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Ald. Scott Waguespack has an ambitious reform agenda for finance committee

Ald Scott Waguespack has an ambitious reform agenda for finance committee

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said Friday he has lined up “around 25” of the 26 votes he needs to become chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee and outlined an ambitious reform agenda if he claims the job long held by Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

Waguespack promised to cut in half the Finance Committee’s $2.3 million-a-year payroll; create a subcommittee to investigate ways to cut costs and raise revenues; and stop the schemes that allowed Burke to maintain fealty by loaning other aldermen staff members and helping them pay their bills.

Processing damage to vehicle claims filed by motorists who hit potholes, for example, is an administrative function that doesn’t belong in the Finance Committee, he said.

“Some people look at this Finance Committee chair position as a way to have a lot of jobs. … I’m looking at it as, ‘How are we really going to reform the City Council?’” said Waguespack, chairman of the Progressive Caucus.

“If we’re gonna do it right — as the mayor [elect] wants to do and as she has a mandate to do from 75 percent of the people in this city — then we’ve got to . . . cut a wide swath and make sure that we’re looking at every task.”

Now that Burke faces attempted extortion charges and his replacement, Pat O’Connor, was defeated, aldermen are searching for a compromise choice whom Lightfoot can also trust.

The frontrunners are Waguespack and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), both of whom were early Lightfoot supporters.

Some of the City Council’s most senior aldermen favor Tunney, whom Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) calls “more of an even-tempered individual” who would “work collectively with the council.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) has been even more outspoken, accusing Waguespack of failing to “work well with others.”

On Friday, Waguespack acknowledged that he can sometimes come across as holier than thou. But, he said, only because he dares to “challenge people to do better.”

“I’ve always been out there basically saying, ‘We’re gonna pass something, but let’s make it the best we can for taxpayers,’” he said.

“What a lot of people mistake [as] challenges to the system and challenges to people is me just trying to . . . do what’s best for everybody. I always try to come across as meaningful and serious. People kind of take that to as an affront to, maybe politics the way they play it.”

Tunney has staked his claim to the Finance Committee chairmanship by calling himself the business community’s voice in an anti-business climate.

Waguespack sells himself as the tried-and-true reformer at a time when the City Council is bracing for what could be the biggest scandal in Chicago history.

“What people really want is somebody who’s been challenging the system. Somebody who has been critical of the bad deals and the crooked deals and the bad politics that have been going on,” Waguespack said.

“There were only a handful of us who’ve ever challenged Ed Burke over the years. Whether it was on his security detail, on the workers’ comp, on his property tax assessment work. . . . It’s gotta be somebody who comes in . . . and basically says, ‘We’re gonna restructure this thing for the good of the people.’ Otherwise, it’s the same old thing.”

Lightfoot has promised to issue an executive order on May 20 — inauguration day — ending the unwritten rule that has given aldermen virtually iron-fisted control over zoning and permitting in their wards.

The longstanding tradition is at the heart of the attempted extortion charge against Burke and nearly every other aldermanic corruption case over the years.

Waguespack said an executive order would likely suffice to end aldermanic signoff on “executive tasks” such as permits for driveways, alley access, signs and block parties that the Departments of Buildings and Transportation are supposed to handle.

But when it comes to aldermanic prerogative being used to block affordable housing, Waguespack argued that it will likely take yet another re-write of the city’s zoning code.

As for the looming, $1 billion spike in pension payments, Waguespack urged Lightfoot to dust off the Progressive Caucus plan for a “stormwater stress tax” on large developments and seek legislative approval for a Chicago-only tax on services that include attorneys, accountants and hair stylists.

A service tax of just 2.25 percent could generate as much as $400 million annually, he said.

Waguespack said his Progressive Caucus is willing to work with the six-member Socialist Caucus to revise the city’s soon-to-expire franchise agreement with Commonwealth Edison to include a progressive rate structure and end to shut offs. But he argued that ethics reforms must come first.