City Council financial analyst not quitting after all

Ald. Ameya Pawar at a Chicago City Council in 2014. File Photo. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

The “Help Wanted” sign outside the City Council’s independent budget office was taken down Monday almost as fast as it was put up.

Days after informing aldermen of his plan to leave the $110,112-a-year financial analyst job he has held for just 18 months, Ben Winick yanked back his resignation letter and essentially said, “Never mind.”

Winick could not be reached to explain the abrupt about-face.

Last week, Winick told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was calling it quits to return to state government as a senior adviser to newly-elected state Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

“It was a really difficult decision for me. I was approached by Comptroller Mendoza about coming to help her. … It was something I kind of struggled with, but decided that helping her out given the importance and the impact of what’s going on at the state level that it was the right opportunity for me,” said Winick, 32, who once served as acting state budget director under former Gov. Pat Quinn.

“I definitely think this office has an extremely important role to play in being a resource for the aldermen.”

Mendoza could not be reached.

Three years ago, the City Council voted to create a $301,216-a-year independent budget office to provide aldermen with expert advice on mayoral spending, programs and privatization and guide the City Council through Chicago’s $30 billion pension crisis.

The reform was stuck in the mud for nearly two years because of a stalemate over whether former Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) had the independence and policy expertise to lead the office as the City Council’s first-ever financial analyst.

Winick’s departure would have required aldermen to re-launch that painstaking process.

Now, they will be spared that exhausting exercise along with the debate it would surely have triggered by those who question why the $301,216-a-year independent budget office exists at all.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) was the prime mover behind the independent budget office. He was also a member of the selection committee that chose Winick after Shiller withdrew.

On Monday, Pawar was puzzled by Winick’s abrupt about-face, but happy to welcome him back to a job he never left.

“It was a mistake for him to go because we were just getting the office off the ground,” Pawar said.

“At this point, it makes sense to have him stay rather than go through the whole process. I’m happy to have him back. But [Budget Committee Chairman Carrie] Austin has to weigh in.”

Asked whether Winick’s moves had hurt his credibility with aldermen, Pawar said, “All of this could have been handled better. But, he also said, “I don’t blame him for wanting to explore different job opportunities. Heck, I’m running for governor. I just think having this all play out publicly the way it has doesn’t make any sense.”

Last time around, Pawar waged a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to block Shiller because he believed other candidates interviewed were more qualified and independent.

Austin was equally determined to engineer the appointment of Shiller. She was furious about Pawar’s efforts to undermine Shiller’s candidacy and impugn her integrity by disclosing interview information that was supposed to remain confidential.

The stalemate ended and Winick was hired, only after Shiller withdrew.

Shiller told the Chicago Sun-Times last week she had no intention of applying for the opening that Winick created last week by handing in the resignation letter that has now been rescinded.

Last week, Pawar credited Winick with putting out a thoughtful report before the City Council authorized a tax-increment-financing district to nail down $1.1 billion in federal funds to modernize the CTA’s Red Line before now former-President Barack Obama left office.

“It said that, in many ways, it’s a property tax increase and we should be thinking about the unintended consequences,” Pawar said.

Winick also weighed in before aldermen approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to slap a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills to save the largest of four city employee pension funds.

“He also did say that we would need to raise revenue again in a few years. That this wouldn’t be enough,” Pawar said.

Both of those reports led Pawar to believe the independent budget office was worth fighting for — whether or not it was run by Winick.

“Maybe we didn’t get it right the first time on the person. But, that doesn’t change the fact that the reform was the right thing to do,” Pawar said last week.

The question now is whether Winick can change that view after his on-again, off-again resignation.

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