After months of behind-the-scenes lobbying, there’s a last-ditch effort under way to prevent former independent Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) from becoming the new, $107,000-a-year City Council Financial Analyst, City Hall sources said Friday.
A seven-member selection committee will meet Tuesday to choose the person who will run the $485,000-a-year independent budget office created to provide the City Council with expert advice on mayoral spending, programs and privatization.
Shiller was one of “nine or ten” finalists, but some of those involved question her independence and do not consider her the most qualified.
Her interview was described as “rambling.” Other candidates had “policy expertise” and were far more specific about how they would approach the city’s financial crisis, sources said.
“She’s not unqualified. It’s just a matter of getting the right person,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a selection committee member who was the prime mover behind creating the office.
“We’re about to vote on a telephone tax to avoid a property tax increase. But, next year and in the coming years, we will have to wear the jacket for legacy issues handed down to us. Our constituents are demanding a thorough review of the issues that come before us. That includes anything that even looks like the parking meter deal. They expect us to function like a legislative body and this office will play a big part of that.”
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), another member of the selection committee, said there are “a lot of excellent candidates” for the job, but refused to say how she plans to vote.
The selection committee is comprised of five aldermen and two outsiders: former CTA Board Chair Carole Brown and union leader Joe Pijanowski.
Shiller’s candidacy is being championed by Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee. Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) has also endorsed Shiller. Housing Committee Chairman Ray Suarez (31st) is expected to join them in voting for Shiller.
All three were described as leery of turning the new office over to an outsider after feeling burned by Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan. They view Shiller as someone they can trust.
That means Shiller needs just one more vote to put her over the top. Pijanowski was non-committal. Brown could not be reached.
Shiller has spent the last seven months lobbying her former colleagues for the job. She insisted that she has both the independence and the political and governmental expertise to do the job.
“I’ve always been an independent thinker. … The issue of qualifications and independence is not an issue,” said Shiller, 66.
“I know the budget. I know the job of alderman. I know the pressures on the city and I know how to do research. … It’s not just having a good idea. It’s knowing how to make it work. That’s what I can do.”
Elected to the City Council in 1987 with the backing of then-Mayor Harold Washington, whom she described as “like a father to me,” Shiller represented the North Side’s 46th Ward for 24 years.
For nearly half that time, Shiller was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s most persistent critic. She supported candidates against Daley and was the only dissenting vote against his budgets.
During budget hearings, she would pepper department heads with questions and submit a hundred more in writing.
Ultimately, Shiller was co-opted by Daley, became a committee chairman, supported his budgets and programs and ended up endorsing Daley for re-election in 2003.
Daley returned the favor by supporting the Shiller-backed Wilson Yard project, among others. He also stopped putting up candidates to run against her.
At the time, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote that “the last squeaky wheel in the city Council had been greased. . . . The last independent voice had joined the chorus.”
Earlier this year, Austin said she supports Shiller “100 percent” because she’s battle-tested and able to “hit the ground running.”
“It’s not a person that we have to get ready. Other candidates work and work and work in a vacuum of no knowledge,” Austin said.
“No one could be more expert than Helen because she knows our system. She has worked this system 20-some odd years.”