The Chicago Housing Authority approved B-M Odgen LLC as the developer for the former Lawndale Complex today, which is to be redeveloped into a mixed-income community called Ogden North.
The company is connected to two other companies, Brinshore Development LLC and the Michaels Development Company, according to Illinois Secretary of State records.
Both of those companies have gotten significant CHA contracts in the past, including contracts for the former Robert Taylor Homes and parts of Henry Horner, two of CHA's largest developments.
CHA will also pay B-M Odgen $1.3 million for a pre-development loan for survey work, design, development fees and building permits.
Brinshore Development LLC president Rich Sciortino says the bid was chosen because of Brinshore Michael's record in getting projects done on time and under budget.
"We've been the most efficient development team in moving projects forward," says Sciortino.
From 1989 to 1992, Sciortino worked for the Chicago Department of Building's abandonded property program.
Brinshore Development LLC and the Michaels Development Company gave a combined total of more than $80,000 in campaign contributions over the last 10 years to several Chicago alderman and city officials, state campaign contribution records show.
The contributions included more than $12,000 to committees supporting former 20th Ward alderman Arenda Troutman.
Sciortino denied that Brinshore has given any money to Troutman.
"Brinshore Michaels has never given any campaign contributions to Alderman Troutman," says Sciortino.
He requested that a reporter fax him records of campaign contributions to Citizens for Troutman and the 20th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. The Daily News provided him with Illinois State Board of Elections records.
He did not immediately return further calls seeking comment.
Troutman was recently sentenced to prison on charges that she took bribes from developers in exchange for zoning changes
Chicago Housing Authority spokesman Matt Aguilar says CHA does not take political connections or campaign contributions into account when selecting contractors for its work.
But political watchdog Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, says the campaign contributions are troubling.
"It raises the appearance of impropriety," says Pastika. "It gets to the heart of the political scandals that are under consideration in Illinois."
The Chicago municipal code puts a limit - $1500 - on the amount of money a company seeking city business can give to city candidates in a calendar year.
Even with restrictions and disclosure requirements, Pastika says when companies give money to the people who will end up approving their projects, it gives the impression that "pay to play" is just business as usual in Illinois.
"I think that while it may be perfectly legal for a contractors to give campaign contributions, I think that the broader issues has to do with public trust in the political system," says Pastika. "When people see that money pours in from contractors who then do business with the city, there's legitimate questions raised regarding the honestly and integrity of the political process."
Ogden North is the first phase of redevelopment at the former Lawndale Complex site. It will include 158 units, about 40 percent of which will be public housing. CHA's 2009 plan states that at the end of redevelopment, the Lawndale complex will contain 300 units, one-third of which will be public housing units.
Sciortino says he expects construction to begin in 2010.
Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.