But Chris Cleary, a former vice president at BMO Harris who recently founded an e-commerce company, has launched a campaign for the 42nd Precinct City Council, borrowing $50,000 to kickstart the effort and is financially backed by a celebrity nightclub owner who previously supported Reilly but has fallen out with the downtown city council.
Cleary says the incumbent has become “complacent” and that downtown, which includes parts of the Loop and most of the River North, needs someone at the helm who is “hardworking and will bring about progress and growth.”
After the formation of a campaign committee in October, Cleary’s only other contributions came from businesses linked to Carmen Rossi, who owns a growing hospitality empire including bars, restaurants, popular nightclubs and the Lollapalooza liquor license, but which clashed with Reilly’s attempts at the City Council to crack down on his River North late-night clubs.
Cleary said he’s seen the station “go negatively, and I want to change something positive,” and highlighted a rise in crime that he says has transformed the neighborhood since he moved downtown in 2015 is, and vehemently criticized Reilly and previewed what could become a controversial campaign.
When asked to respond to Reilly’s rejection of his campaign as being “financed” by Rossi, Cleary went on the offensive.
“Alderman Reilly is a career politician, proud protégé and former top advisor to Mike Madigan who cares more about insider trading for his associates and family members than serving the people, and I intend to get these facts out in the open and the people let them decide,” he said.
When asked to elaborate on the “insider deals,” Cleary said, “We’re going to convey that throughout the campaign.”
“It’s not real until it gets on the ballot. Until then, he’s just a guy who talks a lot,” Reilly said in a message.
Apparently, the required 473 valid signatures must be submitted by November 28 to be eligible for a spot in February’s vote.
Cleary tried to downplay Rossi’s involvement in his campaign, saying he had reached out to “a number of business leaders in the 42nd Precinct … to have conversations with them about ‘this is my plan, this is my vision,'” he said he.
But as of Wednesday, his only contributions other than his own came from companies owned by Rossi. Rossi and Cleary both graduated from the University of Illinois and were in the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Three companies associated with Rossi have given Cleary $15,000, including Rossi’s restaurant empire’s Hubbard House Restaurant and Hubbard Steak, and a third company, Lomax & Lomax, which lists Rossi and lobbyist John D’Alessandro as managers, according to files with the Secretary of State of Illinois Proceeds from the State Office.
Cleary did not confirm if he has any further financial commitments from Rossi or others, but said: “It’s an uphill battle from a financial perspective and one that I’ve clearly shown is putting my money and resources on the line.”
Through a spokeswoman, Rossi said he was “surprised to hear of a feud involving the city council”.
“Given the fact that Ald. Reilly is a regular visitor to Hubbard Street establishments he should know as well as anyone that bars and clubs always have their fair share of incidents, so it would be for Ald. Reilly unfair to blame private business owners for record crime increases in his community,” the spokeswoman said.
“Mr. Rossi believes that residents of the 42nd Precinct deserve to hear diverse perspectives on the future of the community regarding critical issues impacting the borough and the City of Chicago. That’s why we have campaigns, and as a champion of this great city, Mr. Rossi will continue to support candidates who are committed to making Chicago a world-class travel destination,” the spokeswoman said.
Reilly has pressured city officials to take a tougher stance on late-night bars and nightclubs in his community, which he blames for the rise in violence.
A recent Sun-Times investigation focused on the city’s relatively lax crackdown on Rossi’s clubs through a provision that allows the Chicago Police Department to close businesses it deems a threat to public safety.
The newspaper reported Reilly emailed the local police district commander in July 2021, complaining that “gang members” were frequenting the Joy District, a popular Rossi nightclub.
After a shooting outside the club shortly after the email, Reilly came forward in August and said: “I’d like to know what the plan is to go after these establishments that have gangster rap parties and are luring gangbangers to this area, um to perform there.” on the paper.
The city council also indicated that the city is not doing more to penalize Rossi’s clubs because “some of the bar owners are politically active”.
“I hope this has nothing to do with it,” he told the newspaper.
Rossi and his companies have donated to politicians across the state through the Hubbard House Restaurant and Hubbard Steak since 2010, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot and $13,750 to Reilly, although Rossi has not donated to Reilly since 2019.
In describing what motivated him to run for the position, Cleary cited a recent shooting outside a nightclub near a condo that left one dead and three wounded.
“A lot of things are happening here that have never happened before and I think we need to make some positive changes,” he told Action and I just don’t see a lot of action, I see a lot of blame.
The shooting took place outside of Hush Chicago at 311 W. Chicago Ave. in early November. The nightclub was later shut down by the city due to a summary closure order from the Chicago Police Department, which the Sun-Times deemed the club a threat to public safety.
Hush Chicago is owned by Martini Bros and managed by Vincent Lujan. Cleary said he didn’t know Lujan. Lujan also owns Dime, a Lincoln Park bar previously owned by Rossi’s Hospitality Group, but the two have no business relationship, according to Rossi.
In a follow-up statement, Cleary said, “The late night hours have been a part of the city of Chicago since before World War II.”
“If data is presented showing a direct link between late hour licenses and this recent spike in violence, then I would absolutely agree that the city has an obligation to enact effective regulation,” he said.