Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to remarks by 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King, announcing a new summer safety program in the 3rd and 4th wards in July 2016 at Mandrake Park. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
A South Side alderman on Wednesday defended her husband against the Chicago Board of Ethics’ determination that he illegally lobbied Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make sure an annual house music picnic he and his business partners stage each year went on as planned.
Ald. Sophia King, 4th, said the ethics board was "not following the letter or the spirit of the law" when it determined that Alan King had engaged in lobbying activity without registering, as required by city ordinance.
The city law "certainly needs to be used as it was intended, to get to people who are really trying to make money off of lobbying the government," said the alderman, who added that was "certainly not the case with my husband."
She said the city ordinance on lobbying should be changed to mirror federal guidelines, which define a lobbyist as someone who is paid to influence public officials. But the alderman said she would not try to do that herself because it would pose a conflict.
Under the city’s sweeping ethics ordinance, a lobbyist is defined as someone who "undertakes to influence any legislative or administrative action" by city officials, employees and the City Council or its committees. A person does not have to be paid by a company or party to be considered a lobbyist; they just have to try to influence city officials on behalf of another individual or entity.
The ethics board first determined there was probable cause for a lobbying violation against Alan King in February, nearly two months after a Chicago Tribune story detailed how Chicago’s rich and powerful had used Emanuel’s personal email to request favors big and small. On Friday, it announced the determination that King had violated the lobbying law.
As a result, King could face a fine of more than $500,000 because the penalty for failing to register is $1,000 a day, starting five business days after the lobbying occurred. But ethics board Chairman William F. Conlon has indicated some fines may be reduced.
In May 2015, Alan King, a lawyer and house music DJ, emailed Emanuel asking to have a fence removed from a Chicago park to accommodate an event being put on by The Chosen Few Ltd. — a company in which he’s a partner.
"He was merely trying to get a fence moved," Ald. King said Wednesday. "I don’t think that the spirit or the letter of the law is intended to punish somebody who is trying right a wrong."
She said the picnic has been "a tradition of over 28 years, this festival that my husband and his partners put on, which started with literally a hundred people, which is why they call it a picnic — and it grew and it grew and it grew — which is why they needed to put fences up, in order to make sure that people are safe."
"Instead of suing the Park District, because they violated their contract … he was trying to figure out, ‘OK, how do we do this?’" she added. "This picnic was coming up in the next couple of days, so how do you do that?"
This year, the group is holding its "Picnic Weekend x Music Festival" early next month at Jackson Park at 63rd Street and Hayes Drive, according to its website. General admission tickets are $40, while it’s $1,500 for four "all access platinum" tickets for both days.
Sophia King also noted she wasn’t an alderman when her husband sent the email. Emanuel appointed King — who along with her husband is friends with former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama — in April 2016 to her City Council seat. She has since won a special election in the 4th Ward, which includes Hyde Park and Kenwood.
In a statement Friday, Alan King said he was "disappointed by the finding of the Board of Ethics" and "for many factual and legal reasons I expected a different outcome." He declined to elaborate on why.
King said he, his friends and colleagues were "committed to taking the appropriate actions when necessary to protect and preserve the picnic, one of the crown jewels of the South Side and the entire city we love."