Once disgraced Cal City mayor back in political life
BY ANDREW SCHROEDTER August 16, 2013 10:04PM
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:50AM
Jerry Genova was once a golden boy of local politics.
He was elected as a reformer mayor of rough-and-tumble Calumet City in 1993, just a year after earning a Notre Dame law degree.Many foresaw a bright future for the charismatic son of a steelworker.
Instead, Genova was sentenced to five years in federal prison on charges that he accepted $125,000 in kickbacks and used city workers — on city time — to help his political campaigns.
Now, he’s attempting a comeback, of sorts.
State law bars felons from holding elected office. But felons can work on political campaigns, and that’s what Genova has been quietly doing since he was released from prison in 2005; he’s served as an adviser on at least three suburban mayoral campaigns, in Calumet City, Dolton and Franklin Park, the Better Government Association has learned. Two of those elections were earlier this year.
Genova has a knack for developing campaign strategy, even though he was out of local politics for a while, according to two of the politicians who hired him.
Genova is straightfoward about his motives. Aside from a stated commitment to “public service” and supporting “good candidates,” Genova acknowledges his aim is to ultimately get a job with the help of his political contacts — which suggests his old-school worldview hasn’t changed much.
The 50-year-old Genova needs the money, the BGA found.
The self-employed consultant says he is struggling to pay $35,000 he still owes Calumet City’s government. The suburb’s leaders are threatening to sue to collect the debt, part of a 2007 legal settlement.
“It’s a difficult economic time for me,” Genova says.
Calumet City originally sued Genova in 2002 to recover the $832,000 local taxpayers spent on his unsuccessful criminal defense.
Five years later the two sides settled the suit. Terms included Genova paying the suburb $50,000 and waiving his right to a lifetime of municipal health insurance, according to interviews and court records.
Certain Calumet City elected officials qualify for health insurance for life at no cost if they serve more than one term, which Genova did. The estimated health-care cost to taxpayers for Genova and his family — over their lifetimes — would have been $782,000. So he agreed to forgo that perk and pony up $50,000 in cash to cover the $832,000 tab.
Genova was to have paid $5,000 a year, from 2007 to 2010, then $30,000 in 2011, according to court records. But after initially forking over $15,000, he hasn’t made a payment in at least two years.
“To date, Genova owes the city $35,000,” Calumet City municipal attorney Burt Odelson says via email. “The city is preparing to take action to recover that amount, plus interest, or alternatively asking for the entire amount [$832,000] previously determined as owed.”
Genova doesn’t dispute the $35,000 debt. “I have promised to pay and I intend to,” he says.
But the money apparently isn’t there. He was an unpaid adviser on two mayoral campaigns this year in Dolton for Riley Rogers and Calumet City for Brian Wilson, respectively.
In Calumet City, Wilson withdrew before the Democratic primary election in February.
In Dolton, Rogers won the election, but his push to give Genova a plum government job, perhaps as a development director, was blocked over concerns about Genova’s past.
“We talked about possibly helping Jerry out but we didn’t go forward with it,” says Rogers. “Some of the trustees didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”
Genova, who was disbarred as a lawyer in 2003, had better luck in Franklin Park.
He helped Barrett Pedersen get elected mayor in April 2009, writing campaign literature and developing strategy as a paid consultant. Two months later Genova landed a full-time marketing job at a suburban accounting firm. That same month, Franklin Park awarded the firm a contract to help with record-keeping, Pedersen says.
The firm, which no longer works with Franklin Park, or employs Genova, was paid $175,274 over a six-month period ending January 2010, records show.
At the time, the firm was paying Genova a salary of $100,000 a year, plus a yearly bonus of at least $40,000, according to interviews and court records.
Pedersen insists the contract wasn’t tied to Genova’s campaign work.
Little foreshadowed Genova’s current troubles when as a young mayor he swept into office on a promise to clean up Calumet City’s “Sin Strip,” an infamous stretch of taverns and strip clubs.
In 1998, Genova sought the Democratic state treasurer nomination but came up short. Two years later, he was hit with a nine-count indictment. Genova proclaimed his innocence, but a jury found him guilty in 2001.
Today, Genova says he’s content to operate behind the scenes in politics and government.
“I’m just trying to live a quiet life.”
Andrew Schroedter works for the Better Government Association.