‘Bank On,’ Quarters Boyle and the transparency revolution: A Q&A with Comptroller Susana Mendoza

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‘Bank On,’ Quarters Boyle and the transparency revolution: A Q&A with Comptroller Susana Mendoza

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

By Rana Schenke, Managing Editor

While in the area for the Du Quoin State Fair, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza visited the Daily Egyptian office. She took the time to sit down with the editorial staff and answer a few questions. 

Daily Egyptian: You [and the governor] just signed the new “Bank On” initiative into practice; can you tell us a little more about that?

Susana Mendoza: Yes, we’re very excited about that. In Illinois, there is a huge population of people that are under-banked, they’re […] under-resourced in many ways. We’re talking about lower-income communities who […] for multiple reasons just don’t bank. 

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It could be that they don’t trust banks, maybe they’re immigrant populations who grew up with the mentality that you can’t really trust a bank and your money’s not secure, or it’s just people who were disincentivized before because of high banking fees. 

[They] ultimately go and cash their small paychecks at payday lenders or currency exchanges that charge a significant percentage of that check, but worst [is] when they’re going to payday lenders and loan shark type of outfits that charge them huge percentage rates. 

So to give you an example, the average household that does not bank [and] does not have their money in banking facilities, is losing about $40,000 [in a lifetime] in fees that they’re paying for their own money.

As a comptroller’s office, we host […] financial symposiums and financial literacy workshops, but we also want to do more than that. 

We’re going to have a window [on our website] that will have vetted the banks in Illinois, what the products are that they offer, and which banks have products that are low to no minimum fee, low to no overdraft fee charges, that accept people into their banks that have had a negative credit history.

They can help rebuild that credit history, walk them through what their products are that again allow them easy entry with little to no fees so that they can get away from the predatory lending side of things and actually learn how to save money and build wealth. 

This is like a no-brainer, it’s a win-win for everyone and what we’re going to do is essentially certify that these banks meet certain requirements that would be good products for people who right now are not banked. 

People might say that will help drive business to banks; yeah, I’ve been very clear that of course we want our banks to be successful like we would want any business to be successful, but this is not a bill for bankers, it’s a bill for consumers. 

Ultimately, we like to see more regular mom and dads or young adults learn early the benefits of banking and have the ability to do it for little to no money at all. 

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

DE: Your confrontation of John ‘Quarters’ Boyle was very inspiring to watch. Can you tell us that story? 

SM: Yeah! So I was out for a bike ride with my husband and at the time my 4-year-old son — our 4-year-old son, I should say that, he’s ours — […] we loved to cycle and we were in Chicago and had just left our house.

Essentially, there’s this really kind of dangerous intersection, and we were stopped at it because we’re legal, law-abiding cyclists, and we were at a red light, and this truck plows through the red light. 

I was closest to the actual road, we were on the side of it. And then this guy just plows through, it’s like you almost felt like the wind right next to you, right? And [my husband’s] like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like “Yeah, jeez, that guy just ran a red light!”

So, he blows through the red light and my initial thought was like “Oh, it’s not cool,” but you know, maybe the guy’s distracted and he’s looking at his phone. Hey, I mean at some point, people run red lights, right? You’re not thinking the worst case. 

But then we hear like a crash and about two blocks down, there’s a four-car accident, and guess who’s at the back of the accident, it’s this guy that plowed through the red light. 

So, there’s this man and woman, [the man is] in front of this truck trying to make sure he doesn’t flee the scene, because the guy wanted to flee the scene of the accident, and then there’s this woman who’s saying “Please help me, help me!”

My husband and I had just ridden up on it, so I stopped to help and I didn’t think about it, but I just told my husband please get to the side of the road because he had our little boy […], and I took out my camera to take pictures, but then the guy started moving his truck and I’m like “Whoa, I better start taping.”

I started taping and by then he wasn’t moving the truck anymore […], and we’re waiting and waiting [for the police] and you know there’s a lot of stuff going on in Chicago, so I don’t blame the police for not getting there immediately, but it did seem like so long. 

I’m sure it was just a few minutes, but this guy kept like inching his car, right, and eventually he’s gonna move on this guy, and I was videotaping him, and he does, and I felt terrible that […] the man who was trying to body block this huge F150, you’re not gonna win, right? 

He jumps into the back of the cab as the truck takes off, like he’s T. J. Hooker. 

[He] gets in the back of the cab, [the driver] pulls down maybe a block and a half down the road […] by a convenience store, […] so I get on my bike and I ride down there and then I follow him. 

