Sweet Deals for Daley Backer at O'Hare

April 18, 2007
Minister a partner in two lucrative airport concessions just renewed by City Hall

An influential black minister who has provided pivotal campaign support for Mayor Daley is a 30 percent managing partner in a pair of lucrative O'Hare Airport concessions awarded by City Hall.

Since 1996, the Rev. Clay Evans has been a partner in The Grove, a nut and dried-fruit concession at O'Hare that once counted former Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Elzie Higginbottom, Daley's leading fund-raiser in the black community, as a part-owner.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that The Grove was among 60 percent of airport merchants operating on expired contracts.

Now that the contracts have been put out to bid, The Grove has signed a new five-year concession agreement with Evans as its 30 percent-share "managing partner." The stores will move to higher-traffic locations and add ice cream, frozen yogurt and smoothies to the menu, with a projected $1.03 million in annual sales.

Natural Energy Unlimited of Chicago, the joint venture that includes Evans, will also operate two Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores at O'Hare, under another five-year concession agreement expected to generate $1.1 million in annual sales.


Rocky Mountain is a new concept for O'Hare that offers chocolates made on the premises, confections and caramel apples. That will fill the chocolate void at O'Hare created by the 2004 bankruptcy of Fannie May Candies, which had four stores at O'Hare.

Evans, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, engineered the 1995 endorsement of Daley by a coalition of 100 black ministers even though he was mayoral challenger Joseph Gardner's pastor.

Four years later, Evans was at Daley's side once again as he declared his candidacy for a fourth term. That endorsement was equally significant, since Evans' longtime ally, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., supported U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush in that campaign.

Evans could not be reached for comment on the new O'Hare concessions. He attended but did not speak at a marathon Aviation Committee hearing last week where the concessions were approved.

Aviation Department spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said Natural Energy Unlimited is 70 percent owned by Michelle Dukler, who is a certified ACDBE, or airport concessions disadvantaged business enterprise.

"NEU is 30 percent owned by Clay Evans, who is an equity owner and not a certified ACDBE. While Mr. Evans is an owner, he is not required to have 'meaningful' participation in the business, since we are not counting his ACDBE participation for this contract," Abrams said.

Dukler told the Sun-Times that Evans "doesn't have to [do anything] if he doesn't want to. Any DBE who owns 51 percent should manage the day-to-day business. I'm the DBE of the partnership. He has other functions." She declined to identify those duties.

The role of minority concessionaires at O'Hare became an issue two years ago when then-interim Chief Procurement Officer Mary Dempsey targeted such political heavyweights as Higginbottom, Tony Rezko and Billy Goat owner Sam Sianis and accused O'Brien's Restaurants of minority business fraud.