Fran Speilman, Chicago Sun-Times
The $2 million super PAC created to re-elect Mayor Rahm Emanuel and strengthen his City Council majority is taking aim at another member of the Progressive Caucus and a second shot at one of Emanuel’s strongest critics.
Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th) are the targets of Chicago Forward’s latest offensive, while their Progressive Caucus colleague Nick Sposato (36th) gets a pass as he attempts to triumph over the field of candidates running for an open seat in the Northwest Side’s 38th Ward.
Last month, Chicago Forward blanketed the 32nd Ward with a costly direct-mail piece targeting Waguespack for casting one of four “no” votes against a 2015 budget that raised the city’s parking tax again to generate $10 million needed to double the year-round army assigned to patch potholes and repair crumbling streets.
Waguespack countered that he voted against the mayor’s budget because Emanuel once again used runaway overtime — $100 million in 2013 and $95 million last year — as a substitute for police hiring.
The new mass mailer accuses Waguespack of casting the lone City Council vote in 2009 against providing property tax relief to low- and moderate-income homeowners.
The vote was tied to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision to privatize Chicago parking meters for 75 years in exchange for an up-front payment of $1.15 billion and use $35 million of the proceeds to provide property tax relief.
Daley had hoped to dole out cash grants — ranging from $25 to $200 — to half of Chicago’s 400,000 homeowners to ease the burden caused by a phase-out of the 7 percent cap on assessment increases. But relatively few homeowners took him up on the offer.
“This vote was tied to the parking meter deal. [Waguespack] had already been very public about his opposition to that deal. But what he didn’t have to do was take it out on Chicago homeowners who desperately needed a few hundred dollars in their wallets as many were facing layoff or foreclosure,” said Becky Carroll, the longtime Emanuel ally now serving as chairman and CEO of Chicago Forward.
“It once again speaks to how he’s put his political agenda before that of what’s in the best interest of the residents of his ward and the city.”
The costly direct-mail piece targeting Arena focuses on what the flier calls alderman’s “double talk” on the volatile issue of raising taxes.
“In 2011, he was on the record as being adamantly opposed to raising any taxes. Today as an alderman, he’s changed his tune. He has not only proposed raising income and property taxes. He’s also proposed creating a new commuter tax,” Carroll said.
“The issue is whether residents and families want to put their trust in someone who says one thing, then says another.”
Carroll also revealed that Chicago Forward has decided to give Sposato a pass and endorse nobody in the wide-open 38th Ward race to replace retiring Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th).
Sposato opted to run in the 38th Ward after the new ward map cut the heart out of the 36th Ward and nearly doubled its Hispanic population — from 32 percent to 61.2 percent.
The first Chicago firefighter ever elected to the City Council, Sposato has recently softened his opposition to Emanuel and voted for the mayor’s 2015 budget.
Waguespack said he voted against Daley’s token property tax relief for three reasons: the parking meter deal did nothing to fix Chicago’s “structural operating deficit;” the break was bankrolled by funds siphoned from the “rainy day fund” created by parking meter proceeds, and Wall Street rating agencies advised against it and dropped the city’s outlook from stable to negative.
“It just shows their desperation and lack of knowledge about what the real issues are and were. They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at anybody who has good ideas because they’ve run out of them,” said Waguespack, who has $37,369 in cash for his Feb. 24 race against challenger Elise Doody-Jones.
“If [Chicago Forward] is basically saying I’m doing a bad thing by voting against this, what they’re really saying is they support what happened in 2009 under Daley. That is, sell off the parking meters and provide gimmicky property tax relief with the money. It was such a bad gimmick, hardly anybody took advantage of it.”
Arena’s campaign manager Dave Miranda called the direct-mail piece trashing Arena “another case of a shadowy super PAC cynically distorting the facts to confuse voters and suppress turnout.
“Ald. Arena supports protecting seniors’ benefits and keeping our high-performing Level One neighborhood public schools strong. Of course this is a revenue question, but before we look at raising taxes, first we need to reform the TIF system and cut out wasteful spending,” Miranda wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Ald. Arena wants to make sure that, if we do look at new revenues, the very wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share so we’re not balancing our budget on the backs of middle-class families.”
Waguespack and Arena are allies of mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti, who has accused Emanuel’s allies of creating and funding the super PAC in a bullying attempt to stifle City Council dissent by “taking out” the Progressive Caucus.
Last week, Chicago Forward came to the rescue of 17 of the mayor’s most reliable supporters.
With spending “in the healthy six figure range” on direct-mail, robo-calls and digital communication, Chicago Forward is hoping to put the mayor’s floor leader, two of his aldermanic appointees and 14 other incumbents over the top.