He gets out of the truck and my thought was […] maybe this guy left the keys in the truck because I thought he was like super lit up, right, he seemed totally drunk or on something, so I go and I get in the car and the keys aren’t in the car.

I didn’t see them dangling on him, because he was so big and kind of awkward that I thought I’ll just snatch the keys from him and run because he won’t catch me. 

But he didn’t have them on him where I could see them, so then I had to follow him into this little convenience store and I was videotaping him at that point […] and I told everybody to be careful, because this guy just almost ran this guy over. 

So long story short, I said “Say cheese” on the camera and that’s kind of what blew up the story, and then the guy took off. 

But I just didn’t let it go with the cops because I’m like, I got the license plate, we have this video, right, we should totally make sure that we arrest this guy. 

Eventually he turned himself in because […] I told him, I got you on video, like he knew he was going to get in trouble, but I didn’t know who the guy was at the time. 

It turns out that he’s this twice-convicted felon in Chicago, but he was super connected to the mob and to the prior Daley administration. To give an example, his nickname is “Quarters” Boyle.

His name is Quarters Boyle because many years ago, he worked for the Illinois tollway authority, and he stole $4 million worth of quarters from taxpayers. Then, he got busted, and he went to jail. 

There’s this famous reporter in Chicago, a columnist named John Kass, who has been writing about Quarters Boyle since I was a kid. So, I knew the name John Boyle as John “Quarters” Boyle, and when the police sent me a photo of the guy, and they said, “Is this the guy?” And I’m like “Yeah, that’s the guy!” 

And they’re like, “This is John Boyle.” And I jokingly said “Not Quarters Boyle, right?” 

I’d never met the guy; [I] didn’t know what he looked like, and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s the guy,” and I’m like “This is crazy, we totally got to get this guy now.”

After he left jail for [embezzlement], Mayor Daley hired him as a supervisor in the department of streets and sanitation, and then he ended up becoming the lead perpetrator of the hired trucks for bribes scandal that Mayor Daley almost got ensnared into. 

The key witness in this case was this mob bookie […] called Nick LoCoco, I mean, you can’t make this stuff up, right? 

So Nick LoCoco […] decides to go for a leisurely horseback ride in the middle of winter during the Super Bowl, right? A mob bookie wouldn’t be doing that, he’d be checking the Super Bowl game. 

So, he decides to go on a leisurely [horseback] ride in the middle of winter in Chicago and conveniently falls off his horse and has massive brain injury and […] dies. It was pure coincidence, I’m sure, and [he] could not then testify at the trial against John Boyle. 

But there was so much evidence that he went to jail anyway. Well obviously, he’s out of jail now because he’s, you know, drunk behind the wheel and smashing into people, but this guy has routinely got a slap on the wrist. 

I mean, any other person would probably still be in jail for the stuff that this guy committed, but he gets out of jail and then gets a totally awesome job in the city of Chicago and then starts a whole [new] racket, and then I just felt like he needs to be made an example of, but at the time when I chased him down, I was just trying to be a good Samaritan. 

But then I got really excited when I knew it was him, and a lot of people thought, “Oh, she’s gonna let it go because it’s this totally connected guy,” and I’m like, “No, even more so! I’m going to double, triple down on this.” 

I went to every single court hearing, and then […] a year and a half later, the state’s attorney dropped two of the three charges on it, and they set him for like nothing. It was like a little slap on the wrist.

I was really upset about it, because I just feel like as a Chicagoan […] and a Cook County resident, I […] want to know that my state’s attorney is fighting for me even if they don’t win the case. 

A lot of times, these guys are just so interested in getting the win in court, but it’s like a loss for residents. 

I’m a little upset about that still, not because of me, but because there were people that were caught in an accident, and I guarantee you they would have dropped all charges if I had not gone to every single court case and made an issue out of this situation.

And so that’s disappointing because you want to know that your government’s there to fight for you and protect the little guy, and […] I’m not the little guy. 

It was the people that were hurt in that accident, and I just happened to be a witness to it all. And I felt like, wow, I’m the comptroller for the state of Illinois who has video, and who is going to every court case. 

If they still drop charges when it’s a high profile thing like that, imagine if it’s just you. You really think that they’re going to listen to you and fight for you? No, and that’s very upsetting to me.

But it is what it is. At least he got a little punishment. I think his punishment was having to see me every time we had to go to court.

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

DE: One of your main tenets is transparency. Do you believe universities should operate at the same level of transparency as government agencies?

SM: Of course! Especially because there’s so many taxpayer dollars going involved, for sure. 

DE: What measures would you suggest in regards to transparency at the university level?

