Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Al Sanchez Was A Political Appointee Himself

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Al Sanchez Was A Political Appointee Himself

Al Sanchez, who was convicted in federal court of trading jobs and promotions for political work, was one of the most powerful members of Mayor Daley’s now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization.

It’s worth remembering that Sanchez got his job as head of the Department of Streets and Sanitation in exchange for political work.

Sanchez made his bones by getting 30-year-old Daley aide John Pope elected alderman of the 10th Ward in 1999. The 10th, in the city’s southeast corner, had always elected troublemakers such as Edward Vrdolyak and John Buchanan. Daley, who coveted the ward’s thousands of acres of vacant land, and the contracts that would go along with redeveloping it, wanted his own guy as alderman.

Sanchez, who was then deputy commissioner of Streets and San, controlled 250 Latino city workers living in the ward. The area’s economy had been devastated by steel mill closures, so city jobs were coveted. Streets and San employees who didn’t work for Sanchez’s candidates were blackballed, fired or transferred to distant wards.

Sanchez wanted to run for alderman himself, but Daley wouldn’t let him. He asked Sanchez to propose another Latino candidate. Sanchez realized a Latino alderman would threaten his position as Big Daddy of HDO Southeast, so he proposed Pope, an Italian. He then declared that Pope was “more Hispanic” than two of his opponents, who were named Valadez and Martinez.

During the campaign, Streets and San workers issued a $200 overflowing garbage ticket to a lock shop owner who posted a sign for one of Pope’s opponents. Sanchez was also accused of demoting employees who wrote garbage tickets in wards controlled by HDO’s allies. At the time, Pope brushed off the allegations.

“That's old-school politics,” Pope told the Chicago Reader. “Al’s not involved in any activities like that. I’m sure any action Streets and Sanitation took was justified.”

The Reader also reported:

Ultimately, Sanchez said, it doesn't matter whether HDO's candidate is white or Latino. All that matters is that the guy wins.

"What difference does it make who we elect?" he asked. "We elect them, they owe us."

Sanchez denied allegations that he is offering jobs for votes--"I've never promised nobody anything"--and mocked Tenth Ward candidates who are running on an antimachine platform.

"'I'm not your puppet. I don't want streets. I don't want sidewalks,'" he said derisively. "If the mayor wants anything, we want it."

During the campaign, Sanchez also made headlines for cracking up a city car on the way home from a party. The only headline that mattered to Daley was “Pope Elected Alderman.” Daley rewarded Sanchez by promoting him to head of Streets and San.

“He helped me,” the mayor explained.

Sanchez was not only corrupt in his new job, he was incompetent. After a blizzard, he suggested that residents throughout they city move their cars to one side of the street, so snowplows could do their jobs more quickly. That may work on the East Side, but not in Lincoln Square.

Sanchez’s conviction isn’t going to put an end to patronage hiring in Chicago. But at least it puts an end to the sleazy career of Al Sanchez.

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