Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman Wednesday, May 15, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Lightfoot promises to ‘blow up all the old concepts’ as she remakes City Council

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot vowed Wednesday to “blow up all the old concepts about using city government to profit oneself” — and give a starring role in that break-up to Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Lightfoot refused to confirm reports she has chosen Waguespack to serve as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) as Budget Committee chairman and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) to chair the Zoning Committee.

Conversations were fluid and “things could certainly shift,” she said.

But she made it clear Waguespack would be batting clean-up in her lineup of committee chairman. He’s “able, smart” and “the kind of person that we want as a public servant,” she said, and that’s not all.

“He’s the only one of the aldermen who actually supported me before Feb. 26 and I’m not gonna forget that,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times Wednesday.

“It is worth something because he showed courage. He got a huge amount of pressure and blowback — not only from aldermanic colleagues, but also from powerful union interests. But he stood up and did what he thought was right and, of course, I’m always gonna be grateful for his loyalty.”

Last week, Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) said senior aldermen tired of waiting for a clear signal from Lightfoot were reorganizing themselves.

Their tentative lineup includes Tunney as Finance chairman; Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) retaining the role of Budget Committee chairman; Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) hanging onto the Rules Committee; possibly Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) as Zoning Committee chairman, and Beale as chairman of the Committee on Workforce Development and, perhaps, floor leader.

Beale warned Lightfoot that if she insists on pushing Waguespack for Finance chairman or tries to dump Austin from Budget, she may be picking a fight she cannot win.

An embarrassing defeat in the first test of Lightfoot’s strength could also set the stage for a turbulent relationship with the Council, he said.

“We want to work with the administration. But we don’t want to blow up the City Council for one person who has no relationships … with people in the City Council and has never had a committee,” Beale said of Waguespack.

Lightfoot acknowledged the May 29 reorganization vote will be her first test of Council muscle, one she can’t afford to lose. In fact, she needs a comfortable victory margin to eliminate any doubt about her future strength.

But she expressed absolute confidence she would have a “good working majority” in the Council, one that can deliver her hand-picked lineup — whether or not Waguespack is voted Mr. Congenialty.

“I want people who are going to deliver for people of this city. I’m not interested in people who are only about personal gain, personal benefit. And many of the people [who] have put themselves out there on the record are people who are upset because I’m gonna change the status quo,” she said.

“This is not about dividing up the spoils of government for oneself. That is antithetical to the change that I’m gonna bring to city government. So, yeah, they’re worried. They’re nervous. And they should be. They’re going to be because I’m gonna blow up all the old concepts about using city government to profit oneself. That is not what voters have voted for.”

Austin supported Toni Preckwinkle in the mayoral runoff. But she wants to remain Budget chairman and has promised to be just as loyal to Lightfoot as she was to Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.

She also condemned the hateful remarks U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush made about Lightfoot during a March 22 Preckwinkle rally.

Austin was on the stage when Rush warned that the “blood of the next young black man or black woman” killed by police would be on the hands of Lightfoot supporters if the former police board president won.

Wednesday, Lightfoot was asked whether she believes Austin when the alderman says she “couldn’t get off the stage fast enough” when Rush made those remarks.

“There’s a group shot of that stage. She’s in it — as are a number of other people. They’re gonna have to give account for their behavior,” Lightfoot said.

“First of all, they’ve got to give account to their own constituents. And the way that they move forward and conduct themselves as representatives of the people will be evidence as to whether or not they’re part of that crowd or part of the future of the city.”

Chicago aldermen are already griping — some more publicly than others — about Lightfoot’s plan to honor her signature campaign promise by stripping aldermen of their absolute power over licenses and permits in their wards.

Lightfoot made it clear she won’t stop there when it comes to ending aldermanic prerogative, the unwritten rule that’s at the heart of the attempted extortion charge against former Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and nearly every other aldermanic corruption case over the years.

She’s also planning to re-write Chicago’s zoning code to prevent aldermen from using their control over zoning to strong-arm campaign contributions from developers and block affordable housing.

“We’re gonna rewrite the zoning code to eliminate aldermanic prerogative. We have to,” she said.

“No alderman — no single person — should have a unilateral veto right over any and everything that goes on in his or her ward. That’s not democracy. That’s a dictatorship.”

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