SM: Well, I don’t run the university, so I’d hate to tell you that I have an idea on where to go with that, but I just feel that for my office, we’ve tried to lead the charge and set the example of the type of, I wouldn’t call it just transparency initiatives, we’ve led a transparency revolution in Illinois. 

Our debt transparency act that requires the governor’s state agencies to submit to us more accurate real time accounting of their financials, you’d think that stuff was in place and it wasn’t for all these years. 

We had so many comptrollers and nobody ever challenged this premise that the comptroller, who’s responsible for managing all of the state’s finances, had about 30% visibility of the state’s bills. 

Everything else was kept quiet until they decided to put a billion dollars’ worth of bills on my desk, and I’d be like, “Why are people calling me and […] asking me ‘Where’s my money,’ when I look in my system and we don’t owe them anything.” 

And then they’re telling me, well I owe them $20 million, and I’m like, “What are you talking about? We have a million dollars here that we owe you, where’s the other 19?” The other 19 would be sitting at the state agency level and was blocked from my view. 

And I said, this is absurd. Well this is how it’s always been. Well, how could any other comptroller be okay with that?

So, we set on a path to blow that up, and the governor fought me on that transparency initiative tooth and nail, but we got it done, and now it’s the norm.

I think that the best way to hold government accountable for how they’re spending [your] money is if you know how they’re spending your money. 

If there’s taxpayer money that goes here, every penny of it should be visible to the student body, their parents and taxpayers across the board. 

From your perspective, what are the things that you want to know about as a student? What do you want to know about the numbers? 

Those should be the transparency initiatives that the administration is making available to people. You shouldn’t have to fight the system to know how the investments are being done on your behalf. You should know, and you should have a say in it. 

Isabel Miller | @Isabelmmedia
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks with the Daily Egyptian Editorial Board on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 inside the Communications building.

DE: What would you say is the biggest issue facing college students, particularly in Illinois, at this moment?

SM: Well, I’d say there’s a couple things but they kind of go concurrently; number one is that higher education is so expensive. 

The biggest issue, if you would have asked me this last year, facing Illinois university or prospective university students are your universities even going to be here? 

The uncertainty and unpredictability of whether this school was going to continue to operate, was it going to have to continue to shut down programs rather than expand — that, I think was the biggest issue facing Illinois college kids. 

Hopefully, we have turned that corner now; I have prioritized higher education funding since I became comptroller. 

The very first checks that went out the door when the budget was actually signed […] went to higher education. It was almost $700 million dollars. 

This is a priority for me, and I think that if you look at the latest study about SIUC, specifically, about the return on investment of taxpayer dollars, […] for every dollar that the state invested in higher education, you’re generating over seven dollars in economic stimulus for the area. It’s not just for Carbondale, it’s for the entire region.

If you hated kids and you just don’t think anybody should have an education, if you’d look at the math and you like money, then you should be like “All right, I hate these kids, but if I put a dollar in, I’m gonna get seven back. Awesome! Let’s do this! I love kids all of a sudden.”

Now, I happen to love kids, and I want our youth to have the best quality education so that we can then invest in touting the most skilled workforce in Illinois. 

What [drives] business people here is knowing that they have an amazing skilled workforce; that’s ultimately where we want to be, but also, from a cynic’s point of view, it’s a great return on investment of taxpayer dollars. 

We need to do a better job of creating access to capital so that kids don’t have to leverage the next twenty years of their life to even pay for school, but also, we need to invest in our universities. 

That’s not your job, that’s our job, and we need to move away from a declining investment in higher ed and actually realize that for every dollar we get in, the whole economy in the region is going to see seven dollars.

We need to do a better job of investing in higher education, every year adding to what we’re putting in, doubling down on that, getting a better return on investment, and you guys need to know that these universities are going to be getting better every year. 

When I was in high school, everybody wanted to go to Southern Illinois University for communications. This was like the place to go. 

I visited this campus […] as a freshman representative, and I came multiple times when I was a state rep. Even then, this was the place to come. 

But truthfully, honestly, if I was taking my — I don’t have a college kid, I have a six-year-old — but if I was taking him now to see this, this is not right now meeting the standards I would want to say for a state-of-the-art communications center. 

Now, the intelligence here, without a doubt, is, but you guys need to be keeping up with the technology and all those things that make people want to come to this school. 

If you’ve heard about the reputation of this school and then you come here and you see it, you’re like “Uhh, maybe this was the place to be 20 years ago, but not today.” 

Intellectually, that’s not the case, but I think that nobody here can deny that we need to update this place and make it a place that becomes a beacon for anyone who wants to study technology and dive their hands into media creation and all this stuff.

