Alderman Scott Waguespack receives Leon Despres Award


Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward Alderman, accepts the 2010 Leon Despres Award in the Parthenon Restaurant

Reminiscent of Leon Despres*, "the liberal conscience of Chicago politics for decades," 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, was given the Leon Despres Award at the 66th Independence Day Dinner of the Independent Voters of Illinois and Independent Precinct Organization.

Despres was one of Mayor Richard J. Daley's worst nightmares. Columnist Mike Royko said of Despres in 1972, "Throughout his career, he has been in the forefront of just about every decent, worthwhile effort made to improve life in this city. Being in the forefront, he is usually the first to be hit on the head with the mayor's gavel."

Royko's description seems to reflect Waguespack's role in the current City Council.  Though Waguespack is just at the beginning of his career as an independent Democrat in the City's governing body, he operates in the spirit of Despres. He is an ardent researcher on the "state of the city," its operations and processes as well as the many proposals sent to City Council from Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Often standing alone or in a very small group of opponents to such things as the parking meter privatization deal, TIFs, transparency in government processes, schools and Daley's 2010 budget, to name a few, Waguespack speaks out.  Focused on doing what is right for the City and the people of Chicago, Waguespack has been singled out in Council meetings by the Mayor for his opposing votes. To overcome the Mayor's punitive actions, Waguespack's staff has had to put in extra time and effort to get certain city services for the 32nd Ward.

Despres, who was a Caucasian, was known for years as "the lone Negro on the City Council," leading the push for housing desegregation while the African-American aldermen allied with the mayor were denounced as the Silent Six. In December 1968, Despres introduced a resolution calling for the first woman on the Council.  The then Mayor Daley commented, "Let's not discuss sex at Christmastime."

Though Chicago born Despres (1908-2009) left his 5th Ward (Hyde Park) seat in 1975 after twenty years, he continued to speak out about the Mayors Daley until shortly before his death in 2009. In an interview with Bob Sirott on NBC, Despres declared Harold Washington the best mayor Chicago had ever had.

Sirott questioned that because of the many things the Mayors Daley had achieved.  His response was that Washington was an intellectual who had high standards and was far above them in character and leadership. He went on to say that Richard J. Daley went into the business of politics as his friends went into the business of lumber and other businesses.  "This one (Richard M.) isn't as bad as the old man."

*Despres is pronounced "de pray."

Editor's Note: Leave a comment below and tell us what you think Despres might say today.

For more information: New York Times; Sirott interview; Despres received Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service; Waguespack defines issues




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