Charges fly in 32nd Ward forum

January 17, 2007

Timothy Inklebarger, Chicago Journal

Candidates aim to link incumbent with Hired Truck Scandal

Candidates aiming to unseat Alderman Ted Matlak in the 32nd Ward took aim at the incumbent at a candidate forum this week, charging him with corruption and ignoring neighbors on zoning changes in the ward.

Matlak defended his nine-year record as alderman at the Tuesday night Bucktown Community Organization debate, telling neighbors that he has brought about new park space, infrastructure improvements and a drop in crime to the ward.

Matlak faces challengers Scott Waguespack, a Berwyn city administrator from Bucktown, and Catherine Zaryczny, a lawyer from Ukrainian Village. Candidate Paul Millar was removed from the ballot after a challenge to his nominating petition earlier this month, and candidate John Lag did not show up for the forum and said earlier this week that he is considering dropping out of the race.

After a brief state-of-the-ward address from 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores, who is unchallenged in his race, Waguespack, 36, tried to link himself to the 34-year-old freshman alderman.

“I’m glad we got to listen to Manny Flores because it sounds like they’re getting a lot done in the 1st Ward,” he said. “That’s the kind of guy I’d like to be, somebody that’s out there doing things that are really going to change the way the city works, the way this neighborhood works, the way this ward is going to work.”

Matlak, however, challenged Flores’ account of accomplishments for the 1st Ward concerning new park space and construction of the Wicker Park/Bucktown Library.

“I love Manny but half the things he talked about aren’t in his ward,” Matlak said. “This library is in the 32nd Ward. It’s here and it was under construction before Manny Flores became alderman.”

He said the ward has changed for the better over the last 20 years.

“This was a rough area,” he said. “I spent 20 years ago shutting off fire hydrants and fighting gang-bangers. We’ve bought five acres of new parks and I want to finish building those.”

Zaryczny said if elected, she would clean up corruption in City Hall and be a strong advocate for the ward.

“I hear over and over that people are concerned that our ward, which is a ward of dynamic civic-minded individuals, is being controlled by an arcane organization and its alderman,” she said.

She said Matlak is beholden to developers in the ward because of thousands of dollars he’s received in campaign contributions from developers.

Waguespack attempted to link Matlak with the scandal surrounding the city’s Hired Truck Program, where drivers paid bribes to get city contracts.

“I’ve accepted money from family and friends, people I’ve known for decades and some I’ve known for just a few months,” Waguespack said. “I’m not going to take money from benefactors of the Hired Truck Scandal like the alderman has. My decisions in City Hall are not going to be tainted by those same people.”

Waguespack does, however, have the support and financial backing of the Service Employee’s International Union, according to union leader Jerry Morrison.

Matlak challenged Waguespack to identify any association with the truck scandal.

“Who on the Hired Truck gave me money?” Matlak said. “Now I would really like to know because we had attorneys go through the file and I was told that none of the campaign accounts I control had anything to do with the Hired Truck scandal.”

Waguespack did not respond to the question during the debate but later provided the names of the Hired Truck-linked trucking company Marina Cartage, which gave $5,500 to the 32nd Ward Regular Democratic Organization from 2000 to 2006; Fresno Transport Inc., which donated $250 to the ward organization in 2003; and MAT Leasing, Inc., which donated $1,000 to the organization. Matlak is listed as one of the committee candidates for the 32nd Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

Matlak’s chief of staff Tina Gesiakowski said the alderman was having his lawyers review the names and donations, but she said that Matlak does not have control over the organization fund and is not its only benefactor.

She said former 32nd Ward Alderman Terry Gabinsky controls the account, which is also used for his committeeman campaign every four years. She also said the fund contributes to other political candidates.

“Alderman Matlak has his own fund set up that supports him,” she said.

Matlak challengers also accused the alderman of ignoring neighbors in zoning decisions, such as the decision in 2006 to allow the demolition of the Artful Dodger building at 1734 W. Wabansia.

Matlak said he has bypassed community groups in the past because of the membership of the organizations.

“Community groups are wonderful tools,” he said. “The problem is these groups are only as good as the people who are in them. There are some groups that I trust implicitly and I agree with them 98 percent of the time on zoning. There are other groups where the motivations of the people I don’t trust.”

He said some groups have tried to hold back zoning changes if members of the group do not get the architecture jobs associated with a particular development. Matlak declined to identify the groups that have made such demands.

Both Waguespack and Zaryczny said they would send all zoning decisions to neighborhood organizations.

“No one’s saying we have to yield aldermanic power to the community groups,” Waguespack said. “All we have to do is yield information. The alderman over the last few years has continued to bypass community groups and residents on different zoning changes and different developments. You deserve to know what’s going on in your ward.”