People with Passion: Alderman Scott Waguespack


Interview was conducted on January 27,2011


As the 2000 mark rolled around, there was a lot of development going on in places like Bucktown, Wicker Park, not so much the Lincoln Park area, but Lakeview. The housing boom was going on, and we were watching in our neighborhood as things were getting built up and jammed through without any community input. You would wake up one day and there was a four-story building going up, and no one had any idea that the zoning had changed or that the developer had said anything or had any meetings. People really started becoming concerned. People were like, "Things are out of control. These guys damaged my house. There's no one coming from the city that's concerned even the slightest bit about what's been happening to our neighborhood."

I was doing a lot of work overseas, but every time I came back and was involved with things in the neighborhood, people were just saying, "This has to stop." People were so split up into different little groups, they didn't realize that this was going on ward-wide. The former alderman was jamming through a lot of zoning changes that weren't compatible with the neighborhood. It was all pro-developer. It had nothing to do with the neighborhood.

I was concerned with corruption in the city. We saw the hired trucks scandal exposed in '04, '05. Our taxes were skyrocketing, and at the same time we're paying this corruption tax, and the way things were going in the city, it's kind of like, "Okay, things have changed a lot, things are looking better in a lot of ways, but at what price? And can we do it in a better way?"

I did work in Berwyn for a little bit before that. I had been asked to run a campaign against the old machine out there. I had a break when I came back from working overseas, and a friend of mine said, "Hey, they need somebody they can trust to come in and run a campaign for a whole slate of people." That was in 2005. I said, "Yeah, sure, I'll do it for a few months." Just helping them coordinate stuff. As it turned out, we won eighteen out of twenty seats, something like that, and they said, "Hey, Berwyn is like a mini-Cicero, mini-Chicago, there's a lot of waste here, a lot of corruption. Can you stick around?" We basically went in and just tried to gut out the old system. At the same time, I was looking at my own neighborhood. I'm going out there every day and I'm thinking, "What can I do locally, what can I do in my own area?"

So I pooled all this stuff and said, "We have a serious issue with zoning and development." You probably read the Neighborhoods for Sale articles in the Tribune, the whole investigation. The 32nd Ward was like ground zero for pay-to-play development. Enough people had gotten to the point where they were like, "This has got to stop." I just talked to a woman the other day; a developer had been wiping out the two neighbors' homes, and she said, "The thing we like about you is you came in, you're not dealing with these guys in the same old way. Everything had a price on it with the old guy. That's what we like about you. You're not worried about that stuff." And I'm not. I just look at it from the perspective of, "Who is that neighbor? How are they being affected? And how can we help them?"

I think coming up through different systems, looking at corruption, looking at the way government can be - not just from money - but how it can be corrupted by people who become unconcerned. That, in a way, is a form of corruption. My experiences in the Peace Corps - in Kosovo and Albania, watching corruption there with the European system and the way things were going right after the war - and then looking at Berwyn, I said, "I want to do it in Chicago." That's when I decided I was going to run for alderman, and see if we can change that.

I always believe that if you have the right person in office, even if you're fighting up hill the whole way, you can have little successes that will turn into bigger things. I felt the only way to really get in was to get into the city council here and say, "We have to get inside the system in Chicago to really make that change." That's the only way to do it.

I've been working on a term limit ordinance for mayor of Chicago, because I think it's important to have in that executive position, similar to what we have in the presidency, somebody in there who can make change in two terms, maybe three terms, but then move on to something else. I don't think we need the dynasties that we've had before. In a lot of ways they've proven to be good, but they've also proven to be pretty bad in ways too.

I've talked to a lot of aldermen about just having term limits on aldermen, and they've all kind of said no, because on a legislative side of things, they don't really see that as a need. Which, similar to our federal system, is probably right. If people want to change that person, they have the opportunity to vote them out. That person should kind of know when they've reached that point. If they don't, they usually get booted out unceremoniously. Just talking to aldermen, the feasibility of trying to get that passed would be a high hurdle.

Do you personally think that term limits for aldermen is a good idea?

Not really. I think it would be good to have the conversation about it. A public hearing, or at least talk about it. Personally, I don't want to do this job forever. I would like to try to make as much impact as I can for a couple terms, maybe three, and then look at going back. I like doing this job, but I think there are ways that you can create a system for people that would follow you that works for everyone. That's what we're trying to do here.

Of course, and that's my next question: what do you think needs to be done so that you can feel like, "Okay, now I can go back to the Peace Corps" or, "go back to mountain biking in Colorado"?

That's a good way to look at it, because those are serious things. You have to have a quality of life that, you know, you can enjoy those things with family. That's important. I worked in law firms too, and I remember talking to a couple guys, and one guy was like, "Yeah, my son just turned eighteen the other day." I was like, "Oh, that's great." "Well, I don't know, I haven't seen him in ten years. My life was so focused on that one job, I forgot that I had family." I always have that in mind when I'm doing this job.

You always have to have the quality of life issues in the back of your mind, and balance that out. The family issues. You try to balance that while you're doing the job. It's difficult. But maybe that's part of the price that you pay.

Alright, let's go forward. It's February 23rd 2011, you've just been elected to your second term. What are you most excited to get working on?

We actually have a huge project that we're working on at Lakeview High School, which is not in the ward, but it's all culminating around the end of February. We're moving super fast on that issue. So in terms of, literally, just practical dates, February 23rd is a CPS meeting. We're trying to improve Lakeview High School and work with some other schools in the area. It's an education issue. It's literally on the calendar.

So that's a school that's not in the 32nd Ward?

It's right down the street from it, but we feed kids in there. It's a north side issue. A lot of hope there for changing the school.

Other 32nd Ward Aldermanic candidates profiled in this series: Bryan Lynch ; Brian Gorman ; David Pavlik

More information: First look

Silverstein is the author of Our President and editor of 2007 49th Ward alderman runner-up Don Gordon's Piss 'Em All Off.  Trade alderman talk on Twitter @readjack



We Have Somebody

That's the beauty of democracy when it works - people can complain all they want but the general public speaks. 65%(?) don’t’ appear to agree with you. Scott has been great for the ward. Does his office need to improve their PR/response times, yes it's a small price to pay to have an alderman with ethics and not indebted to the historic machine. If we have to wait a little longer for infrastructure repairs so that Scott can ensure its being dealt with equitably and appropriately - not simply the squeaky wheel gets the deal, then we can wait. If potholes are our worst issue, we're doing OK.

We Need a Somebody

Waguespack has been a disaster that can't manage his way out of a wet paper bag. His supporters point to his parking meter vote, but even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. The streets don't get repaired, and good luck dealing with his inept office if you have any questions or needs. During the last aldermanic cycle the mantra in the 32nd ward was anybody but Matlak. This time we need to vote for a 'somebody'.

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