Lobbyist Michael Axelrod of consulting group GPG Strategies appears to have strategized with Mayor Rory Hoskins in defense of GPG’s record ahead of an August meeting during which the company’s contract was expected to come under fire, an email to the mayor shows.
The email, with the subject line “talking points,” contained a two-and-a-half-page list of bullet-pointed information with an attached presentation called “Mike A talking points or power point slides as suggested by Rory H.” The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Review.
The talking points offered an outline that suggested how GPG should introduce itself, describe which services it offered and present its deliverables.
“[Sic] (maybe include two or three per slide? I am providing approximate dates),” the email said.
Both the body of the email and the presentation offered examples to show that Axelrod’s firm lobbied the Chicago Transit Authority, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Office and other state and federal agencies on behalf of the village.
“Forest Park Mayor has since worked with River Forest and Oak Park mayors to secure $3M for removal of the decaying water tower located at the end of the CTA Green Line yard.”
“Fall 2020, GPG arranged for in-person meeting for FP mayor and the Deputy Governor charged with infrastructure and transportation portfolio. Topic: pending Altenheim grant. Result: included the speedy release of $750K grant despite the Covid-19 budget revisions and halting of many appropriations.”
“September 2022, GPG facilitated a short introductory for Mayor Hoskins to greet White House Infrastructure Czar Landrieu.”
It also touched on the fate of the U.S. Army Reserve building on Roosevelt Road, which was vacated in June 2022. In July that year, Hoskins proposed turning the building into a new village hall. The proposal was defeated after commissioners expressed concerns about the costs and how much environmental remediation it would require. The issue hasn’t been discussed since August 2022, but the presentation showed that conversations were expected to resume this fall.
Forest Park hired GPG Strategies in August 2019 and agreed to pay the company $2,000 a month for its services. Axelrod is the son of former President Barack Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod. Before GPG’s hire, former village administrator Matt O’Shea served as the village lobbyist for eight years.
According to the presentation, Forest Park is GPG Strategies’ only municipal client. It is not unusual for a lobbyist to provide municipalities a record of work it has produced. GPG, however, had not turned over detailed reports Commissioner Jessica Voogd had been requesting during the past few years.
It is unusual for a sitting mayor to offer a village contractor guidance on how to defend its records, complete with dates of service.
Neither Hoskins nor Axelrod responded to repeated requests for comment.
Voogd publicly raised the issue of whether the village was getting its money worth from GPG in August. She had wanted payment to them paused, saying she had been requesting proof of its services for the past four years. Those had gone ignored, she said.
At that meeting, Hoskins appeared to defend Axelrod’s services.
“He does provide an ongoing service,” Hoskins said. “He has a stylistic difference from [former village lobbyist] Matt O’Shea, and O’Shea did give us voluminous reports, and I get that GPG does things a little bit differently. There’s a lot of communication probably shared with different commissioners over the years. He sets up a lot of meetings. We had different meetings with the legislators.”
Hoskins said that GPG was “very instrumental” in helping Forest Park get state funding to demolish the vacant buildings on the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim property.
“This community was pretty much first in line in terms of getting grants at the period where the state was really reassessing a lot of its grant-making in light of COVID,” he added.
The commissioners opted to pay GPG with the stipulation that the reports must be handed over or all future payments would be stopped. By the beginning of October, no reports were turned in, leading the village to pause payments from September onward. It is not clear whether GPG is still under contract with the village.
The village council never heard the presentation attached to the email. But Voogd said that shortly before the Oct. 24 village council meeting, she found a document in her mailbox that largely mimicked the presentation. The document, she told the review, is titled “GPG Strategies, LLC Strategic Plan for the Village of Forest Park.”
While Voogd said that she had no idea who put it in the mailbox, Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin told the Review that she saw Hoskins put the copy of the document in the staff mailbox of every village commissioner.
The Review shared the presentation pages it obtained with Voogd, and she said that her document “contains almost all of the information” from that presentation.
“There were a few omissions, but it is almost word for word,” Voogd said.
She added that she didn’t know who put it in her mailbox.
Whether the document satisfies her request for more information isn’t clear, because, she said, she needed some information from interim Village Administrator Rachell Entler and Hoskins before she could decide that.
Melin-Rogovin offered a similar response, saying that, while she was glad to have received it, she needed time to look over it.
“The work that someone like a lobbyist does for a village like Forest Park is strategic and important and takes place over weeks and months,” she said. “If we continue with his services I’d like to understand how his approach will benefit the village specifically.”
Axelrod contributed $500 to Hoskins’ campaign in 2022, shortly after the mayor announced that he was running for election.