Challengers take Matlak to task

January 17, 2007

Anitra Rowe, Booster Wicker Park-Bucktown-Ukrainian Village

Three candidates for the 32nd Ward aldermanic post sounded off at their first debate last week.

Incumbent Ted Matlak and challengers Scott Waguespack and Catherine Zaryczny tackled questions scribbled on note cards by people in the crowd at the Jan. 10 forum at the Bucktown-Wicker Park library, 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The debate was sponsored by the Wicker Park Committee and moderated by WPC President Elaine Coorens. Neither candidate Paul Millar, whose nomination petitions have been challenged, nor candidate John Lag attended the WPC debate.

The 32nd ward includes Ukrainian Village, East Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Hamlin Park, Roscoe Village and the Goose Island Industrial Corridor, and the ward has roughly 60,000 residents.

Matlak, of Bucktown, has been the 32nd Ward alderman for nine years.

The former attendee of the United States Capitol Page School in Washington, D.C., has a degree in accounting from DePaul University. In 1990, Matlak joined the staff of former Ald. Terry Gabinski, where he worked his way to chief of staff.

Waguespack, of Bucktown, served two years as a volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya, Africa, and has a law degree at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He’s currently the city administrator of Berwyn.

Zaryczny, of Ukrainian Village, is a trial attorney who earned her law degree at DePaul University. For two years, she served as a Columbus Elementary School Local School Council community member representative.

Throughout much of the Jan. 10 debate, Ald. Matlak defended his record and responded to Zaryczny and Waguespack’s critiques of his operation at 1824 W. Webster.

Zaryczny said “service is terribly lacking in the 32nd Ward,” pointing to what she described as a non-existent complaint-receiving and problem-solving system in Matlak’s office.

“It’s a vestige of old Chicago that needs to change,” Zaryczny said.

Zaryczny promised that as alderman, she’d circulate a survey to ward residents to determine their needs and wants, something that she said never has been done.

Waguespack said he’d use his city management expertise to hire professionals for his office and make the 32nd ward run well year-round, and “not just in election time.”

Waguespack said there have been more city trucks out-and-about on the streets in recent weeks than there have been “in three years.”

Matlak said that as a Chicago alderman, he competes with his peers for resources to accomplish his goals for the communities he serves.

“Everybody is trying to get money for their ward,” Matlak said.

As evidence of his success, Matlak pointed to five acres of park space added to the ward, the opening of the new Bucktown-Wicker Park library and two streetscape projects underway in the ward this year, including improvements to North Avenue.

“We’re building infrastructure here,” Matlak said.

Zaryczny and Waguespack challenged Matlak on the approach he uses to get things done, particularly when it comes to rezoning properties in the ward.

Waguespack said that as alderman, he’d forward all rezoning applications that come to the ward office to neighborhood groups.

“No more Artful Dodgers and Association House murals being destroyed,” Waguespack said, referring to the recent demolition of the Artful Dodger building at 1734 W. Wabansia St. and the sand blasting of the murals on the Association House at 2150 W. North Ave.

Zaryczny said that “unlike the current administration,” she’d address spot rezoning in the neighborhood.

Rezonings are “going under the radar” of the community, Zaryczny said, and plans are being made in “closed-door arrangements.”

Matlak said he currently forwards rezoning requests to the ward’s neighborhood groups because at the moment, he has faith in those organizations.

“Some groups I agree with 98 percent of the time,” Matlak said.

But if he ever loses this faith, Matlak said he “will not send them to groups.”

Matlak said the 32nd ward is an “old ward.”

Like it or not, a lot of this ward is going through a redevelopment,” Matlak said.

Matlak said putting new development in sections of the 32nd ward is, at times, like “putting a square peg into a round hole,” due to antiquated zoning laws.

“You have to have a realistic application of the zoning code,” Matlak said.

Matlak said he stands by the rezonings he’s approved, and that each was warranted “when you look at the details,” including the Artful Dodger.

Waguespack said that the end result of Matlak’s rezonings isn’t entirely the issue of concern.

“It wasn’t what you gave (the community),” Waguespack said. “It was the process.”

Zaryczny said Matlak represents “the machine” politics, for which Chicago is well known.

Matlak, who initially was appointed alderman by Mayor Richard M. Daley, said that he and the mayor are “pretty much in lock step,” in their positions on issues.

But Matlak said he did vote against the mayor on the Big Box ordinance.

“The mayor doesn’t give orders,” Matlak said.