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Electoral Coup d'Etats
The dark side of elected condo/community association boards
Monday, 18 October 2010
Corruption is demonstrated through over-assessments, sweetheart deal contracts, lucrative kickback arrangements, and cheated residents through blatant profiteering and rigged elections to assure enough board members go along.
They're commonplace in developing countries in different forms, at times through what Edward Herman calls "Demonstration Elections," the title of his 1980 book on sham ones in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Vietnam. They also occur regularly in countries like Egypt, where for the past 20 years president Hosni Mubarak has gotten around 98% of the vote when he runs. Sadam's Iraq, much of the Middle East, and elsewhere work the same way, holding mock elections pretending to be real, while in the West, especially America, real elections are, in fact, mock ones.
Of course, elections held in occupied countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, install puppet regimes, not legitimate ones, both countries run from Washington, not Baghdad or Kabul.
America's history is rife with electoral fraud, in 1824 for example, the one called the "Corrupt Bargain." Four major candidates were involved, all from the same Democratic-Republican party, today's Democrats who are also Republicans who are also Democrats in our one-party state with two wings - plus the lunatic fringe Tea Party offshoot likely to send extremist morons to Congress, joining legions of others already there.
When all 1824 votes were tallied, no winner emerged, so under the 12th Amendment, it fell to the House to decide from the top three. On February 9, 1925, after a month of furious lobbying, members chose John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson (later elected president in 1828 and again in 1832), Henry Clay and William Crawford. Outrage followed because deal-makers prevailed over voters. It showed up when Adams nominated Clay as Secretary of State, infuriating Jackson supporters. Thereafter, Clay was dogged for striking a corrupt bargain, depriving Jackson, the highest vote getter of the four.
The 1876 election was even worse because Democrat Samuel Tilden got today's equivalent of over two million more votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, and with 20 disputed Electoral College votes uncounted led by 184 - 165. Yet a secretly struck "bargain of 1877" to abandon Reconstruction and sell out freed Blacks handed the election to Hayes.
Another example was Lyndon Johnson's 1948 senatorial primary win - until the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the most blatant example of electoral theft in US history, according to some observers. Historian Robert Caro is one, documenting how Johnson miraculously overcame a 20,000 vote deficit to gain an 87 vote victory. According to Caro, it wasn't "the only election....ever stolen, but there was never such brazen thievery," and as they say, the rest is history.
With today's modern technology, electoral fraud is easier than ever, Stephen Spoonamore, a leading cyber crime expert explaining how the "structures" of Diebold and other electronic voting machines are inherently flawed. As a result, "There is a very strong argument" that the 2000 and 2004 elections were "electronically stolen, the hanging chads were just a distraction." Diebold machines especially "are brilliantly designed (to) steal elections," so losers are declared winners, and not just for president.
Clear evidence shows the 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen, the Supreme Court initially complicit by halting the Florida recount on spurious grounds, and handing the election to Bush. Months later, when it was too late to matter, the final tally showed Gore carried Florida and the election.
The 2004 election was worse because technology stole it with electronic ease. Again Florida and Ohio made the difference, depriving winner Kerry of the presidency. In both elections, media reports produced a daily flow of disinformation masquerading as real news, hailing the illegitimate winner when final results were announced, few knowing at the time they'd been scammed.
The 2008 election mirrored 1976, a year Carter was picked to win, Ford to lose, for a one-term post-Nixon interregnum before Republicans regained command. After eight years under Bush, a planned change of pace anointed Obama. The McCain/Palin ticket was absurd. Discord rankled Republican ranks. Many party faithful despised McCain because of his temperament, unpredictability, legendary temper, and genius for making enemies. As for Palin, AP said she knew more about fishing than world and national affairs. Others called her an extremist, bigoted moron. In combination, they cinched an easy Obama win, decided, in fact, before voters went to the polls
American democracy is pure fantasy, elections and their run-up mere kabuki theater, political consultants, PR wizards, and the major media sharing lead roles. Everything is pre-scripted. Secrecy and back room deals substitute for a free, fair and open process. Party bosses chose candidates. Big money owns them. Key outcomes are predetermined, and cheated voters get the best democracy money can buy.
Much of this surprises few, at least those thoughtful enough to understand realpolitic's darker side. What may surprise is another kind of electoral fraud, taking place in condominium board elections, at least in Chicago, a city known for corrupt politics since the 19th century.
Endemic in more recent times, it's because lax Illinois campaign finance laws allow it. State residents say it's just the way it is, and since 1972 alone, three governors (besides Blagojevich), state legislators, two congressmen, 19 Cook County judges, 30 aldermen, and many others were convicted of corruption.
Since 1970, in fact, around 1,000 public officials and complicit businessmen were caught and convicted, proving former Chicago alderman Paddy Bauler right when he said, "Chicago ain't ready for reform." Over time, only its form, methods, and stakes have changed under a one-party system run by Democrats governing like Republicans.
Condo Board Electoral Coups
At 100 stories, Chicago landmark John Hancock Center is America's sixth tallest building home to offices, retailers, restaurants, other services, and about 700 condominiums in its upper floors. Opened in 1969 as rental units, they became condos in 1973 under Sudler Property Management, Inc., its web site saying:
Omitted was Sudler's dark side through over-assessments, sweetheart deal contracts, lucrative kickback arrangements, and cheated residents through blatant profiteering and rigged elections to assure enough board members go along, don't object, or aren't informed so don't know.
Preferred are a committed hard core, supplemented by uninformed indifferent members, others who rarely attend meetings, many who live part or most of the year away, and overall know little about building activities or how Sudler mismanages them - for its benefit, not residents to be exploited for maximum profit.
