Our Pledge To You

City Hall

With Zalewski out, Quinn on no-fly list, race to lead aviation panel takes off

Mayor Rahm Emanuel chats with Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) at the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) would be a lock to become the new chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee if not for his role in the #MeToo scandal swirling around House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political organization.

But Quinn is simply too hot to handle after playing a pivotal go-between role between his own brother and political consultant Alaina Hampton, who has accused Kevin Quinn of stalking her with a series of harassing text messages.

As a result, the race is wide open to replace Aviation Committee Chairman Mike Zalewski (23rd), who is resigning his City Council seat, effective May 31.

Although the Aviation Committee budget is a modest $109,496-a-year that’s been frozen since 2011, the position is pivotal.

The new chairman will preside over the $8.5 billion O’Hare Airport expansion project and make certain that African Americans and Hispanics get a fair share of the bonanza of jobs and contracts.

That means Zalewski’s replacement can’t be just anyone. It needs to be someone Mayor Rahm Emanuel can trust.

That would seem to rule out veteran Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), one of failed mayoral challenger-turned-Democratic Congessional nominee Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s closest allies.

Munoz has never chaired a committee, even though he’s a 25-year veteran who ranks fourth in City Council seniority.

The alderman said Tuesday he has already texted Emanuel about his interest in Zalewski’s chairmanship and the two men are “in discussions.”

“Seniority and the airport is near me. I’ve got a geographic [claim] to it,” Munoz said, when asked to state his case.

But, how can Munoz be trusted to do the mayor’s bidding when he is a Garcia ally who has been an outspoken critic of Emanuel?

“I can be trusted to do what’s best for Chicago,” he said.

Could the Aviation Committee chairmanship be part of a larger political deal that has Garcia, who carried his entire progressive slate in the March 20 primary, endorsing Emanuel for re-election?

“That’s not for me to negotiate. That’s between them two,” Munoz said.

Hours after Zalewski announced his surprise retirement, the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus argued that the Aviation Committee should be chaired by a Hispanic.

In addition to Munoz, veteran Aldermen “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st) and Roberto Maldonado (26th) are also angling for the job, sources said.

“Look at all of the top chairmanships. They’re whites and African-Americans. The only top chairmanship is Danny Solis [Zoning]. All the rest of the [Hispanic] chairmanships are not what you would consider a top chairmanship,” said Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th), who said he would serve, if asked.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado and Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno talk during a City Council meeting in 2013. File Photo. | Brian Jackson ~ Sun-Times

“In the Council, power-sharing needs to be up to parity and this is one way of addressing that. You’ve got to give folks a chance to lead.”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said Hispanics have four committee chairmanships, but deserve five.

“I’m not pushing any one person. I’m pushing for a Latino. It’s important if we want to make sure we have someone with the ability to hold the administration accountable for making sure there’s diversity in contracts and workforce,” Villegas said.

Moreno said he’s “very interested” in chairing “that very important committee” and he made that known to Emanuel.

“One of the main things I would emphasize is making sure that the labor agreements that have been made and ones that need to be done are fair and equitable to the workers,” Moreno said.

“I also … want to be able to make sure that we expand and promote and everything we can do to keep a local footprint of restaurants in these expansions.”

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) would be a natural choice, but the mayor needs him to stay where is as chairman of the Committee on Public Safety to oversee police reform and competing proposals for civilian review.

If trusting the new chairman is paramount, Emanuel might be more comfortable with Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th), Traffic Committee Chairman Walter Burnett (27th) or Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who helped Emanuel survive the 2015 run-off against Garcia.

Emanuel might even consider shifting his City Council floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), from the Committee on Workforce Development to Aviation.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), vice-chairman of the Aviation Committee, is another possibility although his health issues might make it tough to handle the increasing workload.

Burnett said he’s interested, but only if the mayor increases the Aviation Committee’s $109,496-a-year budget to match the Traffic Committee’s $249,379.

“My budget is bigger than his, so it would be taking a step down actually for me,” Burnett said of Zalewski.

“If the mayor asks me to do that, I would. But, I have people budgeted. How would I deal with that? I couldn’t fire people to take that committee.”

Moore said he has “no interest whatsover and no one has talked to me about it.” He could make the same argument as Burnett. His Committee on Housing and Real Estate has a $206,164-a-year budget, nearly $100,000 more than Aviation.