Questions raised by state legislators about former Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico's connections to a scandal-plagued and now-defunct charity have delayed his appointment to a statewide education post.
Two weeks ago, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced that he'd picked Chico to chair the Illinois State Board of Education. But Republican Senator Tim Bivins requested a hold on his confirmation to ask more questions about Chico's ties to the Save a Life Foundation, ties that were first reported by Huffington Post Chicago during the mayor's race.
“There’s some indication that he was on the board at some time. There’s also an indication that he has denied that. I don’t know. But we need to look at it further,” Bivins said, according to the State Journal-Register in Springfield.
The first indication he refers to is a copy of the foundation's Annual Report from 2002, a document the state requires nonprofits to file every year. The document lists Chico on the board:
An archived copy of the foundation's website also listed him on the "National Board of Directors" in 2003.
During the campaign, Chico's office repeatedly denied to HuffPost Chicago that he had served with SALF. "That link you sent is wrong. Gery was not on that board," spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said at the time, when presented with a copy of the document.
Chico made a similar statement to the Chicago Tribune Wednesday, saying he hadn't had contact with the foundation in "more than a decade."
If true -- that is, if he didn't serve on the board -- Save A Life could be in some serious trouble. Maura Possley, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General's office, said in February that misrepresenting the Board of Directors on an annual report amounts to perjury, a Class 3 felony.
The Save A Life Foundation was founded by Carol Spizzirri with the stated purpose of preparing schoolchildren for emergencies. Spizzirri often repeated that her inspiration to form the foundation was her daughter, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident when first responders didn't know the techniques to stem her bleeding. An investigative report in 2006 showed that her story about her daughter was false, she herself wasn't an R.N. as she'd claimed, and her organization had apparently trained far fewer students than it had claimed. That investigation ultimately led to the organization's collapse.
Chico was, by his own admission, a supporter of the organization in 1999: as president of the Chicago school board, he signed a resolution praising SALF and certifying that it had trained thousands of CPS students. But he wasn't the only one to support SALF: politicians as formidable as Barack Obama and Arne Duncan were close to the group. None of them was reportedly on the foundation's board, though, which would presumably have had access to detailed information about whether or not it was really training kids.
Governor Quinn's office is standing by their man. "Gery Chico never served on the board of the Save A Life Foundation," a spokeswoman told Huffington Post Chicago, saying that she had confirmed that information by speaking with Mr. Chico himself. Chico will serve as the board's chair in an interim capacity until the Senate reconvenes in October and can consider his nomination. "We believe he is highly qualified, and we expect the Senate to confirm his nomination."
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