The 40 year saga is too long and involved for an article. As a result, it's simplified, focusing on selected events and important recent ones, but make no mistake. They reflect decades of mismanagement, misrepresentation, manipulation, a lack of ethics, and blatant fraud at the expense of residents, most unaware they've been scammed.
On October 26, 1991, Chicago's Near North News headlined, "Judge halts election at Hancock Center." Judge Monica Doyle issued a restraining order following charges that the election was illegal under a 1991 Illinois law, mandating all candidates be treated equally.
Specifically, "official slates" (including management endorsed ones) are prohibited, and all candidates must run at-large, not one per floor as then Hancock bylaws stipulated. As a result then, and in the 2009 (and perhaps 2010) election(s), legitimate candidates were improperly bumped to exclude ones Sudler designated persona non grata.
On January 19, 2003, former Hancock attorney Mark Pearlstein headlined a Chicago Tribune article, "Validity of board election may be challenged," saying he ran for his building's board, then belatedly discovered election irregularities, including:
Under Section 18(b)(10) of the Illinois Condominium Property Act, candidates may be present during tabulations. However, managers are prohibited from participating. Doing so is illegal. It's why most associations use independent accountants.
The 2009 board election had many irregularities, one affecting this writer, a 40 year resident, directly. Enlisted, under false pretenses against an alleged building manager conspiracy/smear campaign, it was, in fact, a scheme to elect Sudler's handpicked slate.
As a result, unwittingly, a supportive letter was written and distributed to building residents, my instructions clearly saying it was to be from me alone, with no letterhead, unconnected to Sudler, other residents, or building politics - specifically the days away condo board election and a Sudler endorsed slate, one vetted as rubber-stamp.
Events unfolded as follows:
A phone call alerted me that a cabal of residents, including board members, wanted the building manager smeared and ousted for selfish reasons they best could explain. Appalled, I agreed to write and have distributed a letter endorsing him, urging residents back candidates supporting us, not their self-interest, demanding the manager be retained, and stressing it's our building and our choice.
The conspiracy was bogus. No smear campaign existed then or now. I was defrauded and unscrupulously used. As a result, I acted unwittingly against my own best interests and that of most residents. It gets worse.
Without my knowledge or consent, my content was altered, saying I endorsed an enclosed slate. Doing so constituted fraud and perhaps forgery. Sudler's preferred candidates won. Good ones representing all residents lost, and the responsible individual became board president, a position letting him manipulate board activities advantageously, unethically and fraudulently for Sudler, not us, what, in fact, he's done.
To clear my name and set the record straight, I insisted that a new letter I'd write be immediately distributed to all residents. I later learned many didn't get it, but it was too late to matter. The damage was done. My initial letter had impact. As a result, Sudler's slate won convincingly. The building remained mismanaged. My name was besmirched, and it took many months to regain my reputation, those angered by my action realizing I'd been had, and unwittingly used to represent Sudler, not building residents.
In addition, prior to the election, an endorsed building manager slate went to about 200 residents, attorney Pearlstein calling it "improper because it exceed(ed) the authority of the Agent under the existing management contract. Further, the manager is an agent of the Board of Directors, and the Board....is barred from endorsing candidates."
However, the aspirant board president, subsequently elected, did so ahead of the 2009 and 2010 elections. Without saying so specifically, Pearlstein suggested the 2009 (and perhaps 2010) one was invalid because Illinois condo law was violated. Results should thus be annulled. Residents should be notified, and a new election held in strict compliance with state law.
Action so far taken includes an ethics complaint filed against the condo manager with the Community Associations Institute (CAI), "a national organization dedicated to fostering vibrant, competent, harmonious community associations (by) providing education and resources to the volunteer homeowners who govern community associations and the professional managers, community management firms and other professionals and companies that provide products and services to associations."
CAI has power to sanction or defrock condo managers if ethics or other serious code of conduct violations are proved. Its Professional Manager Code of Ethics is detailed and specific, requiring managers among other duties to:
A lawsuit was also filed, now in "voluntary dismissal without prejudice" status pending further developments to proceed any time. Above all, aggrieved residents want others informed of shenanigans committed harming their interests. Our home should be run for everyone, not Sudler or complicit board members alone.
Dirty federal, state and local politics are commonplace. Surprisingly, condo elections are also tainted, at least in at Chicago's Hancock Center, a city landmark for more than one reason.
A Final Comment
On May 6, 2009, Chicago Sun Times columnist David Roeder headlined, "Condos to kick kickbacks?" saying area condo management companies and building managers may be profiting from "contracts (let to) preferred vendors."
"Call it a procurement fee," he said, "a kickback, or pay-to-play for the private sector," a practice that's disturbingly common. According to Tim Sack, plumbing operations vice president for TMS Mechanical, Inc., a city high-rise vendor:
"To me, it's stealing from the people you are working for," up to 15% or more of let contracts that over time to enough vendors can amount to enormous sums, and it's one reason assessments are so high.
Without admitting wrongdoing, Joe Armenio, president of Sudler Management Services, acknowledges that the company maintains a preferred vendor list. Roeder, however, explained that property management firms like the Habitat Co, Draper & Kramer (D & K), and the Building Group have no "payback" schemes. D & K's CEO, Forrest Bailey, said he negotiates bulk purchase deals with different vendors and passes on savings to its buildings. Other firms, like Sudler, exploit them and their residents for profit, most unit owners unaware they've been scammed, let alone for decades like at Hancock.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on October 18, 2010.