Chicago's City Council reform needs to start now say Progressive Caucus and other aldermen


Aldermen: Back: are Michelle Smith (43), Scott Waguespack (32), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10), John Arena (45), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Deb Mell (33), Sophia King (4) Front: Leslie Hairston (5), Toni Foulkes (16) and David Moore (17)

As the multi-faceted reign of Ed Burke over the operations of Chicago, its City Council and Finance Committee came crashing down, the Progressive Caucus held a Jan. 7 press conference. They were joined by other aldermen, shedding light on and demanding change in operations of the City. First up…selecting and voting in a new Finance Chair. 

While Pat O'Connor, 40th Ward Alderman, who was Finance Committee Vice Chairman, moved into the chairmanship after Burke's ouster under Rule 36. That rule also makes it clear that aldermen determine what members compose standing committees and who the Chairs and Vice Chairs are. 

"The rule is contrary to the cultural norm [in which the Mayor appoints standing committee chairs]," wryly said John Arena, 45th Ward Alderman and member of the Progressive Caucus. 


Scott Waguespack

Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward Alderman, who presided over the press conference, pointed out that O'Connor had created problems when aldermen tried to learn what was going on with the $100 million-a-year workman's compensation program. 

The Chicago Sun-Times learned, last month, that taxpayers footed the bill for close to a quarter of a million dollars in Burke's war to keep the City Hall Inspector General's office from reviewing the workman's comp. records. 

Mayor Emanuel did order an audit of the program on Jan. 7. 

Another cloud over the suitability of an O'Connor chairmanship occurred in 2008. O'Connor and his wife Barbara, a real estate agent, "starred" in a Chicago Tribune series titled "Neighborhoods for Sale." He gave zoning changes to home developers who hired his wife to sell the units. She sold $22 million worth. 

"There needs to be a Finance Chair who will hear reforms, make sure they are pushed through so that the Mayor's office doesn't get to block subpoena power by the Inspector General. This has to happen now and in the new council as well. We have to look for new aldermen who will come in and stand with us and say 'We're committed to making even more reforms than the ones that we have on the table today.'" 


John Arena

"We have to look at what is going on in the next three months," said Arena. "The Mayor has clearing indicated that he wants to push for two massive TIFs that total around 1.3 billion dollars to use tax payer money for private development. And he has purposed pension reforms that are extreme. 

"It is naïve to think that any of these plans haven't been in the works for not months but years and as far as I am concerned, if Ed Burke had his hands on any of this, it is the fruit of the poison tree." 

Burke, who has a very successful high-end tax law firm, recused himself 464 times in the last eight years while the other 49 alderman totaled 108, according to research done by the Better Government Association and WBEZ

In fact, during the last few days Burke’s high-end tax law firm Klafter & Burke was dumped by the two developers to reap the rewards of the $1.3 billion TIFs being pushed by Mayor Emanuel. Sterling Bay, developers of Lincoln Yards along the River on the north side and Related Midwest, developers of The 78 on the south end, originally retained the firm to pursue property tax cuts.

"In the next three months we have elections coming up and we will have a new mayor. We will have a new city council that should be charged with making these important decisions looking at them with fresh eyes. 

"As we go forward these next few months, the person that would be best to cope with these challenges [as Finance Chair] would be my colleague, Scott Waguespack. He is running unopposed and will have time to look at where we are with some critical financial decisions the City has to make. He will vision us from where we have been, ethically challenged, to a new place in terms of how we handle our finances in the City." 


Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward Alderman, also stepped up in support of Waguespack, "the one person in City Council who has been fighting the good fight for good government and reform." 

He declared that O'Connor is part of an informal caucus…the go along get along caucus or the rubber stamp caucus. "And to think that one of the leaders of that caucus at this moment has the moral reach, the leadership, the ability, the drive to take the City through this crisis is utterly ridiculous." 

There is one person he feels Chicagoans trust and that is Waguespack. 

"Let's make one thing clear. Mayor Emanuel has never been up front with the City of Chicago. It took him the murder of a young man and the cover-up of that murder to get him to do anything about police accountability and reform and it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. 

"Now it takes this criminal complaint and Ed Burke's indictment to get the Mayor to say, 'Now I'm going to do something about this situation.' 

"Pat O'Connor has served Ed Burke as alderman for decades and never once has raised his voice to hold Ed Burke accountable. And ultimately as a city, I think we have not done enough…now is the time to have the political will to take it seriously, our colleagues are fed up with it…now is the time for change." 

Ramirez-Rosa reiterated his support for Waguespack at the Logan Square Preservation's 2019 Aldermanic Forum in The Minnekirken Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, 2614 N. Kedzie Ave., Jan. 8.



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