One of City Council’s most influential aldermanic staffers is also working as a lobbyist for two of Chicago’s largest property holders, The Daily Line has learned. Madeline Hill, who acts as chief of staff for Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), is actually paid as a contractor for Citizens for Alderman Reilly and not a city employee. Hill’s consulting group, VX Consulting, is also a registered lobbyist for Wirtz Realty and M. Fishman & Company, two of Chicago’s larger residential landlords and developers.
“It’s unique, but not wrong,” Hill told The Daily Line Monday. “It’s not written, but obviously I keep a very far distance between the 42nd Ward, even the old 42nd Ward [boundaries], and other wards. That stuff I don’t do. Nothing in downtown Chicago. That’s a no brainer.”
According to city ordinances, Hill’s split relationship between being a senior staffer for Ald. Reilly, who has more development in his ward than any other alderman, as well as a consultant for two large real estate companies, is not illegal, nor is it officially unethical, according to advisory opinions posted by the Chicago Board of Ethics. However, Hill’s situation is unique among lobbyists and aldermanic staff, where she could attend to high-stakes policy for an alderman and a private developer in the same day, all while receiving payment from both groups.
Hill says that when she talks to city planning staff she keeps a clear line between when she is working on a 42nd Ward matter or a client. “What I always do, whenever I talk to them is make clear what I’m talking to them about. If it’s for an outside client, I’ll say it’s for a non-42nd Ward matter, I’ll say this is for X client. I’m always clear about what matter I’m on…I don’t mix conversation and I make sure keep things tidy.”
Since 2009, Hill or her consulting group has received $247,000 in payments from Citizens for Alderman Reilly, including $95,450 during 2016.
Contacted by The Daily Line, developer Marc Fishman was asked if he knew about Hill’s work for both Reilly and his company. He demurred, “I’m sorry, I’m at a construction site. I didn’t recognize the number,” and then quickly hung up.
The Daily Line also contacted Wirtz Realty for comment, but did not receive a response by publication.
Hill has received official city communications referring to both of her roles as aldermanic staff and lobbyist. For one development in July 2015, Hill acted as a representative for Wirtz Realty on a project in the 44th Ward, where she received a carbon copy from Zoning Administrator Patty Scudiero on her decision to provide zoning relief. On another occasion in March 2016, Hill was carbon copied as the 42nd Ward lead staffer on a request to Planning Commissioner David Reifman for a request to use a pocket park for private use.
The city ethics ordinance specifically bars employees (which includes aldermanic staff) from influencing decisions from which they have “derived any income or compensation” in the past 12 months, or the upcoming 12 months. However, the ordinance does not apply to contractors, providing Hill a loophole so she may work for both Alderman Reilly and outside clients simultaneously.
An analysis by The Daily Line found that while nine other aldermanic chiefs of staff did receive outside campaign payments by their bosses, they retained city employee status. Campaign payments for other aldermanic staffers were significantly less than Hill’s and was for campaign work done while not working on city time, conduct explicitly permitted by the Board of Ethics.
“It’s a lot of perceived power. I have a lot less power and influence that people think,” said Hill.