Potential challenger has frightening words for Daley

August 21, 2010

John Kass, Chicago Tribune

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, has two terrifying words for Mayor Richard Daley:

Forensic Audit.

It may not sound sexy. But having former IRS agents go through two decades worth of insider political deals and revealing it all to a tax base of voters that has been bled dry is something Daley and his boys would hate.

After spending months pointing out the corruption and waste of taxpayer dollars at City Hall —including that ridiculous parking meter deal that may have sparked a revolution — Waguespack, 40, is thinking about challenging Daley for mayor.

The first thing he’d do would be to add more police on the streets. But a forensic audit might be just what the doctor ordered.

“If you open the books, like we did with the parking meter deal, it will prove how bad of a manager he is,” Waguespack told me last week at Petros diner, kitty-corner from Chicago’s City Hall.

Can Waguespack actually challenge the king? Chatting with me over breakfast while informants get on their cell phones to call City Hall may be considered an act of defiance. He has a few weeks to decide whether to run for mayor or for alderman in February’s elections.

“When we had surpluses in the 1990s, you could shower money everywhere to fix anything. But he wasn’t taking care of the underlying fiscal infrastructure,” Waguespack said. “And as the water went down, which means the economy, it exposed everything under the pier, just under the surface, how bad this all was.

“He never prepared for this moment, which any good manager should. And that’s why he’s been exposed in some ways as a horrible manager of the people’s taxes.”

That parking meter deal has been a fiasco for the mayor. Daley rushed it through the City Council over the objections of Waguespack and a few others, and it went terribly wrong.

Street parking rates went sky high, the meters were leased for 75 years and most of the upfront money to the city government has already been spent. When people had to fish through their pockets for pounds of quarters, Daley’s poll numbers began falling through the floor.

And last week, Daley went ballistic over reports that City Hall wants police to write even more parking tickets, to squeeze even more nickels and dimes out of the people.

Even a critic can tell you Daley loves the city. And though he’s been weakened, he’s still a formidable man.

But after controlling civic life for more than 20 years, Daley has found that some things are beyond his control.

The economy has put pressure on him and Waguespack’s pressure has been the application of reason, and it’s been devastating. He is just about the only elected official to talk about running for mayor while standing up bravely and speaking what’s on the minds of much of Chicago.

“When I started talking this way, some people in the ward and many in the city were telling me, ‘You’re off base,'” Waguespack said. “They’d say, ‘You don’t understand how things work.’ And all I said I was doing is looking at the math. And the math says he sold us out.

“Things like the parking meters, Meigs Field, the understaffed police force, the schools collapsing, the parks collapsing, the negative bond ratings — meaning it will cost taxpayers even more to borrow money for municipal infrastructure projects — I mean the list goes on and on and on. It’s those major issues he’s failed on. People are not calling him out on it.”

I told Waguespack that, a few months ago, I’d been invited to address a breakfast at the Union League Club about Chicago politics. I don’t usually do formal panel discussions. I’d much rather hang out with readers and grill lots of meat and drink a few cold beers and talk politics. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea for later this fall.

But that morning at the Union League, the folks at the breakfast were businesspeople who take the long view. And I asked them to consider the political long view.

No matter what you think of Daley, he’s controlled the city his way for decades. But his time is coming to an end, and he must see the end of his days as mayor.

And Boss Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House, is in that same predicament. Both men are in their late 60s, and things change.

I’m not talking of their health. I hope each man is vigorous for decades to come. But their way of doing business is changing. Politicians know it. And taxpayers can no longer sustain it.

Which brings me to Waguespack. He’s not slick. He doesn’t dye his hair or have one of those perennial tans. He just looks at the books and speaks his mind.

“Voters know in their heart that he’s wrong,” Waguespack said. “They know in their heart that he’s dragging the city down. Yet no one has been able to stand up to it, except maybe people in the media like you. Even elected officials say we need a new way. The old way no longer works.”

It looks like the campaign has already begun.