Lightfoot’s most powerful City Council ally urges her to abandon threat to abolish aldermanic prerogative over zoning

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Lightfoot’s handpicked chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, says it’s a fight the mayor would lose.

SHARE Lightfoot’s most powerful City Council ally urges her to abandon threat to abolish aldermanic prerogative over zoning
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd)

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, is advising Mayor Lori Lightfoot to abandon her threat to abolish aldermanic prerogative over zoning in favor of greater transparency.

Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot should abandon her threat to abolish aldermanic prerogative over zoning because it’s a fight she would lose, one of her closest City Council allies said Friday.

Hours after taking office, Lightfoot signed an executive order stripping aldermen of their unbridled control over licensing and permitting in their wards.

She has promised to do the same for aldermanic prerogative over zoning. But that will require a City Council vote.

On Friday, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the mayor’s handpicked Finance Committee chairman, advised Lightfoot to shelve the zoning fight.

“You don’t need to take a broad sword and chop it out. ... She has a lot of other battles that we’re working on … that need to be focused on,” Waguespack told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“You should still have aldermanic prerogative until you have a Planning Department that works proactively for the residents and the businesses that are out there now — and it doesn’t.”

Waguespack did not hesitate when asked whether Lightfoot would lose a City Council vote to eliminate aldermanic prerogative over zoning.

“Yes, she would,” he said.

Instead of risking an embarrassing defeat, Waguespack advised the mayor to shine more light on the zoning process.

“You should have a template that every alderman should follow for every development that comes through in terms of transparency for the public, how much information they get. What kind of information. That’s where the Plan Commission is moving. She should do the same thing,” Waguespack said.

“You could still have aldermanic prerogative if the Zoning Department said, `We’re not gonna pass anything until you show us all the plans, how stuff looks on the board, who the owners are, who the developers are. ... I’ve been doing that for 12 years. ... Everything has to be put out on the table or we don’t pass it.”

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Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to eliminate aldermanic prerogative at the heart of the sweeping racketeering indictment of former Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and nearly every aldermanic conviction over the years.

In October, she put the zoning battle on hold, telling the Sun-Times editorial board, “One thing at a time. We’ve got a lot of things on our plate. ... The executive order was a big shock to the system of many of our aldermen who really enjoyed and fully exercised aldermanic prerogative. We’re building relationships with them.”

In a statement, Lightfoot said Chicago voters have “spoken quite clearly that aldermanic prerogative is a problematic relic of the past that must give way to a more transparent, inclusive form of governance.”

She vowed to develop a “comprehensive land use plan” for Chicago that “has not existed since 1966.”

“Economic development, the lifeblood of our city, will never truly reach its potential if we have 50 different sets of rules, which perpetuate a status quo that has failed too many,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

Waguespack’s surprisingly candid advice mirrors the advice Lightfoot got a month before taking office from Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who worked with Lightfoot at the U.S. attorney’s office.

At the time, Ferguson warned the mayor would have a tough time getting rid of aldermanic prerogative because you “can’t legislate relationships,” and she might have to settle for shining the light on it.

In recent months, the City Council has pushed back against the mayor with greater frequency.

Three times Lightfoot was forced to alter plans for the City Council’s rollout of recreational marijuana or fend off efforts to delay it.

Aldermanic opposition forced Lightfoot to pull back plans to license consumption sites for recreational weed. Aldermanic support forced her to go along with a plan to freeze demolition along the 606 trail. And a settlement negotiated by her Law Department was rejected.

Waguespack believes that is all related to Lightfoot’s refusal to horse trade for City Council votes and play the reward-and-punishment game.

“There’s a new era of questioning and deliberation. They feel emboldened to be able to finally break away from the chains of ‘The mayor says this and you absolutely have to do it or they’re gonna withhold funding from you some way,’” Waguespack said.

“[Richard M.] Daley and Rahm [Emanuel] were giving people crumbs … ‘Vote for my … $10 billion budget — as bad as it is — and I’ll give you $100,000 for this little thing.’ What she’s trying to do is say, ‘We don’t need to do those things to get the things you and your constituents need.’”

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