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The Mechanics
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Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

A Potential Challenge to Mayor Daley From the 32nd Ward

Scott Waguespack, the 32nd Ward Alderman who took on and beat the fading remnants of the Rostenkowski/Gabinski machine in the Bucktown/Ukrainian Village/Lakeview ward in 2007, told the Sun-Times that he is considering taking a run at the Fifth Floor whether or not Mayor Daley still resides there. (He lives there right?)

Give the man credit. Waguespack has been a City Council pest, voting against the Mayor's budgets, embarrassing the Mayor's staff by doing the actual math on the parking meter lease, and hectoring the Mayor in public about tax increment financing, or TIFs. Management of his ward is another issue; Waguespack has faced on-and-off criticism by his constituents for perceived slips in service in the ward. Still, by announcing a potential campaign to call attention specifically to the Mayor's failings, he's going out on a limb. Plenty of politicians have been ready to criticize the way the city has been run and the "Chicago Way" but rarely call the Mayor out by name. Mayoral pretenders almost universally qualify their interest by adding that those interests are post-Daley.

Clerk of the County Courts Dorothy Brown was pretty critical of the Mayor in her 2007 campaign as well, but Waguespack's challenge would have added weight because he'd be coming out of the Council, and has an albeit brief (and unsuccessful, mostly) track record of actually resisting the Mayor's policy fiats. Something about Brown's campaign kept it from taking off--specifically, I'd think, is that this was pre-Olympics, pre-Meters, pre-TIF, uh, Caring About By Almost Anybody, pre-teachers union reorganization, etc. There is also undoubtedly some media bias to it. A white challenge to Daley will generally get more attention than a black challenge when those challengers have a similar public profile. It isn't clear why; perhaps it's a leftover from the partisan primary days and the Council War years when voters voted along racial lines (the last seriously competitive elections). Given the Mayor's huge vote majorities in black-majority wards and the recent resounding victory of Toni Preckwinkle in the Democratic primary for the County Board Presidency (a field that included Brown), there's sufficient evidence that racial bloc voting is not nearly as important in local elections today as it was in '83-'89.

The Mayor's popularity is at its lowest point in a generation, and given the decaying capacity of the city political machine--"Machine Lite"--to act as a serious vote generator on a large scale, even a "send a message" campaign could do serious damage to the Mayor's ability to govern the city. Should those institutions and organizations that compose Machine Lite--the large financial and real estate corporations, trades unions, corporate-funded "civic" organizations, religious and neighborhood political machines--sense the beginning of the end, we could see a rapid disintegration of the ruling coalition. Self preservation will trump loyalty. As well it should; the Mayor has not shied away from abandoning old allies when it was politically necessary (Cf., Todd Stroger).

Now here's the irony--or, better, poetic justice--of it: in 2007 Waguespack benefited from the rapid gentrification of the 32nd Ward. The high turnover of long-time residents depressed the relevance of the Rostenkowski organization. Similarly, the Mayor's decade-long focus on attracting professionals and young families to the city (and the subsequent pricing out of working class residents) has frayed the bonds of neighborhood networks that traditionally defend local institutions. This gentrification more than any scandal or reform movement has been a significant factor in the on-going erosion of the Machine's power. Should Waguespack run and succeed in securing some early organizational support (as Preckwinkle was able to do, albeit by downplaying her criticisms of the Mayor) it will undoubtedly be these new arrivals that provide him with a significant portion of his base.

There are lots of "ifs". Also, Harold Washington probably could not have beaten the Machine without Jane Byrne's surprise win 1979; similarly, it will likely taking one competitive election to expose the potential path to victory before Daley and Machine Lite can be displaced. While there will be a tendency to point to Preckwinkle's campaign as a model, Mick Dumke, lately of the Chicago Reader, made a good case that there was no "Preckwinkle Coalition". So any challenge would need to be furious and would still likely fail; particularly if opposition comes from many different quarters.

Speaking of which.

According to the Sun-Times, Waguespack isn't alone in considering a run against the Mayor:

Aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd) and Tom Allen (38th) are also thinking about challenging Daley. So is the mayor's former corruption-fighting inspector general, David Hoffman, and retiring Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan.

Waguespack is a plucky cat, but all the pluck in the world won't mean much against the institutional forces that support the status quo in Chicago. If all or even just a few of these candidates get into the race, the available money for a challenge would be diffused and weaken the field. I'd imagine in that specific area Hoffman would have an edge, given his fundraising base is more broad and at another level of remove, since he ran for a statewide office. You'll note these are all white dudes, although Fioretti represents a black-plurality ward. With the exception of Fioretti, who represents the South Loop and parts of the Near West, they are also all North Siders. None of them comes from an area south of 26th Street.

Should this bit of news light a fire under other potential challengers--and it is literally unbelievable that there isn't a black or Latino alderman putting out similar feelers, despite this Dumke rundown of challengers--to make announcements, the summer could get much more interesting. His Elective Majesty may just have to stir from his repose and show if he's still got the chops that rebuilt the Machine and accrued more power than any municipal official in the country.

 
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Jason / July 19, 2010 4:11 PM

Great piece Ramsin. I think Alderman Waguespack would be a fantastic mayor.

As for "perceived slips in service in the ward"-- I don't really think that's too accurate. I've personally seen this guy out there cleaning storm drains to make up for fewer resources.

Joe Lake / July 20, 2010 9:37 AM

Competition in the 32nd Ward: According to the Chicago News Cooperative, Rep. John Fritchey attempted to recruit Ald. Bernie Stone's daughter to run against Ald. Scott Waguespack in the 2011 aldermanic election. Stone's daughter declined. Fritchey is the 32nd Ward Democrtic Committeeman. According to sources in the 32nd Ward, Fritchey is expected to run a candidate against Waguespack in 2011.
Joe Lake, Bucktown

IrishPirate / July 20, 2010 10:07 AM

Ramsin you ignorant slut.

Waguespack?!?

I like the Wagster, but he has less charisma than Dan Hynes. That may actually be negative on the charisma scale.

There are no prominent black or hispanic politicians capable of taking on Daley. Now there may be a junior State legislator who could take him on. The more prominent pols are all too damaged to make a move.

It also doesn't help that the black population of the city is down at least 150,000 people since the last census.

Racial bloc voting has lessened, particularly in perceived less important offices like County Board Prez or POTUS, but as for Mayor I gotz 2 figure it would play a prominent role.

The problem with a less prominent black or hispanic POL taking on Daley is that the more prominent POLS like Jackson and Guitterez have huge egos and couldn't sit back without trying to sabotage the candidacy.

Dorothy Brown didn't do well in 2007 because she is rightfully perceived as a huge HACK with a massive ego and little accomplishment.

I don't think Fioretti will run. Strikes me as not having the testicular virility. Allen, same thing. Dart, ain't gonna do it.

Perhaps Houlihan will run. I just don't know if he has the fire in the belly. Nineteenth Ward roots. North side living. Decent record of non hackatood. Articulate.

One on one he'd be a formidable candidate.

Personally, I'm considering running. I can dress up like a clown and follow the mayor around from event to event. The clownmobile will be everywhere!

Now of course once he is acquitted Blago could run. He would have to fight the effect of impeachment barring him from office, but he is just the type of clown to give the Mayor a run for his money.

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