Neighborhood Improvement Funds Become Indirect Campaign War Chest

Neighborhood Improvement Funds Become Indirect Campaign War Chest

Brazenly, Chicagoan’s are seeing some incumbent politicians attempting to put their self interest ahead of voters on important decisions about zoning, permits, signage, traffic and the distribution of neighborhood improvement funds to the tune of $66 million.

According to attorney Ted Wrobleski, who serves as First Vice President of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association (SNA), “the chair of the zoning committee Ald. [Manny] Flores has said that he wants to operate under the new ward map now.”

Indirectly that means, the City Council just added our $66 million in neighborhood improvement funds to the political war chests of incumbent Aldermen to woo favor with new voters who will decide their continued incumbency come 2015.

The immediate concerns for people who live in the newly “slivered” portion of Sheffield, remapped from the 32nd Ward of Ald. Scott Waguespack into the boundaries of 2nd Ward of Alderman Bob Fioretti, is that their neighborhood improvement funds are being distributed based on the new ward map.  This is particularly troubling since the Tribune is reporting that the chairmen of some of the City Council’s most powerful committees are acting as if Ald. Fioretti is already gone.

A mere glance at the newly drawn noncontiguous worm-like 2nd Ward makes clear that one of the goals of the ward remap—beyond the stated objective of avoiding a referendum—was to stick it to Ald. Fioretti.  The new boundaries of the 2nd Ward—including Ald. Fioretti’s own home—are entirely outside the perimeter of the constituents who elected him.

The facts are that the 41 aldermen who, without a public hearing, voted to approve the ward remap also “stuck it to” the people in that cracked sliver of Sheffield, not just Ald. Fioretti and Ald. Waguespack.


Remap comparison


It’s an open question why Ald. Brendan Reilly–whose 42nd Ward borders portions of the new 2nd Ward in the downtown area–would tweet a response for his take on the ward remap saying, “There aren’t many alderman happy w their new maps, including me.”

Apparently, Ald. Fioretti is on-the-outs with the incumbent majority down at city hall, according to the Chicago Tribune.  Confirming that Ald. Fioretti “is apparently not very popular in City Hall” Ted Wrobleski commented too that 32nd Ward “Ald. Waguespack has also not been a favorite of the Mayor.”

But that may not be such a disaster for his newly disenfranchised Sheffield constituents even though they didn’t elect Ald. Fioretti.  Overwhelmingly, comments in the Tribune from Ald. Fioretti’s near south constituents have been positive, reflecting disappointment in the uncertainty of his continuing to service their community until 2015 as he was elected.

If backbone, independence and being willing to fight for the interests of their constituents is of value to the people in Sheffield, then they’re no worse off with Ald. Fioretti, at the moment, than Ald. Waguespack, both of whom have proved willing to stand up to the political will and heavy handedness of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Notably,  Ald. Fioretti voted against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget and was one of only 6 council members, along with Ald. Waguespack, to vote against the new remap.

If the allegation of blatant gerrymandering is as represented in the recently filed League of Women Voters lawsuit–apparently supported by a study from Prof. Matthew A. Shapiro at the Illinois Institute of Technology–then the playing field down at city hall could get leveled enough to get Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s crew to step back off Ald. Fioretti’s foot.

Control over the City Council and a large election campaign war chest may not be enough for this Mayor to weather another election at the pace he seems to be alienating teachers, parents of school age children and whoever else gets in the way of his seemingly personal political objectives.

Wrobleski made clear, that the SNA would have “preferred having the 32nd Ward cover the western part” if Sheffield “could not be all in one ward.”  As chair of the SNA Planning Committee, Wrobleski’s duties include acting as a liaison to government, developers, and other community organizations concerning land use affecting the Sheffield neighborhood.

Wrobleski confirmed that the SNA did not see the revised map which saved Ald. Michele Smith’s 43rd Ward until after it had already passed the City Council–a day or two after the City Council held a remap committee meeting at the DePaul University Student Center.

According to Wrobleski, who testified on behalf of the SNA at the standing room only meeting, Ald. Richard Mell organized the meeting and “all of the former 43rd Ward Aldermen testified against the proposed ward map.”  The map they were shown at the meeting would have radically altered what is now the 43rd Ward into five wards.  Interestingly,  Ald. Smith’s 43rd Ward was enlarged in the remap and according to Wrobleski, she changed her mind casting the deciding vote on the final remap.

“Many observers thought that this map was created to accommodate the aldermen in the African American wards” said Wrobleski referring to the map shown at the meeting–noting the population loss in black wards from 2000 to 2010.  However, “no black aldermen wanted to lose his or her seat or be in a largely non-black ward” Wrobleski claimed.

Also, Latinos whose population had increased in the city during the same period, presented an alternative map that failed to gain traction and which would have increased their representation according to Wrobleski.

The SNA has discussed inviting Ald. Fioretti to their next board meeting, Wrobleski said, without elaborating on reasons for the deliberation.

Commenting on the viability of the League of Women Voters recent lawsuit against the city, which claims the remap is overt gerrymandering, Wrobleski doesn’t really know about its chances for success–making clear that he is not an election law expert.

Responding to a request to get his take on the ward remap Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader seems to have hit it on the head saying, “it’s of course the product of back-room politics.”   Asked if he agreed with Mick Dumke’s claim, Ald. Scott Waguespack responded, “if it wasn’t public…then it could only be back room.”

Dissenters beware, two years into his administration Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems intent on getting his way with complete control over the City Council.  Has anyone seen the candidate that pledged a new era of openness at city hall?

Leave a comment