Mayor-elect Johnson forges ‘Unity Plan’ to reorganize the new City Council

The plan shrinks the number of Council panels from 28 to 20. Pat Dowell, whose switch of support from Lightfoot to Johnson was crucial to his victory, will be finance chair.

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Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s “Unity Plan” is expected to pass the City Council and set the stage for a better working relationship between the mayor and lawmakers.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times (file)

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has forged a compromise to shrink the number of City Council committees from 28 to 20 and replace Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose endorsement of Johnson was a turning point of his mayoral campaign.

The plan will also install Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), chair of the City Council’s Democratic-Socialist caucus, as chair of the powerful Zoning Committee.

The Chicago Sun-Times has been reporting for weeks that Johnson allies and transition team advisers were working behind the scenes to put the mayor-elect’s stamp on the new Council by tweaking the reorganization and installing more Johnson loyalists in key roles.

Several City Hall sources identified Waguespack, who stuck by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as among those who could be on the chopping block.

Jason Lee, a senior adviser to Johnson’s transition team, maintained that the mayor-elect’s goal was “not necessarily about stacking committees with our allies, because we think a lot of folks can become our allies.”

Lee said it was “more so about a Council structure that is functional and can work.”

The compromise that Johnson came up with is aimed at doing just that.

Instead of increasing the number of City Council committees from 19 to 28, what Johnson is calling the “Unity Plan” would retain the original 19 and create one additional committee: “Police and Fire.”

Police and Fire would handle all issues relating to those two departments. The Committee on Public Safety would help deliver Chicago from violent crime in a more holistic way.

In addition to the 20 City Council panels, there would be two permanent sub-committees: on revenue and youth employment.

The Revenue Sub-Committee of the Finance Committee would help build support for the $800 million in new or increased taxes that Johnson championed or search for alternatives to those revenue ideas that business leaders are dead-set against.

The decision to replace Waguespack with Dowell is not a surprise.


Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) will become the first woman to chair the Finance Committee. Dowell was a member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council leadership team, but she opted to support Brandon Johnson in this year’s mayoral election.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times (file)

She was the most powerful of at least seven members of Lightfoot’s handpicked leadership team to abandon ship in what was a stunning blow to Lightfoot and a tremendous coup for Johnson.

Dowell did the heavy lifting for all four of Lightfoot’s budgets and has long had her eye on the finance chair’s job. Johnson’s decision to reward her will make Dowell the first woman ever to serve as Finance Committee chair.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th)

Under Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s Council reorganization, Ald Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) who heads the Council’s Democratic-Socialist caucus, will become chair of the powerful Zoning Committee.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), the Black Caucus chair who supported Lightfoot in Round One and Johnson in the run-off, will replace Dowell as Budget Committee Chair.

Waguespack will have no leadership position in the new line-up, which eliminates all nine of the new committees created by the lame-duck City Council on March 30.

“There was a lot of push back on the 28 committees. A lot of push back on the sustainability and viability of that broad of a committee structure. When it was clear to everybody involved that the committee structure had to be reduced, it’s a game of musical chairs, unfortunately,” said a source familiar with the negotiations.

“When there’s 28 people and 20 seats, then not everyone gets a seat when the music stops.”

During an interview with the Sun-Times last month, Waguespack warned Johnson to “leave this alone” and make no changes to the City Council reorganization approved on March 30.

On Sunday, the source familiar with Johnson’s so-called “Unity Plan” predicted that it will pass, setting the stage for a collaborative relationship between Johnson and a City Council that had a contentious relationship with Lightfoot.

“We’ve got people who were strongly against us in the run-off, much less against us in Round One. When you see some of the names that held onto committee chairs, it will become clear that this was not about a vindictive program. This was about trying to put the best team together for the city,” the source said.

“The goal was to unite the city. The goal was to build a structure ... that didn’t put undue pressure on taxpayers. That lifted up communities that have been marginalized by the status-quo. A historic number of chairs from the Latino Caucus. African-American leaders in critical positions for the first time in history. First African-American woman as chair of Finance. Progressives empowered to begin to work to transform systems that need to be transformed while still maintaining a lot of institutional knowledge in key committees.”

Neither Dowell nor Waguespack could be reached for comment.

Alds. Emma Mitts (37th), Walter Burnett (27th), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Andre Vasquez (40th), Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Greg Mitchell (7th) will all be chairs under the new line-up, but of committees different from those in the March 30 plan.

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