CHICAGO — A Northwest Side alderperson reported a Streets and Sanitation official in her ward after he was caught on voicemail calling a rabbi an anti-Semitic slur, leading to the employee leaving his longtime city job.
Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) reported her ward superintendent, Andrew Szorc, to the city’s Department of Human Resources after she was made aware of the voicemail in September, she said.
The incident was investigated by the city’s Office of the Inspector General, which recommended the Department of Streets and Sanitation fire Szorc and place him on the city’s do-not-hire list, according to the office’s quarterly report, which was released last month. Street and Sanitation officials agreed. Szorc retired before he could be fired.
Szorc could not be reached for comment.
Natalie Kuriata, a spokesperson for the Inspector General, confirmed the office received a complaint from Nugent about the incident.
“I had a responsibility to report it, which I did,” Nugent told Block Club. “The community was obviously very upset about this and wanted it investigated … and they were also very supportive of the process of the investigation. And so we all remained quiet so that the inspector general could do [its] job.”
Although the quarterly report does not mention Szorc by name or say when the incident occurred, a summary report of the case obtained by Northwest Side political watchdog People’s Fabric states the incident happened Aug. 31 and was reported to the office Sept. 14.
Szorc had been trying to get ahold of a rabbi at a local school to discuss trash and overgrown weeds on campus, according to the report. After leaving a message, Szorc did not hang up and the voicemail continued recording. He was heard saying to another person, “Yeah, yeah, I left two messages for [unintelligible]. He didn’t call me back. F—ing Jew,” according to the report.
The rabbi who received the voicemail forwarded it to another rabbi, and they brought it to the attention of the alderperson, according to the report and Nugent. The alderperson declined to say who the rabbis are.
When officials with the Office of the Inspector General interviewed Szorc, he admitted it was him on the voicemail and told investigators “a stroke has affected his speech, so he ‘maybe wasn’t saying it right,'” according to the report. He said he meant to say “f—ing Jewish school” due to his frustration with trying to get the school cleaned for two weeks with no response, according to the summary report.
The Inspector General determined Szorc’s statement violated city rules prohibiting discrimination, especially as a representative of the city and while on the clock, according to the report.
Documents show the Inspector General’s office completed its investigation and delivered its recommendations Dec. 21 to Streets and Sanitation. Szorc took a leave of absence from Dec. 20, the day before the report was finalized, to when he retired in February, according to his city employment history obtained by People’s Fabric and shared with Block Club.
Szorc stepped down from his role Feb. 23, department spokesperson Mimi Simon said. He’s since been placed on the city’s do-not-hire list, she said.
It’s not clear why there was a three-month delay between the report and the discipline. Streets and Sanitation officials declined to comment, citing personnel matters.
Szorc worked for the city since 1984. He used to work as the 32nd Ward superintendent and worked as the 39th Ward superintendent since 2013, according to the Office of the Inspector General’s summary report.
Nugent said some questioned why she did not take action against Szorc before he retired. While ward superintendents work closely with each alderman, they are employed by Streets and Sanitation and do not work directly for aldermanic offices. They are still hired and fired by the city department, not alderpeople.
Nugent said a new superintendent began April 1.
Rabbi and Jewish community activist Shlomo Soroka, who was not involved in the incident, said the Jewish community was offended by Szorc’s comments and was glad to hear the city took action. He has worked with Nugent in the past and called her a strong ally.
“When we are silent in that rhetoric, it sends a message that anti-Semitism will be tolerated. … We need to come out against it,” Soroka said.
Soroka also said he felt the incident should not be blown out of proportion and should not be politicized, noting there are “far more egregious” anti-Semitic incidents that have hurt the Jewish community locally and nationally.
Two Jewish businesses, two synagogues and a Jewish school were defaced in West Ridge earlier this year. Last month, CNN reported the number reports of assaults, vandalism and harassment targeting Jewish communities and individuals in the United States in 2021 was the highest on record.
“I am not surprised someone would speak like that when [they] don’t listen to what they are saying and let their guard down,” Soroka said. “While I was offended, this is not something new. We deal with far more dangerous infractions.”
Nugent said the upsetting comment was rattling for the rabbi involved and it is important to speak up about it on behalf of her Jewish constituents.
“I’m devastated that they even had to experience this,” Nugent said. “There’s no place for hate speech or anti-Semitism in the city or the 39th Ward.”
Some neighbors said Szorc’s controversy is not surprising, given past behavior.
In 2019, public documents shared with Block Club show Szorc issued more than $600 in fines to a Jefferson Park family — despite them not living in the 39th Ward — for failing to maintain their garden and having tall weeds.
The family contested the tickets and showed evidence their plants were not weeds and their garden was maintained. The pest inspector found no evidence of a “rodent problem” and the city’s case was disproven.
The tickets were issued to the resident, a vocal critic of Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), at the request of his ward superintendent, Charles Sikanich, according to texts between the superintendent, the alderman and his former staffer shared with Block Club.
“Drew gave them $900 in tickets …. . That’s not grass, that’s some kind of plant or something the city allows you to have,” Sikanich texted to Gardiner and his aide. “I have make sure [the resident is] dealt with.”
And in 2007, when Szorc worked in the 32nd Ward, Windy City Times reported he insulted voters for then-candidate Scott Waguespack at a polling site.
“Szorc told people going in and out of the polling place [at Holstein Park] to not vote for the guy with the f– brother, the f—– brother, the queer brother,” Sylvestre Waguespack told the paper. Sylvestre Waguespack is gay and was the financial director of his brother’s campaign.
Nugent said she was not aware of these or any other past incidents or derogatory comments from Szorc, and she retained him to work in her ward because he was there previously and had a long-standing career with the department.
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