Former Chicago Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno — who last summer pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and giving a false report to authorities — says he plans to throw his hat in the ring and run again for City Council.
The criminal case leading to the plea — in which Moreno was accused of lending his Audi to a woman he was dating and then reporting it stolen — was one of several scandals to befall him toward the end of his career on the City Council. Last August, he pleaded guilty to a DUI and speeding after he was charged in late 2020 with drunkenly crashing into several cars on a posh Gold Coast street.
He also faced an allegation of sexual harassment dating back to 2014 from a former staffer, which Moreno denied, and got in hot water for alleged threats against the owner of the building that housed the former Double Door music venue.
Moreno was first appointed to the City Council’s 1st Ward by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2010 and survived a difficult 2015 reelection. But he was defeated in the 2019 municipal election by Daniel La Spata, who attacked Moreno on those scandals and for favoring local developers in the gentrifying ward.
Because Moreno was a first-time offender, Cook County Judge William Hooks gave Moreno “second-chance” probation in the obstruction case, meaning the case would be fully dismissed if Moreno met the conditions of his two-year probation.
According to a court record Moreno provided to the Tribune, a probation officer has recommended to the judge that Moreno’s probation be terminated early because he “reported monthly as scheduled, remained arrest free, all his urinalysis results have been negative, provided proof of community service completion, provided proof of mental health and substance abuse treatment continuance, and he has paid all monies ordered.”
The Tribune was unable to confirm late Wednesday whether the judge signed off on the motion.
Moreno said he doesn’t “deserve a gold star or anything” for his progress in completing probation, but he said he’s “owned” his personal decisions. “Going through that process two years ago, changing my life, and quite frankly, the way the ward is, what’s been happening or not happening in the ward the last three years, having dozens and dozens of community folks asking me to run, I’m gonna run,” he said.
Because completing his second-chance probation would effectively mean that he “was never convicted,” Moreno said this opens the door for a comeback campaign in the 1st Ward.
Moreno would still have to gather enough signatures and survive any potential challenge to get on the 2023 ballot. And the question of whether his past legal scrapes would allow him to hold public office again may be more complicated.
Election attorney Michael Dorff says Moreno’s eligibility will rest on whether he had his right to run for office fully restored. According to state law, individuals are barred from running if they’ve been convicted of bribery, perjury, an “infamous crime” or a felony. But there’s a history of candidates with felony convictions being cleared to run for office after receiving pardons, a “restoration of rights” from the governor or completing conditions of a plea agreement.
Then-Gov. Jim Edgar pardoned Walter Burnett in 1998, clearing the way for him to run for 27th Ward alderman, a post he still holds. Burnett was convicted in a robbery that occurred when he was 17.
In 2018 then-Gov. Bruce Rauner also issued a “restoration of rights” certificate to Roger Agpawa — and state legislators changed election law as well — to allow him to run for mayor in south suburban Markham despite a previous mail fraud conviction.
And Oak Park election officials let trustee candidate Chibuike Enyia remain on the ballot after a resident claimed a drug arrest years earlier made Enyia ineligible to hold office. Enyia’s attorney successfully argued that because Enyia entered into a plea agreement that said a conviction would only be entered if he didn’t complete his probation or pay his fine, he was eligible to run.
Moreno said he’s been putting in his community service hours at the food pantry at La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park and at a nonprofit looking to build tiny homes for those experiencing homelessness in Chicago. His day job has been working at the printing company where he’s held a role since leaving college. He also said he went through treatment in late 2020 and early 2021.
“I had a pretty traumatic event that happened in my life” that led to those incidents, Moreno said. “I never handled it in a healthy way.”
Moreno said in a later email that he was referring to the death of Joe Muntaner, a ward worker who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2017. Moreno said he was on the phone with Mutaner when it happened.
Moreno said he has unfinished work in the ward, adding that “it’s quite evident to me that if you look back three-plus years ago, where we were, we’re at a standstill at best and we’ve gone backwards at worst on a variety of issues,” especially on crime.
La Spata declined to comment. He has not said publicly if he will seek reelection in next year’s Feb. 28 election.
Attorney Sam Royko has announced he intends to run for the 1st Ward City Council seat.