Waguespack bidding for Fritchey’s Democratic committeeman slot

November 30, 2011

Ian Fullerton, Skyline Newspaper

Frosty rivalry revived

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) wants to take on a second job in his ward, but to win the post he’ll have to unseat a one-time political ally.

On Monday, Waguespack registered to run as a candidate for Democratic committeeman in his ward, which encompasses West Town and parts of Lincoln Park on the city’s North Side.

The alderman did not return calls for comment for this story.

The position of committeeman is an unpaid post which designates an elected party official as a political organizer in his or her respective ward. Once a significant cog in the city’s Democratic machine, these days the duties of a committeeman mainly consist of overseeing voter registration efforts and grooming party candidates to run for local offices.

Currently in his second term as head of the ward, Waguespack — a noted reformer who made his name in City Council by casting a rare vote against for the infamous city parking meter lease deal in 2009 — has in the past hinted at his interests in higher offices in Chicago, including a cancelled bid for mayor.

But this time around, Waguespack’s run for the Democratic committeeman seat seems less like a crack at upward mobility and more like a push to square up the political environment on his home turf.

The post of 32nd Ward Democratic committeeman is currently held by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (who represents the County’s 12th District), a former campaign worker for Waguespack who has been an outspoken opponent of the alderman’s exploits since the two parted ways shortly after Waguespack took the aldermanic post four years ago.

Back then, Fritchey and Waguespack were railing against a common enemy: that of the deep-seated political machine run by “Big” Dan Rostenkowski, a Democratic Party organizer in Chicago and long-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 32nd Ward seat had been in the Rostenkowski family since the early 1930s, when Dan’s father, Joe, took the reins as alderman of the Near Northwest Side territory with strong backing from the ward’s Polish constituency.

In 1994, Rostenkowski was indicted on numerous felony counts, including embezzlement and payroll fraud. Those charges, coupled with a ward remapping that did not favor the Democratic machine, inevitably weakened the Rostenkowski dynasty.

By the time Waguespack — a political newcomer — threw in his chips for the seat, the ward’s incumbent, Ald. Ted Matlak, a former intern for Rostenkowski who was appointed to the post, had few allies. Waguespack narrowly beat out Matlak in a run-off ballot which separated the two candidates by 121 votes.

The next year, Fritchey won an unopposed run for the committeeman seat, which was left empty by former 32nd Ward alderman and Rostenkowski confidant Theris Gabinski.

It was around this time that the relationship between Fritchey and Waguespack took a hazy turn. The alderman has said that he distanced himself from Fritchey at that point because he felt that his campaign cohort was being too friendly with local developers. Fritchey has maintained that the reason for the split was unclear, claiming that Waguespack has changed his story several times over the years.

In early 2011, when Waguespack was running for re-election in the 32nd Ward, rumors spread that Fritchey had prepping candidates to unseat the incumbent alderman — a charge that the commissioner denied.

With Waguespack now gunning for his post, Fritchey told Skyline that the alderman’s candidacy was out of keeping with the political contender he once knew.

“When Scott first ran for office, he shared my belief that the old school machine model of having the same person serving as both alderman and committeeman wasn’t in the best interest of the 32nd Ward residents,” said Fritchey. “Now that he’s been alderman for a few years, he has apparently changed his mind about that.”

Fritchey said he took issue with the Waguespack’s bid because he believed that, while the aldermanic seat is a non-partisan post, the office of committeeman, he said, “is inherently a political position.”

“I don’t know that anyone wants to feel that there is any linkage between their political activity and their ability to get city services,” he said.

The double-billing of ward politicians is nothing new; Fritchey’s predecessor, Gabinski, held the titles of both alderman and Democratic committeeman for over a decade.

Waguespack and Fritchey are currently the only candidates registered for the ward’s Democratic committeeman post. John J. Curry, the ward’s Republican committeeman, has registered to run for the seat, and is currently unchallenged. Curry, an attorney, has held that position since 1996.

News of Waguespack’s candidacy for the position was first reported by the West Side community news site Our Urban Times.

The city’s primary election, which includes ballots for candidates for committeemen, is scheduled to take place on March 20.