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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Joe Moreno’s Bad Behavior ‘An Open Secret’ In 1st Ward, Opponent Says After Alderman’s Ex-Aide Accuses Him Of Sexual Harassment

One of Moreno's ex-aides claims the alderman once asked his staffers to take their shirts off at a bar for a pay raise "contest." Meanwhile Moreno blasted the "absurd, false charges."

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) speaks at a candidate forum.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Mere days before the election, one of Joe Moreno’s ex-aides is accusing the 1st Ward alderman of sexual harassment.

The former aide, named Belia Portillo, told WBEZ the alderman once asked his staffers to take their shirts off at a bar for a pay raise “contest.”

According to Portillo, the alderman said: “OK, we’re gonna have a contest. Everyone’s gonna have to take off their shirts. The girls can keep their bras on. And if your body is better than mine, then you get a raise.”

But Moreno’s campaign denied that the 2014 incident Portillo described ever happened.

“A week before the election, a former employee and current campaign ally of my opponent has made absurd, false charges that can be refuted by witnesses,” Moreno said in a written statement.

“In a 2015 staff ‘exit memo’, which Belia Portillo leaked to the press, she claimed that her departure from my office was due to “less pay… inadequate benefits and an endless stream of service requests (which is) is entirely too much to shoulder.” In 2019, six days before election day, truth has morphed into character assassination.”

After the news surfaced, Daniel La Spata, who’s running against Moreno in the upcoming election, issued a statement of his own.

“Joe Moreno’s behavior described in this report will surprise no one — it’s been an open secret around the 1st Ward for a long time. He has shown no hesitation to abuse the powers of his office, this is just a newly-revealed level of disgusting conduct,” La Spata said in a written statement.

In response, Moreno’s campaign shot back: “We don’t respond to racists who pose in a photo dressed as a banana with African-American children and think that’s funny.”

Last week, La Spata caught heat for appearing in a Facebook photo wearing a banana costume while surrounded by smiling African-American children and people wearing monkey masks in Millennium Park.

“Whether it’s Ralph Northam in Virginia, or an aldermanic candidate here in Chicago, there should be no place in our politics for this kind of blatant racist imagery,” Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said of the photo.

La Spata apologized before taking the photo down.

The photo was taken in 2013. Portillo’s Moreno story also happened several years ago, in 2014.

Portillo, who handled social media for Moreno, told WBEZ that the alderman asked staffers to take their shirts off at a post-parade staff gathering at El Jardin, a Mexican restaurant and bar in Lakeview.

The staffers didn’t end up taking their shirts off, Portillo said, but the alderman continued to make comments that made people uncomfortable.

“He’s just kind of pointing around the table and saying, ‘You’re OK, your body’s fine,’” Portillo told WBEZ.

Portillo ended up resigning from her job in September in 2015. She did not mention the incident in her resignation letter, which she shared with DNAinfo.

“Adding microaggressions and public beratement on top of inadequate benefits and an endless stream of service requests is entirely too much to shoulder,” Portillo wrote in the resignation letter.

Portillo said she supports La Spata for 1st Ward alderman, but insists that’s not why she came forward now, just days from the election.

“I felt very unsafe,” Portillo is quoted as saying in the WBEZ article. “That is something that has lingered with me and prevented me from returning to politics for a very long time.”

La Spata called Portillo’s story “horrifying.”

“I stand with this brave woman and any other victims of Joe Moreno’s sexual misconduct,” the first-time candidate said in a written statement.

“The former staffer’s account of Joe Moreno’s repulsive actions is horrifying and speaks to a culture in politics and our society that needs to end. He must go.”

Moreno has been making headlines in the lead-up to the election.

Chicago Police are investigating two separate incidents involving the alderman: One on whether the alderman falsified a police report when he told them his Audi was stolen this winter and the other on whether he impersonated a cop last summer.

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