After an emotional fairwell to the City Council, outgoing City Clerk Susana Mendoza on Wednesday urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint her top deputy as her replacement.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that three Hispanic women in government — none of whom has ever held elected office — have emerged as leading candidates to replace Mendoza.
They are Anna Valencia, director of the Emanuel’s Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs; Maria Guerra Lapacek, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection; and Clarisol Duque, Chicago chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
But, if Mendoza has her way, the mayor’s choice will be “none of the above.” She wants Deputy Clerk Carina Sanchez to be appointed to the $133,545-a-year job that can be a springboard to higher office, as it was for Mendoza.
“Carina would be incredibly, eminently qualified. She’s been an integral part of everything that we’ve done. Every success that we’ve achieved,” Mendoza said Wednesday.
“This appointment should really be about who can run the office the best. We’ve really transformed the way it’s operated. Having put my heart and soul into an office that used to be seen as a throwaway office and now is seen as a model for government efficiency, on behalf of Chicagoans, I would like to see the office continue to run in the way that we’ve run it so far.”
Mendoza called Valencia “fantastic” and Guerra Lapacek “a great administrator.” But the outgoing clerk argued that both women would have a learning curve in an office that processes legislation and touches the lives of Chicagoans because it sells city stickers and residential parking permits.
“The mayor has so many huge challenges ahead of him in every other aspect of running this city. You really want the office of the city clerk to run in the same fantastic way it was. Why have to re-invent the wheel and learn a whole new process when we already have a person who’s managing it day to day for me?” she said.
“Chicagoans can go to sleep at night knowing that the office is being managed perfectly. There’s nobody better qualified to run the office than [Sanchez]. She’s a double-major from the University of Chicago. Her credentials are impeccable on paper. But more importantly, they’re impeccable on how she’s already helped me run the office.”
City Hall sources said Emanuel has spent the last few days meeting with all of the frontrunners.
Aides described the mayor as “torn” between Guerra and Valencia.
Valencia was asked to predict the outcome of political jockeying that began long before Mendoza won the most expensive race for state comptroller in Illinois history over Leslie Munger, who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to fill a vacancy created by the death of Judy Barr Topinka.
“We’ll see,” she said with a smile.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, has also been angling for the clerk’s job. Reboyras all but threw in the towel Wednesday in favor of any one of the women under consideration.
“Would I love to have it? Absolutely. But I’ll support whatever decision the mayor makes,” said Reboyras, who earned his stripes by sitting through countless hours of public hearings on the mayor’s plan to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority.
Reboyras had high praise for Valencia, a fresh face on the political scene whose appointment could pave the way for her African-American deputy Samantha Fields to take her place. That would appease black aldermen who are quietly staking claim to the clerk’s office.
“She’s well-liked. She’s a Hispanic lady. Very intelligent. Very sharp lady. A lot of contacts in the City Council. Everybody likes her,” the alderman said.
Asked about Guerra Lapacek, a Daley administrative holdover, Reboyras said, “Same situation. She’s well-liked, very sharp individual. An attorney also. She would fit the role perfect.”
During City Council meetings, the clerk reads into the record legislation introduced by the mayor and aldermen.
On Wednesday, Mendoza performed that function for the final time, then said an emotional goodbye with a playful jab at Emanuel.
“Thank you to the mayor for terrorizing me for the last five years. You all know my pain,” Mendoza, who will be sworn in as comptroller next week, told aldermen.
It was Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) who moved to suspend the rules to allow Mendoza to address the Council. Burke said he has a “fatherly feeling” for Mendoza after being instrumental in her first election to the Illinois House.