Schock says he will reimburse city for Bush visit

Kevin Sampier

After a week of opposition to the idea, state Rep. Aaron Schock said Tuesday he will pay more than $38,000 to the city for its costs during President George W. Bush’s visit for his fundraiser.

His opponents say Schock shouldn’t have waited this long to pay up.

Schock, R-Peoria, said he will pay the $38,252 the city incurred July 25 providing police, fire and public works services when Bush visited for the private fundraiser on Schock’s behalf.

“I’ve decided to reimburse the city of Peoria,” Schock said during a news conference Tuesday with Mayor Jim Ardis. “It’s something that I’m doing voluntarily.”

After a week of saying he would not voluntarily pay the bill, Schock said he decided to pay “so we can move on.”

Schock said the remaining time before the election should be spent discussing important issues instead of whether or not he owes the city money.

“I’m happy that Aaron has finally decided to the do the right thing,” said Democrat Colleen Callahan on Tuesday about Schock’s announcement. “It’s really disappointing that so many people had to call it to his attention before he finally responded appropriately.”

Schock is running against Callahan and Green Party candidate Sheldon Schafer for the 18th Congressional District seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria.

“I expected he would do the right thing eventually,” Schafer said Tuesday.

The issue of repaying the city was first brought up by at-large Councilman Gary Sandberg, who argued Bush’s visit was a private political activity and shouldn’t have been funded at the city’s expense. Sandberg said doing so is forbidden by city ordinance.

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do,” Sandberg said of Schock’s decision. “It was the right thing to do from day one.”

The $38,252 includes overtime for 38 police officers, seven sergeants and two lieutenants, as well as firefighters and 30 city trucks used as barriers during the event at Weaver Farms.

Ardis said the city does not have a policy that addresses this type of situation where a sitting president visits town, called the issue “political rhetoric” and said the ordinance Sandberg is referring to doesn’t apply.

“The city does not have a policy,” Ardis said. “Plain and simple. We don’t.”

Ardis said requiring candidates or political groups to pay for similar city services could be detrimental to Peoria and limit its drawing power for high-profile leaders.

“In my opinion, we’re opening Pandora’s box,” he said.

Schock said smaller political parties or candidates with less funding could also suffer if they’re required to pay large amounts to the city, thereby affecting their campaigns.

Ardis said Schock will be billed, but said he didn’t believe Schock should have to pay.

“We appreciate Rep. Schock making the gesture to reimburse us,” Ardis said. “But by no means do I believe he’s responsible (for the costs).”

Schock has been strongly against the idea of repayment since it arose, saying the request was a politically motivated stunt deliberately brought out close to election time.

On Tuesday, Schock said he believed his campaign was the first in the state and possibly the nation to repay a city for protective services provided to a president.

“Our campaign is doing something that’s unprecedented,” he said. “I’m in a position to pay, so I’m going to pay.”

Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300