A few weeks ago, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin wanted every reporter in town to understand one simple thing: voters on the West Side of Chicago deserved nothing less than politicians who held themselves to the highest possible level of ethical behavior.
That’s why Ervin took the unusual step of spending what appeared to be City time and resources to spread unproven allegations against a candidate for state representative in the 10th District, which covers part of Ervin’s 28th Ward.
Back then, the alderman wanted reporters to know that even a hint of impropriety in someone’s private life was enough to disqualify him or her from holding office, which is why he felt compelled to attempt to drive at least one candidate from a race he had no direct involvement in.
Of course, that was before a video surfaced over the weekend showing Ervin attending a bachelor party with strippers taking place in the same West Side building where he has his aldermanic office and handles constituent city-service requests.
Now, Ervin wants every reporter in town—and voters, too—to understand one thing: Nobody should be held accountable for what they do on their own private time.
And if the Alderman says nothing unethical took place, then we should believe him.
In other words: that was then. This is now.
Back then, Ervin had it in for a guy named Eddie Winters, who is running for the 10th District seat currently held by Rep. Derrick Smith, who was indicted in 2012 for taking a $7,000 bribe in an alley.
Rumors have long circulated tying Winters to allegations of domestic violence and unpaid child support, all so far unproven. That didn't stop Ervin, however, from mounting a direct campaign to drive Winters from the race in order to make room for his preferred candidate, Pamela Reaves-Harris.
As part of that campaign, Ervin blurred the lines between private behavior and using his office and City resources for political purposes.
He held a press conference at City Hall during a work day to call for Smith and Winters to drop out. He emailed reporters copies of court documents related to Winter’s divorce and family matters to reporters from his aldermanic office email accounts directly used for City business. His press and communications person—a full-time City employee—helped track down at least one reporter to coordinate telephone conversations with the alderman at his ward office about the allegations during normal working hours.
The recent campaign against Winters isn’t the only time Ervin has seemingly danced around ethical behavior while in public office, either. In 2009, he was suspended from his job as Maywood village manager for conducting political work during a workday after a TV news station found him checking campaign petitions at the Cook County clerk's office in downtown Chicago during afternoon hours.
Now, Ervin wants us to take him at his word when he says the bachelor party, which clearly shows him in a room with naked or nearly-naked gyrating women, was completely on the up-and-up as far as potential ethics violations are concerned.
“Let me be clear, I never used City or campaign funds for this event,” Ervin said in a statement. “This event was not held in my Aldermanic or political office, but on another floor of the building, where neither City nor political funds are spent.”
For good measure, Ervin’s statement also used the time-worn tactic of claiming to be the victim in the whole affair, blaming an unnamed person for attempting to “extort me, my family, and the residents of the 28th Ward for personal gain.”
But if Ervin really wanted us to believe in his dedication to the highest possible ethical standards, all he has to do is give voters some proof that nothing unethical happened, instead of asking them to simply take him at his word. Just like he attempted to do when he was trying to hold another politician to the highest possible standards.
“As Alderman and a constituent of the 10th District, this district needs an elected official with integrity,” he said in a statement, back when he was holding another politician to the highest possible ethical standards. “The people of the 28th Ward and the 10th District deserve better than another state representative scared by allegations and scandal, which only serves to hurt the constituents.”
But if you’re looking for Ervin to live by his own words, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
After all, that was then. This is now.