CHICAGO — Election night in Chicago is less than a week away. But 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno has been in a battle against himself in recent days.
On Feb. 4, WGN Investigates confronted the alderman after a woman said she was thrown in jail in January. She spent a night behind bars after Moreno reported the car she was driving was stolen. The car was his and the two had been dating. Moreno called the whole thing a “miscommunication.”
This week, a former employee is accusing him of being inappropriate in front of staff four years ago.
Belia Portillo, 27, said she is sharing her story from 2015 now because she finally moved out of the 1st Ward. Her alderman there was also her boss for about a year a half. She said getting the job as an intern was her dream job. By the time she left, she was making $25,000 a year and wanted nothing to do with politics ever again.
“I didn’t mind the money. It was my dream job. I really liked being there,” she said.
Portillo said she really liked working for the 1st Ward and its alderman because Moreno was a progressive and she liked what he stood for. But four years after leaving Moreno’s ward office, Portillo complained about an unstable environment. She described an alderman who was regularly up and down and a political climate that grayed the line between official and political business too often. She worked on Moreno’s social media communication.
“Their way of skirting around it, was to say, ‘OK clock out, post this campaign related material to Facebook, then clock back in and resume your regular duties,’” she said.
There was at least one problem with this, she said.
“I don’t get paid hourly. I don’t get to clock out, punch a card … the entire time I’m being paid by taxpayer money.”
Then in the summer of 2015, the 1st Ward staff worked the gay pride parade. They ended the day together at the restaurant and bar El Jardin.
Portillo said Moreno said the following:
We’re going to have a contest. Everyone is going to 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.
Portillo said everyone knew it was a joke, but it was more than inappropriate to a group of staff present at the time.
"I looked at my friend mind-blown,” she said. “'Can you believe the words that came out of his mouth?’ It’s not OK. Even in the context of a joke, because if I don’t laugh, he thinks less of me and I could be fired. Any number of things could happen.”
In a statement Moreno denied any such words were ever uttered.
Moreno responded with the following statement to the woman's claims:
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. 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.”
Moreno said one of his volunteers present at the same bar that same day calls Portillo’s story “false.” And any such contest allegedly suggested by the alderman as absurd.
For her part, Portillo said she is completely disillusioned with politics. Her short-lived career was enough to steer her toward IT work instead.
“I can’t assassinate a character that is already dead. The man that I knew, that I admired, died a long time ago,” she said. “I’m not assassinating his character. I’m bringing it to light.”