PI Original Josh Kalven Wednesday February 11th, 2009, 7:35pm

IL-5: Fritchey Attempts To Explain Absence During Republic Windows Fight

Last night, Rep. John Fritchey held a conference call with several local bloggers.  It was a great opportunity to bounce some questions and concerns off him, and you can read Jesse Greenberg's live-blog to get an idea of the full range of discussion.  There is one exchange, ...

Last night, Rep. John Fritchey held a conference call with several local bloggers.  It was a great opportunity to bounce some questions and concerns off him, and you can read Jesse Greenberg's live-blog to get an idea of the full range of discussion.  There is one exchange, however, that I want to highlight.

On the topic of his lobbying work as a zoning lawyer in Chicago, I asked Fritchey if he had ever turned away potential clients because of objections to their line of work.  He said that he has turned away clients because he thought their development proposals were inappropriate, but did not offer any examples involving companies whose work he disagreed with.  I went on to ask if he would accept Bank of America and the Illinois Bankers Association as clients in the future, given the issues raised in my original piece.  He said he would not, citing the Republic Windows controversy. 

Then one of the other bloggers on the call asked a pertinent question, particularly considering Fritchey's lobbying work for Bank of America and the $2,000 in campaign contributions he received from them over the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.*  He asked: Why were you not among the local polticians who publicly supported the Republic Windows workers last December? Here's Fritchey's answer:

"First of all, if you go back to the timing of that, that also came in the midst of the impeachment proceedings and the investigation proceedings.  You know, I had a big, relatively full plate at that point.  Not to mention that we had very capable leadership -- you know, Luis Gutierrez and others were doing that.  You know, at that point, the reality is: if I had got involved, that probably would have been perceived as grandstanding on my part.  I felt that situation was being capably handled."

Fritchey's timeline is a bit off here. 

The Republic Windows sit-in began on Friday, December 5.  Elected officials were making appearances at the factory by Sunday, December 7 to show their support.  And on Monday, December 8, numerous alderman, along with Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, introduced ordinances to hold Bank of America (Republic Windows' creditor) accountable for cutting off financing to the company before the workers could be paid the wages they were owed.  But it wasn't until Tuesday, December 9 that Gov. Blagojevich was arrested, setting the ultimate impeachment proceedings into motion.  By the end of the following day, an agreement had been reached resolving the Republic Windows dispute.

So that excuse seems a bit off.

More to the point, it's rather disconcerting that Fritchey was worried that a show of solidarity for the laid-off workers would be viewed as "grandstanding." After all, it's not as if he's some obscure representative from the other side of the city.  He's the committeeman in the 32nd Ward, where the Republic Windows factory was located.  He's also not afraid of a good press conference

And frankly, I don't remember hearing anyone accuse the supportive politicians of "grandstanding" at the time.  To their credit, they helped elevate the workers' situation and, in turn, ratcheted up the pressure on both Bank of America and the factory's owners.  

*Fritchey received a $500 contribution from Bank of America on October 23, 2006 and a $1,500 contribution on September 28, 2007.  (Source: National Institute on Money in State Politics)

Full disclosure: The SEIU Illinois Council -- which is the sole sponsor of Progress Illinois -- has endorsed Sara Feigenholtz in the 5th Congressional District race.  Progress Illinois itself will not be endorsing any candidate in this contest.

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