UPDATE: Cochran to resign March 17, take plea deal

Ald. Willie Cochran (Herald file photo)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff Writer

Embattled Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) will resign from City Council on March 17, a development first reported by WBEZ, and, facing federal corruption charges, change his plea to guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Jorge L. Alonzo on March 21.

WBEZ reported that Cochran will plead guilty to wire fraud. He was indicted on 15 counts in November 2016.

Cochran will be the third 20th Ward alderman to leave office amid a corruption scandal since the late 1980s. Prosecutors allege that he solicited bribes from businesspeople in his ward and improperly used a charitable fund for his personal use.

Since being indicted, Cochran, a former policeman, has maintained a low profile in his ward and City Hall, appearing at community meetings about new University of Chicago construction in northern Woodlawn and on the 61st Street Streetscape Master Plan but playing no prominent role on issues concerning the Obama Presidential Center.

Cochran’s attorney said he was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors last August, but they rejected it in November; a trial had been set for June.

Jeanette Taylor, who finished first in the Feb. 26 election to succeed Cochran, is a veteran community activist who supports the OPC community benefits agreement (CBA). She faces educator Nicole Johnson, who also supports the CBA, in the April 2 runoff. The new City Council is scheduled to take office May 20.

Reached for comment, Taylor said she is focused on the 20th Ward’s future. “I am running because our community and our city deserve principled, experienced leaders who act with integrity and who put working families first,” she said in a statement. “It’s time to turn the page on pay-to-play politics in the 20th Ward.”

In a statement, Johnson said that constituents “have been given short shrift when it comes to what’s best for the community.”

“While campaigning, it’s so sad to hear people express their fear of the 20th Ward seat being ‘cursed.’ Whether real or imagined it helps to create the kind of apathy that spreads across a community like a virus. As alderman, I will do everything in my power to get people to reengage, reinvest, rebuild and revitalize the 20th Ward,” Johnson said.

Cochran’s ward and City Hall offices have not responded to requests for comment. The Herald has also sought comment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.

The mayor is required under state law to appoint an alderman to fill vacancies on City Council within 60 days of a vacancy occurring. If Cochran resigns March 17 and the new Council takes their seats on May 20, that exceeds the 60-day vacancy period. The mayor may be required to make an interim appointment.

The 20th Ward is based in Woodlawn and stretches into parts of Washington Park, Englewood and Back of the Yards.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com