City Council reorganization move by Lightfoot allies called ploy to keep themselves in power

Plan to boost number of Council’s committees unprecedented, unneeded and unfunded, critics say.

SHARE City Council reorganization move by Lightfoot allies called ploy to keep themselves in power
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) speaks during a press conference at City Hall in March.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who could lose his chairmanship of the City Council’s finance committee under the new mayor, is one of three Council members calling for a Council reorganization.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file.

A City Council reorganization hatched by three of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest allies would increase the number of committees from 19 to 28 to divvy up the political spoils, appease a majority and ensure its approval.

Former Inspector General Joe Ferguson on Wednesday denounced the plan as “self-preservational” and a “preemptive power move of the status quo wrapped in a package that includes meaningful reforms.”

It saddles Chicago taxpayers with millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses for which no revenue source has been identified, and “leaves out” the people of Chicago, Ferguson said.

He noted three members of Lightfoot’s leadership team — Finance Chair Scott Waguespack (32nd), Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8th) and Contracting Oversight and Equity Chair Jason Ervin (28th) — are the ringleaders of the reorganization plan, first reported by the Sun-Times. All three stand to lose their chairmanships under a new mayor.

“This is a change, in essence, of the form of government. A charter commission and a charter involving the input of citizens should be the means of doing this. The responsible way of going about this would ... include members of the new Council, would involve engagement of the public and would be collaborative with the new mayor,” Ferguson said.

“Change by the status quo without participation of the people themselves will never be seen as legitimate in Chicago. … This looks to be a preemptive, self-preservational power play. … It’s easy to the do the limbo when you don’t have a spine,” Ferguson said, referring specifically to Waguespack, Harris and Ervin.

Ferguson said there is no way that the City Council needs 28 committees — other than to secure the 26 votes needed for passage.

“It is breathtaking to even think of 28 committees in a City Council in which it is well-documented that half of the existing 19 committees do absolutely nothing of value,” Ferguson said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) was stripped of his committee chairmanship by Lightfoot in 2019 for opposing the new mayor’s choice of Waguespack as finance chair. He has spent the last four years as the lone voice demanding that the Council declare its independence and end what he called the “dictatorship” under Lightfoot.

On Wednesday, Beale joined Ferguson in accusing Waguespack, Harris and Ervin of spearheading the unprecedented, unnecessary and unfunded committee expansion.

They want to “force this down the throats of the City Council,” Beale said.

“The people spearheading this are people who carried Lori’s water for four years and never showed an ounce of independence for four years. ... They’re at risk of losing their chairmanships, and now they want to find religion and start a movement for an independent City Council when they have totally blocked me every step of the way for four years to help free ourselves and be independent,” Beale said.

“They’re in bed with the Socialists. They’re in bed with anyone who will vote for them in exchange for a chairmanship. And these new aldermen are buying into it because they don’t know the process. They don’t know the procedures. But I don’t think they’ve got the votes. I think the majority of the City Council knows this is nothing but a power grab for self-preservation,” said Beale.

At a news conference preceding Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Waguespack talked only in general terms about increasing the number of committees to create “more parity” between the various caucuses. He did not discuss specific numbers.

Several City alderpersons attended a news conference at City Hall before the City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Several city alderpersons attended a news conference at City Hall before Wednesday’s City Council meeting, where they called for changes that they say will make the Council more independent from the mayor.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

But Waguespack claimed to have lined up “much more than 26” votes for “this specific plan.” He’s so confident, he plans to call a special Council meeting for next week to pass it, along with a series of rules changes reining in direct introductions and burying legislation the mayor doesn’t like in the Rules Committee. There’s also a companion plan creating the Council’s own Office of Legislative Counsel and allowing for electronic dissemination of materials.

“This is what we should really have been doing all along,” Ervin said.

“This is a very important issue really for the City Council, but also for the city of Chicago as we speak on how to make Council more independent, making a more co-equal branch of government. ... Ultimately, this will create a good balance of power between the legislative and the executive branch.”

Beale is expected to emerge as a Council powerhouse and possible floor leader if Paul Vallas wins the April 4 runoff against Brandon Johnson.

Even if the Waguespack-Ervin-Harris plan is approved at next week’s special meeting, Beale said it still may not last. It could be challenged in court on grounds that only the new Council can reorganize itself. Or, it could simply be undone by the new Council.

“That’s all the new mayor wants. Yes, for us to be independent. But also have a voice on how the thing moves forward,” Beale said.

“You don’t organize the outgoing Council. You organize the incoming Council.”

Contributing: Pat Nabong

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