ENGLEWOOD — A string of political downfalls in Chicago is leading to a windfall for a struggling veteran’s center in Englewood that serves black Marines.
As local politicians scramble to shed campaign cash given to them by once powerful but now embattled aldermen Ed Burke and Danny Solis, the Montford Point Veteran Center is reaping the benefits.
On Thursday, mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza announced she was donating $141,550 in campaign cash to the veteran’s center at 7011 S. Vincennes Ave., which revealed in recent weeks that its mounting tax debt and repair bills could force it to shut down after more than 50 years.
Some of the money was donated to Mendoza by Solis (25th), who reportedly wore a wire to help federal investigators build a case against his former ally Burke (14th).
Solis himself had been under investigation before he agreed to secretly record his conversations with Burke, who has since been charged by the feds with attempted extortion, NBC reported.
“It’s unfortunate for those individuals, but it has led to some significant donations here,” said Sharon Stokes-Parry, Montford Marine Corps Association president. “And we’re glad about those donations.”
Home to members of the country’s first African-American Marine Corps, the veteran’s center has been in danger of foreclosure, according to Stokes-Parry. She started raising money to save the building in November, but until Mendoza’s donation, they were more than $170,000 short of their goal.
Stokes-Parry said she got a call from Mendoza herself Thursday asking if the center would accept a large donation.
“I thought it was going to be $10,000,” Stokes-Parry said. “Then when she said the number … my jaw dropped to the floor. I was like, ‘Is this a joke? Who is playing a joke on me?'”
The large donation from Mendoza means the center’s chances of survival are now a lot better — they’re 80-90 percent to their fundraising goal. They’re currently working with Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) to hopefully secure the building, and any remaining money will be spent taking care of veterans and improving the facility.
“We always said there was a Montford Point angel out there, we just didn’t know it would be Susana Mendoza,” Stokes-Parry said.
This isn’t the first donation to the center that came after Burke was accused of shaking down a Burger King.
Earlier this month, after the Burke charges were revealed, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who is running for re-election unopposed, washed his hands of $1,450 in campaign cash received from Burke’s political committees over the years. The recipient of Waguespack’s donation? Montford Point, which had just been in the news because of its tax problems.
Now it’s Solis-linked campaign donations flowing to the struggling center.
Over a span of two years, Solis, who chairs the City Council’s Zoning Committee and is an ally to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wore a wire to record more than a dozen conversations to assist federal investigators build a case against Burke, the Sun-Times reported Wednesday.
Mendoza’s campaign said she received $73,900 from Solis’ political organizations and $67,650 from the Vendor Assistance Program, founded by Patti Solis Doyle, the alderman’s sister.
“These were legal contributions that were fully disclosed as is required by law,” Mendoza said in a statement. “Nonetheless, given new information that has come to light regarding these individuals and organizations, my value system dictates that I immediately donate these funds to this worthy cause.”
Ald. Sawyer has been calling on other elected officials in Chicago and beyond to step up and fight for the center, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years. Sawyer, who donated his own money to the center, hopes that once the building is saved, the focus can shift to addressing necessary repairs so that it can serve veterans for years to come.
“We have to do more for black veterans,” he said.
Montford Point was the segregated part of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. where roughly 20,000 African-Americans Marines received their military training from 1942-1949.
After a reunion in 1965, Montford Point veterans from World War II created the Chicago Montford Point Marine Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving veterans and the community. They eventually settled in the Vincennes building.