Thursday, May 20, 2004

Updated May 20, 2004, 2:00 pm

Elzie Higginbottom, the owner of one of the joint venture partners that managed 69 West Washington-- the County building in which six people died in a fire last fall, did a little tap dance on Chicago Tonight last night in an interview with Phil Ponce. For reasons that are unclear, when Elzie talked about the good job that his company did in managing the building where the Fire occurred, Ponce chose not to challenge him with some of the obvious questions that one would expect to be asked. Those questions, not asked by Phil, are listed below.
Karen Griffen sustained severe injuries in the County Building fire. Her husband, Gene, testified before the Mikva Commission investigating the County Building fire today [May 19] and told the Commission what Karen Griffen had to "say," immediately after she escaped from the building. A couple of hours after escaping from the building, Karen Griffin came to and wrote a question to her husband, "did people die." Her husband and others responded, "Yes, six people died. Karen started crying and wrote,"But, we did what they told us to [do]."

From Chicago Tonight's News Update, May 19, 2004.
Elzie Higginbottom: ...We do a good job of managing [buildings].

Phil Ponce: So, there was nothing in retrospect that you would do differently.

Higgonbottum: No, I don't think there is anything in retrospect that we would do differently, certainly we are concerned and saddened by the loss of life. But, we feel that we did a good job. Our joint venture managing partner, U. S. Equities-- they manage several buildings downtown. So, you had a lot of experienced management from the ecompanies that were managing that building. 69 West Washington, LLC was the Manager of that building, East Lake Management [Elzie's company] was a member of that Limited liablity Corporation, as was U. S. Equities [Robert Wislow's company].

Ponce: Okay, let's get back to the Casino issue...
From Chicago Tonight, May 19, 2004.
Some of the questions that Phil Ponce should have asked Elzie Higginbottom but chose not to ask. Maybe next time:

Who was responsible for telling the County Government employees at the building to go into the stairwells, either at the fire drills or at the time of the fire? Not building management? Who was responsible for telling the County Government employees to evacuate? Not building management? Who was responsible for telling the county employees that they could stay safely in the stairwells for four hours? Not building management? Why were the stairwells not a safe place for the employees? Why did building management not know about that? How much would it have cost to install sprinklers in the building? Did 69 West Washington ever make a recommendation to the building owner-- the County, to install sprinklers? Same questions as to an automatic door unlocking mechanism and pressurized stairwells. When Karen Griffen wrote, "We did what they told us to," who does Elzie think Karen was referring to when she wrote, "They told us to."
For more on the county building Fire, see the transcript and discussion of the "Public Affairs," show with Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, immediately below.