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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Ald. Scott Waguespack: Rahm Has Lost His Mandate

The 32nd ward alderman is pulling for Chuy, and could even run for mayor himself next time around.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd ward) speaks against the infrastructure trust bill before City Council in 2012. He was one of seven aldermen to vote against it.  Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Ald. Rick Munoz isn’t the only City Council member in Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s corner. To probably no one’s surprise, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd ward) remains an unrelenting thorn in Mayor Emanuel’s side. A UIC study of divided votes shows Waguespack voting with Emanuel only 54 percent of the time, and he’s spending the next few weeks before Election Day ridiculing a man who governs by press release.

Since I last interviewed Waguespack in 2013, his name continues to pop up as someone who ought to run for mayor. He seemed to me a bit more comfortable when we talked by telephone last week with the idea of running—next time—but said he holds the same reservation as before: the desire to spend serious time with his sons, age two and three. He explains that he finds time hard to come by even as an alderman who, unlike many of his 49 colleagues, does not hold an second job.

A peace corps volunteer and a law school graduate who flunked the bar on the first try and never tried again, Waguespack, 44, was just elected to his third term representing a ward that encompasses Logan Square, Bucktown, Roscoe Village, and south Lakeview. He won with a whopping 79 percent of the vote—this despite Rahm and his Chicago Forward superPAC putting plenty of money and sweat into trying to defeat him.

In the first round of the mayoral race Waguespack backed his Progressive Reform colleague Bob Fioretti. He’s now “in Chuy’s camp,” he tells me. The morning after our conversation, he sat next to Garcia at a press conference as the struggling challenger tried to lay out specifics of his plan to save the city from financial collapse. Both Chicago papers and the New York Times ripped the proposal as more of a delaying tactic than a plan.

Shortly after the press conference, I texted Waguespack and asked him how it went. His texted response: “Some had a pre-set agenda and didn’t want to hear anything other than for someone to say, ‘Raise taxes.’ The mayor’s office put out a statement five minutes before with zero revenue options but decried Chuy. Our position is we need to know what’s in the budget without the shell games played. Savings and audits (already shown by Inspector General’s office) must be implemented to prevent Rahm’s outright property tax hike. Chuy was there 30 minutes, took questions. Mayor put out statement with no specifics and took no questions.” (For clarity’s sake, I added punctuation and spelled out abbreviations.)

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Why didn’t you run for mayor this time?

People were asking me to run. I didn’t feel I could campaign and do the job while my sons were infants/toddlers. My first focus is on family. Also we wanted someone from our Progressive Caucus to run, and when Bob [Fioretti] decided to run, we thought it was a good sort of sync with our policies—and he didn’t have to give up his ward seat because he didn’t have a ward to give up. [The 2012 ward redistricting left Fioretti without any of his original ward.]

Why did Fioretti do so poorly? [He finished fourth with 7.4 percent of the vote.]

His policy positions are close to Garcia’s. And then there was Willie Wilson, who resonated in the African American communities—the same place Fioretti was focusing. So Bob’s vote was split up between the other two candidates.

Will Fioretti endorse Chuy?

I’m hoping he gets behind Chuy. I think he will. He lost to Chuy and a little cooling off period is needed. He believes in the same things as Chuy. So many areas that need to be fixed that were never touched or just handled via press release. [Fioretti vowed to vote for “anybody but Rahm” but has since walked that back, telling the New York Times recently, “You want to be mayor of the third-largest city in the country, your positions should be thought out and they shouldn’t be that difficult to explain."]

Will Toni Preckwinkle endorse anyone in the next few weeks?

I don’t know. That’s one Chuy has to work on. I’m sure they’re talking.

Has the City Council gotten any more ornery lately, or is it still a rubber stamp?

The latter; it’s worse under Rahm than Rich Daley.

Why?

I think Rahm scares a lot of aldermen. He has a very combative approach and brings Washington D.C. attitudes to Chicago. Also the amount of money he raised; that scared a lot of aldermen. They didn’t want money coming after them like he threw after me. Rahm made a lot of wrong choices, but the aldermen followed the leader, fear of losing their jobs.

It didn’t work in your case. Why not?

No, it didn’t work. I did much better than last time; 13 or 14 percent better.

I think what happened was that people in my ward, over the last four years, were upset with the way Rahm was managing the city—too focused on big ticket items and flashy stuff that didn’t go into neighborhoods. They’re upset with the fact that he would attack in vicious way one of the few independents. I’ve seen and heard [from my constituents] that they want a mayor who’s less combative, more tied to neighborhoods, and somebody who appreciates the work that aldermen do.

When you say vicious attacks, what do you mean?

Profanity and vile temper. I think he did a good job of hiding it or tamping it down in public, but there was a lot going on behind the scenes in City Hall.

He has gone out of his way to avoid me lately. He lets [his super PAC] Chicago Forward do the attacking. Still, I got almost 80 percent of the vote. That’s a mandate. Being an independent is what people want in my ward and, I believe, in the city. If Rahm is reelected I think the number of votes he gets will go down. Right now I’ve noticed some of my colleagues running away from him. At debates they’ll say, “I have nothing to do with the mayor,” and these are people who are voting with him 90 percent of the time. I think he lost his mandate over the last four years and there will be more split votes. That’s what Chicago needs; not just split votes, but more discussion. You would think we would have all learned from the parking meter mess and other last-minute deals. Rahm had $30 million plus the president of the United States showed up, and he still went to a runoff. That’s pretty telling.

You don’t hear Rahm talking about it these days, but he used to threaten to cut the size of the City Council to 25. Would you agree with that?

Yes, I do agree. It has to happen around the census; it’s easier to do then because you’re changing the [ward] lines anyway. I would reduce the size of the Council to 35. Rahm really dropped the ball on that.

What do you make of the “Chicago turning into Detroit” warning?

It’s nonsense. Detroit had one economy. We’ve always had a changing economy. It’s true that major manufacturing has shifted to the south, but there are still many opportunities here

What would you do with the empty buildings left behind when the 50 schools were closed?

We need a master facilities plan. I don’t think you reopen schools, but don’t close any more, don’t make any more decisions until we have a plan. CPS has no overall facility plan. When I go to schools in my ward, people say, “Hey, alderman, our gym floor collapsed or the roof is caving in or the furnace is like an old steam ship boiler.”

What grade do you give to Barbara Byrd Bennett, Rahm’s pick for superintendent of schools?

I’d give her a liberal C, but a failure on the Aramark [outsourcing janitor services] deal. I have a school in my ward, Drummond Montessori. There were 48 to 50 cases of strep, and still the school was not getting cleaned. I would almost give her a D because of her response. 

Where are you on the issue of the presidential library?

I’d really support UIC. I prefer not to go down the path as the mayor has done of giving park or open space. We’re pretty much put in the position if you vote against, you’re opposed to the President or opposed to getting the library

What are your plans in the near future?

To use and energize the Progressive Caucus. We’ve picked up two new members and are hoping that runoffs yield us two or three more; maybe a total of five new members. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa in in the 35th and David Moore in 17th have both already committed to the Caucus. Of course, we lost Fioretti, so we’re one down.

When do you decide if you’ll run for mayor?

I want to see how this election pans out. If in four years things stay near the same, running for mayor is something I’d greatly consider. But a lot can happen in four years.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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