Mayor’s new Consumer Affairs chief mum on cab fare hike

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There’s a host of issues on the plate of Chicago’s new commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection—from raising taxicab fares and banning plastic bags and Styrofoam to stopping the proliferation of small digital billboards.

But, don’t bother asking Maria Guerra Lapacek about any of them.

On Wednesday, Guerra Lapacek appeared before the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection at a confirmation hearing that was more like a love-fest.

Aldermen praised the woman who has served as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief point person with the City Council. They even congratulated her on her pregnancy.

But, when City Hall reporters tried to ask the new commissioner how she felt about the longstanding demand by Chicago cabdrivers for the city’s first increase in taxicab fares since 2005, Guerra Lapacek walked away.

“I really will have to talk to the press office first,” she said.

During the hearing, aldermen urged Guerra Lapacek to keep streamlining the number of business licenses, permits, inspections and red tape that stand as an impediment to small business.

“The business community—90, or 95 percent of `em are trying to make ends meet. They have a very formidable, at times historically adversarial role with City Hall,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) added, “I will hound you day in and day out because I want my small business community to grow and they can’t grow if they’re not aware of their rights.”

The only mildly critical remark came from Ald. John Arena (45th), one of the mayor’s staunchest City Council critics.

Arena said he had an open line of communication to former Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel, but that has not always been the case with Guerra Lapacek when it comes to business issues.

“The Jeff Park Chamber of Commerce, a chamber that was troubled, we never had any direct conversations, but there were some conversations you were having with third parties,” Arena said.

“Digital billboards. Parking meters. We’re still going through that process of Sunday enforcement. I point to some of these things without going into details. It’s just that my concern is that there hasn’t been open communications.”

Guerra Lapacek replied, “I agree, absolutely, that chambers are a very important part of our communications strategy. We need them. We need them as a city….As far as communication with you, I don’t think there’s a problem. But, if there is, I will work to correct it.”

In her role as first deputy of the Mayor’s Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs, Guerra Lapacek has been the mayor’s eyes, ears and hammer in the City Council.

She has lobbied aldermen to support the mayor’s programs, solicited their input, worked with them to draft legislation and occasionally gotten tough with those, like Arena, whom she believed got out of line.

Her background also includes stints as deputy chief financial officer and deputy budget director.

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