Kadner: Fallen city clerk Laski sees a future in asphalt
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 August 27, 2012 9:00PM
Former Chicago city clerk James Laski, who served 11 months in federal prison for his role in the Hired Truck Scandal, looks out from the porch of his house in Chicago's Clearing neighborhood on the Southwest Side Monday, August 27, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2012 6:11AM
He went from being Chicago city clerk and political wheeler-dealer to federal prisoner.
But Jim Laski said he’s content these days working for a south suburban asphalt and concrete paving company.
Laski’s not doing manual labor but heading a new marketing department for Advantage Pavement Solutions, LLC in Mokena.
“I first reached out to Jim because I believe in second chances in life,” said James Boswell, president of the company.
“I knew about his criminal history. That didn’t bother me at all.”
As a member of the Willow Creek Community Church congregation in Barrington, Boswell said he participates in a ministry that reaches out to Cook County Jail inmates once a week.
He first got in touch with Laski, Boswell said, through the former politician’s Facebook page.
“I had some ideas about how he could help my company,” Boswell said. “I asked him out to breakfast.
“We met and I just had a gut feeling about Jim. He has a lot of contacts, not just in the political world but in private business.
“He’s been great at opening doors for us. And just about everyone he’s introduced me to has nothing but great things to say about him. He’s just a terrific guy.”
Laski went to prison as the result of the federal government’s probe of the Hired Truck Program in Chicago. He pleaded guilty to taking $48,000 in bribes for steering business to two companies.
Prior to that, Laski had experienced a remarkable rise in Chicago’s Democratic political organization.
He went from a gofer in the 23rd Ward Organization, headed at the time by William Lipinski, to alderman of the ward, where he defied both Mayor Richard M. Daley and Then-U.S. Rep. Lipinski by leading opposition to a property tax hike backed by the mayor and his city council allies.
After serving 11 months in prison, Laski wrote a book about his experiences in politics and prison and landed a job as a WGN radio personality.
“It was right after I was fired from that job, around the end of 2010, that Jim (Boswell) contacted me,” Laski said.
At first, Laski worked as a contract employee, basically a salesman for Advantage Pavement Solutions.
Boswell is “an amazing guy and he told me about his work talking to the people at Cook County Jail and said he had read my book and had no problems at all with my past,” Laski said.
At the time, Laski said he was unemployed and concerned about providing for his wife (a private school teacher) and three children (twin 15-year-old boys and a 19-year-old daughter now attending the University of Illinois).
Laski said he continues to live in Chicago’s Clearing community, “in the same house I’ve lived in since 1991.”
He said his neighbors were “great” to his family when he was serving his prison time and have been supportive ever since his return to freedom about six years ago.
“I’m 58 years old now and job opportunities don’t come along very often,” Laski said. “So I was very grateful to (Boswell) for this opportunity.”
As the newly named head of marketing for the paving company, Laski said he will be reaching out to potential customers beyond the borders of Illinois.
“We’ve gotten some work with the Chicago Archdiocese and I will be reaching out to archdioceses in Wisconsin and Indiana,” Laski said. “I will also be reaching out to people in the private business sector I’ve gotten to know over the years.
“It’s not like having to sell something to people they don’t need. If you have a parking lot, you’re going to have to eventually get it paved.”
As for his marketing experience, Laski said, “I was pretty good at marketing Bill Lipinski, (former state Sen. Leroy) Lemke and other 23rd Ward politicians, so I know something about that.”
Some would say Laski also has made a career out of marketing himself.
“Jim is a great guy to work for,” Laski said. “He donates a percentage of his profits from each job to a charitable organization of his client’s choice.
“He’s just a deeply Christian man who lives what he believes.”
As for Boswell, he believes Laski has “an interesting story to tell” and “impresses everyone he meets.”
“We don’t do a lot of government work, so I wasn’t reaching out to Jim to use his political connections,” Boswell said.
Laski, however, told me he has been reaching out to Southland mayors and municipalities.
“This might not be the most exciting work in the world, but I’m not looking to gratify my ego anymore,” Laski said.
“I just need a paycheck. I figure at this point I will have to work until I’m 90 just to pay college tuition. It’s not about me. It’s about my children and their future.”