State Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s Chicago mayoral campaign reported receiving $165,000 in contributions Monday, including a $100,000 check from an owner of a controversial, clout-heavy scrap yard, state campaign finance records show.
That contribution — the single largest to her campaign so far — came from Howard Labkon, who is a co-owner of General Iron Industries. For decades, General Iron has operated a Lincoln Park scrap yard that feeds flattened cars, twisted rebar and used appliances into giant shredders that compact the waste.
The scrap yard has served as a North Side source of controversy in recent years. In November 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered General Iron’s owners to conduct detailed air pollution testing after the federal government twice previously cracked down on the facility for pollution.
North Side Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the scrap yard, has sought to revoke the facility’s special waiver that allows it to operate extended daily hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., a move that was rebuffed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. And General Iron’s announcement in July that the scrap shredder would relocate from Lincoln Park to the East Side has drawn backlash from the alderman and activists there who have fought pollution from industrial businesses in the area.
Shortly after disclosing the contribution Monday, Mendoza’s campaign quickly moved to distance the campaign from the scrap yard. Campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Evans said a campaign worker erroneously listed Labkon as General Iron’s president when reporting the contribution to state election officials. Instead, Evans said, he serves as president of a company called Rose Worldwide. She did not respond to a question on how Mendoza came to receive the contribution from Labkon, who in 2010 and 2011 gave a total of $10,000 to her campaign for city clerk.
Labkon could not be reached for comment. He has an ownership stake in General Iron but has had a contentious relationship with members of the family that run the company, court records show.
Last year, he sued fellow family members in Cook County Circuit Court over a potential sale of General Iron. Labkon accused brother Adam Labkon and parents Marilyn and Mark Labkon of turning down a $100 million offer for the scrap yard. The other family members countered by suing Howard, accusing him of undermining the business by working with competitors.
On Monday, a spokesman who represents the wing of the family that runs the company confirmed Howard Labkon maintains an ownership stake, and noted that he voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit earlier this year.
“Howard has an adversarial relationship with other members of the Labkon family, who manage General Iron,” said Randall Samborn, the company’s representative who is a former chief spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. “Howard’s contribution (to Mendoza) was not requested or authorized by the company or other members of the Labkon family.”
Mendoza won re-election to her first full term as comptroller last month and announced a run for mayor eight days later. The $165,000 she reported Monday brings the total she has raised to $670,000 — the bulk of that including $500,000 she transferred over from her comptroller campaign fund.
That total trails the amounts raised so far by two other top candidates who also entered the race after Emanuel’s surprise announcement in September that he would drop his bid for a third term. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley has raised $2.7 million and 2011 mayoral candidate and City Hall veteran Gery Chico has raised a little more than $1 million. Mendoza, however, has raised more than the $596,000 reported so far by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who also entered the Feb. 26 race for mayor after Emanuel dropped out.
Two candidates who have been in the race longer have raised slightly more than Mendoza. Former Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has reported raising $895,000 while former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot has tallied $832,000 in contributions, records show.
Also on Monday, Mendoza reported a $25,000 donation from Joseph A. Power Jr., a partner with the Chicago personal injury law firm Power Rogers & Smith. She reported $10,000 from John D. Cooney, a partner with the personal injury law firm Cooney & Conway, and $10,000 from Kathy Byrne, who is a a co-chair of Mendoza’s campaign and the daughter of the late Jane Byrne, the only woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor. Byrne is an attorney at Cooney & Conway, where she has focused on asbestos litigation.
General Iron’s North Side scrap yard is bordered on three sides by property that has been acquired for the planned mixed-use development dubbed Lincoln Yards. It used to be surrounded by steel mills, leather tanneries and other industries that dominated the area but have moved on as it’s become increasingly residential.
The facility is under investigation by the EPA for the third time since the late 1990s. The EPA required General Iron to conduct detailed air pollution testing in May after researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found alarming levels of lung-damaging particulate matter downwind from the scrap shredder, the Chicago Tribune previously reported.
Over a seven-year period, the Labkon family has spread more than $500,000 in political contributions to Emanuel, aldermanic candidates and other local politicians, the Tribune reported last year. Howard Labkon contributed $100,000 to Emanuel’s campaign while four other family members contributed $5,000 each.
The Labkons also have hired a dozen City Hall lobbyists, including John Borovicka, Emanuel’s onetime congressional district director, Victor Reyes, who was a political operative under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and John R. Daley, the son of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and the nephew of the former mayor and mayoral candidate Bill Daley.
Chicago Tribune’s Michael Hawthorne contributed.