July 28, 2010



Chicago, observed Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), has a multiplicity of problems, which he said can be readily cured by a simple, single solution: Get rid of Mayor Rich Daley.

"Blame it all on Daley," said Waguespack, who said the mayor's "reckless spending," coupled with the city's "perpetual scandals," has "created a definite disconnect" between the voters and Daley. "Every day, every way, every City Hall decision is based on politics," Waguespack said. "It's all about keeping Daley and his cronies in power." And voters, he said, are now wising up.

That thesis was validated by the Chicago Tribune/WGN poll results published on July 18, which put Daley's reelection backing at 31 percent, while 53 percent of respondents indicated that he should not be reelected in 2011, when he next faces voters. According to the poll, only 20 percent of respondents approve of the mayor's efforts to combat government corruption and 33 percent approve of his handling of the exploding crime problem, but 56 percent back his stance in support of a gun ban.

Waguespack, age 40, a first-term alderman from the Bucktown/Lakeview area who is "exploring" a 2011 bid for mayor, excoriates Daley for his "failed leadership." "Every problem is directly attributable to the mayor," he said.

Waguespack elaborated: "Crime is rampant," he said, even though crime dropped 8.8 percent from 2008 to 2009. "That's because we don't have 13,500 sworn police officers. We're short 2,500 every day. That means we have one-person patrol cars. In every potential crime situation, an officer calls for a backup. Hence, the police are less aggressive in fighting crime, and two cars are off the street for one crime incident." In the Chicago Police Department's 14th District, which includes the 32nd Ward, patrol is understaffed by 10 to 12 officers daily, Waguespack said. "We haven't had a class in the police academy for 3 years," he said.

In addition, Waguespack adds, manpower from the low-crime areas such as the Northwest Side have been redeployed to high-crime areas. "Criminals know this," he said. "That's why crimes such as home invasion and robbery are escalating." Actually, robberies reported in the first six months of 2010 ared down 13.1 percent from the same period last year.

So how is Daley to be blamed?  "We have a $5.9 billion city budget," Waguespack said. "At least 5 to 7 percent of that amount is pure wastage, if not actual graft. We need to stop the cash flow to the mayor's friends and family. His nephew got over $68 million in police pension funds for a risky real estate deal. We need to re-prioritize. Fighting crime is more important than enriching cronies. We have the money to hire more police, but Daley won't do it."

Adds Waguespack: "It's all pay to play. Look at the Hired Truck scandal. Daley needs people to work precincts and promises them jobs or promotions. So, over the past 20 years, we have had thousands of new hires and subsequent promotions.

"Now, Chicago is top-heavy with management. We're like Enron. We have too many over-paid supervisors, who do little work, and too few workers, who are over-worked. Jobs are not getting done." In his ward, Waguespack said, "essential services are not being provided. There is no excuse."

In addition, Waguespack said, the companies that get city contracts donate to the mayor or the Democrats' campaign fund.

"We need an independent budget office, similar to that in New York City and Los Angeles," argued Waguespack. "We need to change the status quo. In Chicago, the entire budget process is controlled by the mayor. There are no checks and balances."

 And there's Daley's "privatization" plan: Sale of the Skyway, parking garages and parking meters, with Midway Airport next on the agenda. "It's just unbelievable," Waguespack said of the parking meter deal. "We're burning through the assets. We have a 75-year payment plan, and we've already borrowed against those receipts and spent 75 percent of the money in 3 years. It's supposed to be a 'rainy day' fund, but we are spending future revenues on current operating expenses."

Lastly, there is Chicago public school education: "Class size is now 37 to 40 students per classroom," Waguespack said. "Why is that? It's because TIF funds are being diverted, costing the (Chicago Public Schools) about $2 million annually."

Waguespack said that his ward, which includes Bucktown, south Lakeview, Roscoe Village, Hamlin Park, west Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village and Goose Island, extending from Chicago Avenue to Cornelia Avenue, between Sheffield Avenue and Western Avenue, is a microcosm of Chicago: It was "Happy Days" during the 15 boom years that ended around 2007, but no longer.

