No good reason to retire Rahm’s critics

February 17, 2015

Mark Brown, Chicago SunTimes

Ald. Scott Waguespack  (32nd) seemed awfully relaxed Tuesday for a guy targeted for defeat by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s money machine in next week’s election.

Despite efforts by Emanuel loyalists at the Chicago Forward Super PAC to mislead 32nd Ward voters with campaign mailings that distort Waguespack’s record, the two-term alderman said he believes he is in good shape for re-election.

“We’re working pretty hard, but I haven’t looked at it like I’m in dire straits,” Waguespack told me.

I’ll take that as a positive sign. It’s nice to think that somewhere in this city there are still voters who appreciate an alderman with independent instincts.

There aren’t many left.

The next City Council already stands to lose Emanuel’s most outspoken critic, Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), who played the same role to former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Fioretti was redistricted out of his old ward, so he chose to run for mayor, which isn’t working out very well for him either.

It would be a huge step backward for Chicago if the mayor is successful in removing his few remaining Council critics to replace them with a couple of more yes men or women.  As it is, Emanuel already routinely musters a 40-plus-vote majority in the 50-member body.

Say what you will about Fioretti, there has been a great value to the citizens of Chicago in having someone whose natural inclination is to challenge what the mayor wants to do.

If nothing else, it forces the 5th floor to pause and consider the fallout. Beyond that, mayoral opponents often bring an important issue into the public light that the news media might otherwise fail to spot on its own.

Even when opponents are wrong and the mayor is right about the proper approach to the issue at hand, that willingness to publicly question what the mayor wants to do is vital to what passes for democracy around here.

Sometimes it’s just important “having the person step to the plate and say that doesn’t smell right, that doesn’t sound right,” Waguespack said.

But Chicago Forward, which uses big donors allied with Emanuel to push the mayor’s agenda, has set its sights on silencing Emanuel’s remaining critics.

In addition to Waguespack, Emanuel’s friends at Chicago Forward have also hit Ald. John Arena (45th) with a negative campaign mailer.

Arena’s election four years ago was the 45th Ward’s first rejection of old-style Democratic Machine politics, and it usually takes a couple of elections for such a change to take hold, which means he still has some work to do this time around.

Arena has proven a strong addition to the small group of aldermen who call themselves the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, by showing a willingness to research issues on his own and drill down into the mayor’s programs.

Waguespack said he’s counting on Arena being re-elected and perhaps a couple of new independents added to the Progressive Caucus to help make up for the loss of Fioretti.

“There’s no reason to have 50 people rubber-stamping everything, just absolutely no reason,” Waguespack said. If unanimous support is the goal, then we might as well just cut the City Council in half, he added. Why stop there, some of you are thinking.

Waguespack, it must be noted, has endorsed Fioretti in the mayor’s race, and some would say basic politics dictates Emanuel under those circumstances must initiate a little payback — if only to keep Waguespack pinned down on the homefront and out of the mayor’s race.

I get that, but I still don’t see the necessity — or the wisdom — of trying to stamp out every trace of opposition in a legislative body that so rarely produces any.

Luckily, says Waguespack, Chicago Forward’s efforts against him have been fairly ham-handed, including a mailer tying an abundance of potholes in the ward to his vote against Emanuel’s budget.

Fixing the potholes is the Emanuel administration’s responsibility, as 32rd Ward residents are sophisticated enough to know, and the implication that Waguespack had no right to demand potholes in his ward be filled after voting against the mayor is exactly the sort of “old school politics” that Emanuel says he’s ended.

As Emanuel closes in on the support of a majority of voters needed to spare him from an April 7 runoff, it seems like the very least those voters could do is elect a few aldermen willing to challenge him.