Eastern Illinois University is another example of that where they started all these projects and then the capital bill died. 

They need a new science center, a whole entire science lab, that’s probably a $100 million project, but my high school science lab 20 years ago was nicer than their science lab now. They might be pioneers in certain things when it comes to the biosciences and stuff, but you wouldn’t know it when you’re visiting the campus. 

I’m not saying that to talk down our universities because intellectually, they’re some of the best in the world, but we need to invest the money behind the rhetoric.

DE: You’ve made a substantial effort to be involved with your constituents. Why do you think this is important, particularly in this day and age?

SM: I just think that when people hear about what’s going on, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. 

Number one, I like to be able to educate the public as to what’s happening with their money. But number two, the most important […] reason that I want to be close to my constituents is that I want to know what they need. 

This isn’t about what I think is great for them; the only way I can really be a great comptroller or a great representative is to actually understand what the needs of the people that I represent are. 

I wasn’t elected to tell people what they need, I was elected to actually be an amplifier, a megaphone for the needs of the constituency that I represent. So, if I were to come here and tell you what you need, I probably wouldn’t be very good at my job, right?

I mean, I can see what you guys need, let me just be honest. But I also want to hear specifically, what do you guys think you need? 

Those are all the things that should be included in the capital plan. Not just when we’re talking capital but just needs.

Like there’s not enough psychiatric intervention, especially for young people, in southern Illinois. There’s next to nothing.

If you have a kid who’s suicidal, good luck trying to find a doctor that will actually be available to take care of your child. That should not be happening in southern Illinois. 

During the budget impasse, the Women’s Center in Carbondale almost shut down. I had to go out there and try to really do magic to get them some money when there was no appropriation. 

You know, I’m from Chicago; God forbid a domestic violence shelter shut down over there — which some did — there’s like 10 others in the nearby area that can help absorb some of that loss. It’s always bad when this happens, but there are still other domestic violence shelters. 

In Carbondale, if the women’s shelter shut down, people are travelling a hundred miles to go to a center like that that they can trust, and you really think a struggling mom with no money who’s trying to flee a bad situation is going to be able to do that? No, you’re literally putting a woman’s life at risk. People are going to die. 

If I’m not here talking to people who are living that experience, it’s just like I don’t even really get it. How can I advocate for them in a budget fight if I don’t even know the stories of what people are living? 

My job is as comptroller is to manage the state’s finances. Every dollar that leaves has to go through my office. 

When I was in the heat of the budget fight, we were talking about $16.7 billion dollars of bills that were owed to people for services they already rendered. I kept saying, “This isn’t just about money, that’s not a number on a spreadsheet.” 

My office isn’t to manage spreadsheets, it’s to lead a moral compass and to put the money where it’s needed the most and get it there as quickly as possible. So, it’s prioritizing people. 

The day I start to look at my job as just an administrative […] accountant’s position, is when you shouldn’t ever vote for me.

I manage people and their lives, and it’s real, and I take it very personally, and that’s why I get fired up about stuff and I get ticked off because it’s not just a number, these aren’t just numbers for me.

I look at people, issues and policy as a numbers thing; I look at it like a return on investment. We invest in people’s lives, then the state of Illinois is going to be doing better financially as well. 

You can’t divorce the two. And unfortunately, it’s easy to divorce the two, to say, oh this is too expensive, we can’t pay for it. 

My goal for the comptroller’s office in Illinois, moving forward, is to have our office become the […] number one trusted source for financial information related to the state, its finances and its budget. 

Where we can do predictive modelling, where we can really, truly do data analytics, where we can influence and be a key driver of public policy in this state. 

It’s a thing the comptroller’s office has never done or it’s not necessarily expected or known for, but we should be doing that. So, I think I’ve taken this office and tried to completely change what it does and really bring value to why this office should even exist. 

DE: Anything else you’d like to add?

SM: Well, I’d just say to you guys, stay here, finish out your university here.

You really need to stay involved in your university after you guys are out of here. These are really special moments and times that you get to find yourself somewhat. 

Even when you graduate, you’re still not going to know 100 percent who you are; trust me, it’s part of life, and your college experience is really meant to teach you how to think, not to teach you what exactly you want to do for the rest of your life. 

If this is what you guys love to do and if you have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to get into it and take a shower every four days, I don’t advise it, but I’m just saying, do what you need to do to follow your passion in life. 

If you do that, things are going to work out for you. I promise you they will. 

Nothing comes easy that you really truly love, and nothing should. You have to work for it. 

Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Managing Editor Rana Schenke can be reached at [email protected]

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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