Quick Hit Michael Joyce Monday March 7th, 2016, 12:53pm

Red-Light Camera Protest Eclipsed By Political Rivalry

What began as a protest against Chicago's red-light cameras quickly shifted into political grandstanding, as supporters of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) showed up en masse to picket against 22nd district challenger Jason Gonzales.

Earlier in the day, at the corner of 63rd St. and Kedzie Ave., the Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras enjoyed raucous support from the pubic, as passing cars and pedestrians stopped to show their support.

Mark Wallace, director of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras, says red-light cameras have been strategically placed throughout the city based on revenue potential, not safety needs.

"This was a scheme motivated by money, but presented to the public under the disguise of safety," Wallace said. "They choose primarily poor and low-income areas because they have high rates of traffic, where they would be able to get high rates of tickets and revenue. The city has, in effect, put into place a solution for a problem that didn't exist, under the disguise of safety."

Wallace detailed the domino effect a single ticket can create for a low-income individual.

"The $100 fine becomes a $200 fine," explained Wallace. "If you can't pay and get a second ticket, you're eligible for a seizure. It puts people in a very vulnerable situation. I know people who lost their jobs because their car was impounded, and they weren't able to get it out."

The group is calling on Madigan to review House Bill 141, which was introduced by state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) and 12 co-sponsors. The bill seeks to remove all red-light and speed cameras in Illinois.

Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras organizer Scott Davis believes Madigan stopped the bill because he has a vested interest in the cameras.

"Clearly, he was part of the original red-light program when it first came to Chicago," Davis alleges. "One of his precinct committeemen, John Bills, was just convicted of 20 counts of fraud in a federal bribery case totaling $2 million in bribes."

A Cook County judge recently allowed a lawsuit filed against the city over red-light cameras to continue. The lawsuit alleges that the city failed to provide motorists with due process in their failure to issue second notices of violation prior to sending out final determinations of liability for red-light camera tickets. A win for the plaintiffs, who have requested that the case be turned into a class-action suit, means the cash-strapped city would be on the hook for refunding millions of dollars to drivers who have been ticketed since 2003.

Dunkin, who is being dogged by allegations of vote buying in his primary race against challenger Juliana Strattion, did not attend the red-light camera rally. Madigan challenger Gonzales was in attendance -- a fact that was not lost on Madigan supporters. During his speech about the cameras, which he made outside of the speaker's office, Gonzales was barely audible over the sound of Madigan supporters booing him.

Madigan supporters also referenced Gonzales' prior conviction for unlawful use of a credit card back in 1991. Gonzales says these "dirty politics" show that Madigan feels threatened.

"Speaker Madagan is afraid of me. He's afraid that I could possibly win. That's why they're there," said Gonzales.

Speaking to his prior conviction, Gonzales said he believes everyone is entitled to a second chance, including himself.

"I used a credit card when I was 17-years-old, then I got caught and paid the price," he said. "That's 25 years ago. I got it expunged. I turned my life around. I had teachers that helped me to realize my potential. I graduated high school with honors."

Gonzales says he went on to graduate from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.

One of the protesters demonstrating against Gonzales, who asked not to be identified, said Gonzales "is a tool of Governor Rauner. He just has to go."

Gonzales' field director, Scott Berlin, said he believes the demonstrators were union workers that were asked to come out in support of Madigan.

"We've seen all sorts of union employees with those exact same signs picketing at the polling places," said Berlin. "They have admitted that they are there because their union stewards told them to be there."

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