Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson working to put his stamp on City Council reorganization

Jason Lee, a senior adviser to Johnson’s transition team, refused to pinpoint specific changes amid reports that several committee chairs could lose those posts.

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The Chicago City Council, at its Monday, May 16, 2022 meeting, during which it passed a new ward map.

The Chicago City Council at its May 16, 2022, meeting, during which it passed a new ward map. An expansion of the number of committees — to 28 — and the chairs assigned to those committees passed last month, but it may not last.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Brandon Johnson’s allies and transition advisers are working behind the scenes to put the mayor-elect’s stamp on the new City Council by tweaking the reorganization approved last month and installing more Johnson loyalists as key committee chairs.

Jason Lee, a senior adviser to Johnson’s transition team, refused to pinpoint specific changes amid reports that Finance Chair Scott Waguespack (32nd), Aviation Chair Matt O’Shea (19th), License Chair Emma Mitts (37th) — as well as Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) and Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), chairs of the newly created Committees on Executive Appointments and Building Standards — could be among those on the chopping block.

Lee said only that a “number of conversations” underway could result in altering the plan approved March 30.

“We want to work with the City Council in a collaborative way and we want to have conversations about putting together a structure that achieves our mutual objectives, which is moving the city forward. Historically, the mayor has had some influence in order to make sure that the Council can be an effective conduit for the city’s agenda. … There has to be some responsiveness there,” Lee said.

Lee was asked whether Johnson wants to make certain the chairs of the most pivotal committees will support his agenda and not try to sabotage it.

“I’m not gonna go as far as verifying that. I just think that the mayor-elect of Chicago should be a participant in the conversations, and we should build a Council structure that is effective. We don’t want to negotiate through the media, but conversations are being had, and they’ve been cordial, respectful, and most people are very excited about working together,” he said.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson being welcomed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday to the mayor’s office at City Hall.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson was welcomed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to the mayor’s office at City Hall on April 6.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Last month, the lame-duck City Council decided not to wait until the new mayor and Council are sworn in to declare its independence.

Led by three of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest allies, including Waguespack, the Council approved a reorganization — with a new lineup of chairs — that increased the number of committees from 19 to 28.

The multimillion-dollar expansion — without a clear funding source — must be ratified by the new Council and still could be undone after Johnson weighs in.

That is likely to happen, no matter whom the changes offend.

“When this was organized, it was not clear who the mayor of Chicago would be. Now, we know who it will be. So there is an opportunity to bring the mayor-elect of Chicago into the conversation, and folks have been amenable to those discussions,” Lee said. “I’m not certain that I accept the premise that people will be upset or angry. Negotiations are negotiations. Nobody gets everything that they ask for. But hopefully, we get what we can all live with.”

Waguespack could not be reached for comment. Mitts said whether she stays as License chair is up to the Council.

“If the body want whatever they want, I’m not gonna fight anything,” Mitts told the Sun-Times. She has talked to Johnson, but “I haven’t heard anything about him wanting his own people.”

Mitts, who has a history of being loyal to all mayors during her tenure, was asked whether she would agree to step aside.

“He’ll have to ask me. If he does, then I’ll have to figure out what I’m gonna say, depending on how he asks me. … I would want to know why,” she said.

Quinn said what the Council did March 30 was “historic,” and he was “proud to be a part of it.”

“We’re moving forward in the next process, which is to begin, for the first time in probably 70 years, actually listening to members of the Council and their preferences of what committees they want to serve and making those placements and continuing to forge ahead in the spirit of complete independence,” Quinn said.

“On the Council floor, I did make a comment that, as soon as the fifth floor is occupied, there would be an attempt to unravel this. And it’s important for us to stick together as a Council and really have independence. For the first time in a long time, a mayor won’t start a roll call 19 or 20 to nothing.”

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) said he’s gotten calls from “people who are on the chopping block” seeking his support.

Gardiner voted against the reorganization on March 30 — but also called efforts to undo it a “complete and utter joke.”

“It’s a sign of these so-called progressives who stand by words like accountability and transparency and do the absolute opposite when it’s time to actually make decisions,” Gardiner said.

“It’s a power play. Same game, different names,” he said.

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