"It was rezoning by payoff," Waguespack said. "We had 350 zoning changes per year. Developers made donations to the alderman (Ted Matlak) or (Democratic) committeeman (Terry Gabinski) and got their project approved. We had more construction than any ward in Chicago." Now, he said, the ward's infrastructure is collapsing. "There were no inspections. Development was unregulated. Sewers and water mains are overwhelmed. Every finished project is a potential nightmare." Waguespack noted that $1 million homes were interspersed with turn-of-the-century bungalows. "It was absolute chaos," he said.

Historically, the 32nd Ward was a Polish-American enclave, and for most of a century it was dominated by the Rostenkowskis. In 1912 Albert Rostenkowski won an Illinois House seat, and from the 1930s onward, his nephew, Joe Rostenkowski, was the ward's alderman and Democratic committeeman, and an early ally of Richard J. Daley. In 1958 Joe made son Dan a congressman, at age 30.

In 1969 Terry Gabinski, a 31-year old high school teacher, became the ward's alderman. He was a protege of Dan Rostenkowski, who had become the Democratic committeeman in 1964. The ward proceeded to snooze for the next 15 years. Daley, with Rostenkowski's endorsement, won the 1983 mayoral primary with 46 percent of the vote. Luis Gutierrez, a Harold Washington ally, ran against Rostenkowski for committeeman in 1984, getting 23 percent of the vote. Politics was fermenting, and the ward's Hispanic population was exploding.

Then, in the early 1990s, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lakeview and Goose Island were "discovered" by developers, speculators and rich people who could quickly build "McMansions" in close proximity to the Loop and the Board of Trade. All it took for a spot rezoning was a donation to Gabinski or Matlak, his successor as alderman in 1999. From 1992 to 2002 the ward's population turned over by 50 percent. Gone were the Hispanics and Polish ethnics; in came the upscale yuppies. Eateries, bars and boutiques now populated the main arteries.

The "Rostenkowski Machine" had sown the seeds of its destruction. The ward's newcomers voted as they wanted (which was liberal), not as they were told. They paid high property taxes, and they expected services as a right, not a favor. Rostenkowski was indicted, convicted and defeated. Matlak, renowned for his lackadaisical demeanor and inattentiveness to constituent needs, won by 6,725-4,019 (with 54 percent of the vote) in 1999 and by 5,518-1,959 (with 74 percent) in 2003, but he lost to Waguespack in 2007, 4,058-4,179, getting 49.7 percent of the vote and losing a margin of 121 votes. Waguespack was in the right place at the right time.

Gabinski retired as committeeman in 2008, and he was replaced by state Representative John Fritchey, who backed Waguespack in 2007. Barack Obama won the ward with 77.2 percent of the vote in 2008. The "Machine" was defunct.

But an Age of Aquarius has not dawned in the 32nd Ward. There is a bitter schism between Fritchey and Waguespack. "(Fritchey) demanded control of all zoning in the ward after I won," Waguespack said. "I refused." Retorted Fritchey, who is running for county commissioner in 2010, "He's more sizzle than steak. My office has had more requests for city services during the last three years than it had when Matlak was alderman. He's not doing his job."

"Abysmal," concurs John Curry, the ward's Republican committeeman, in describing Waguespack. "There's no efficiency. This is a high-demand service ward. He doesn't have the staff. He's barely better than Matlak."

Which begs the question: Is Waguespack running for mayor because he can't win again for alderman? Is this a bail out? "Absolutely not," snaps Waguespack. "I've done a great job. People are satisfied." According to ward sources, Fritchey is backing Brian Gorman, a field director for Organizing for America, for alderman in 2011. If Waguespack quits, David Hoffman, the city's controversial former inspector general and 2010 U.S. Senate primary candidate, likely will run.

Without question, Waguespack is not well liked, well funded, well organized or well entrenched. But his political career, indisputably, has been well timed. He won in 2007 only because he was the innocuous, inoffensive alternative to the despised Matlak.

For a potential 2011 mayoral race, Waguespack lacks money, name identification and issue identification. He has no discernible appeal to black or Hispanic voters. "He's a joke," Fritchey said. But if no credible minority candidate runs for mayor, if Daley's popularity continues to wane, and if Waguespack ends up as the only credible alternative to 4 more years of Daley, then he's no joke. The mayor, to coin a phrase, could be "Matlaked."