters.
"If the law allows it, it's a question for voters," Morrison said. "He's going to have to demonstrate to his would-be constituents that he's changed his ways and will put their interests first. That's going to be a tough sell for him."
The law prohibits convicted felons from running for municipal office. Ambrosio Medrano, who recently was convicted on new public bribery charges after first being convicted in 1996, tried twice to run for his former 25th Ward seat but was thrown off the ballot each time. Former 15th Ward Ald. Virgil Jones, convicted in 1999 of pocketing bribes, was thrown off the ballot in 2007.
Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who took part in the robbery of a savings and loan as a teen, was pardoned by Gov. Jim Edgar. Burnett's conviction did not relate to actions in office.
The ban on felons does not apply to state and federal office, however. That's why Coy Pugh, a convicted felon, was able to serve in the legislature before becoming a lobbyist. Disgraced U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who in 1995 was forced to give up his seat after being convicted of sex-related charges, including having sex with an underage campaign worker, twice ran for Congress. He lost both times.
A special case is former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving time in a Colorado federal prison following a public corruption conviction. When state lawmakers removed Blagojevich in January 2009, part of the punishment was a ban on seeking state office. He could, however, run for Congress or the Senate after he gets out.
Collins, a former state senator who has been a county commissioner for nearly 16 years, said she was not going to endorse anyone in the contest to succeed her. But Carothers is entitled to run, she said.
"It's up to the people of the district to decide whether they want to give him a second chance or not," Collins said. "If they nominate him, I will be wholeheartedly supporting his campaign in the fall. I have nothing against ex-offenders."
Politicians from the area said a dozen people are circulating petitions for the County Board seat. The filing period is between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2.
"There's lots of talk right now, but that doesn't mean all these people are going to end up running," Mitts said.
Tribune reporter Rick Pearson contributed.
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