On May 29, new mayor Lori Lightfoot presided over the first Chicago City Council meeting of the 2019–2023 term. Lightfoot was joined by 12 new members of the council, five of whom are dues-paying members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America: Daniel La Spata (1st Ward); Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward); Byron Sighco-Lopez (25th Ward); Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward); and Andre Vasquez (40th Ward). They join 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, another DSA member, who is returning for a second term.
While the six are not an official caucus on the council, at least not as of yet, the specter of six socialists in city hall has been the subject of much local media intrigue. Caucus or not, the six—along with freshman progressive council members like Matt Martin (47th Ward) and Maria Hadden (49th Ward)—represent a new left flank in a legislative body whose arteries have long been clogged by institutionalized corruption and neoliberal rot.
Mayor Lightfoot called the session to order shortly after 9 a.m. and the council voted to adjourn just a quarter after 11 a.m. The major substantive legislative item up for approval before the council was committee assignments and committee chairs recommended by the mayor.
Before that though, the council had to vote on a new rules package. Longtime 14th ward Alderman and Hamburglar doppelgänger Ed Burke, who was reelected in February despite looming federal indictment, rose to note concern about the new council rules.
Notorious SJW that he is, Burke objected to the rules’ use of the male pronoun ‘he’ rather than a gender non-specific ‘he or she’. Lightfoot quickly shot down Burke’s objection in a dramatic exchange, one that made her look so good and him so bad that watching from the gallery it almost felt staged. For an alderman who has been on the council since 1969 and is infamous for using parliamentary procedure to achieve his political ends, Burke’s floor move was entirely sloppy and more than nefarious it just came off sad. The next day Burke was indicted by the Feds on 14 charges of racketeering.
Prior to the first council session there had been rumors that there would be opposition to Mayor Lightfoot’s committee chair assignments, especially her recommendation of 32nd ward Alderman Scott Waguespack to chair the powerful Finance Committee, the very same committee that Ed Burke had controlled for decades up until this January. The alternative to Waugespack would have been 44th ward Alderman Tom Tunney, who Lightfoot instead slated to chair the Landmark and Zoning Committee.
15th ward Alderman Raymond Lopez rose to speak against the committee assignments, criticizing Lightfoot for a lack of collaboration and trying to turn the council into a rubber stamp. Nonetheless, the committee assignments sailed through passage on a voice vote, with only four aldermen in opposition (Burke, Lopez, Alderman Beale, and a fourth unknown). Of course, any member of the council, in favor of the motion or not, could have called ‘division’ for an on-the-record roll call vote had they wanted. If you were an alderman allied with the mayor, doing so might have been a strategic move. But alas, it seems that it was only I, socialist reporter, who had their copy of Robert’s Rules Newly Revised on hand that day.
Waguespack, who also chairs the council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, of which it seems almost all the socialists will join, is commendable for his history opposing Mayors Daley and Emanuel on the council. He was one of only five alderman to vote no on the privatization of the city’s parking meters. The alderman was an early supporter of Mayor Lightfoot, who has in return given the once isolated Waguespack much power on the new council. But while he is a significant improvement on Burke, Waguespack is more liberal-reformist minded than progressive-left. Indeed, Waguespack commonly appeals to the interests of the ‘taxpayers’ of Chicago but never the working class. It begs the question whether his brand of ‘reform’ will mean ultimately just mean further austerity.
In a Tribune article published the day after the April Runoff, in a section subheadlined “Leftward shift or schism?”, which had stated in the original morning edition that DSA was “the party of Bernie Sanders,” Waguespack expressed uncertainty regarding the socialists and the Progressive Caucus:
“‘I think Carlos Rosa has taken a pretty extreme stance, and he hasn’t really been participating in the caucus anyway for quite a few years,’” Waguespack said.
He noted that Ramirez-Rosa recently lost a committee vote on his long-shot proposal [referring to CPAC] to give an elected board wide-ranging power over Chicago police, but DSA members continue to push the idea. ‘They had a vote on it, and it lost,’ Waguespack said. ‘I don’t think they understand that.’”
“‘…Some of the newcomers have ‘no clue that you just don’t find that money sitting on the table, and you can’t do all these progressive ideas or things … you can bring that to the City Council, but that doesn’t mean anything if there’s no money there and there’s no way to do your thing.’”
A few weeks later Waugespack was asked by Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman in an interview directly about the city council’s new socialists. Specifically, Spielman asked if Waugespack would work with the socialists on Chicago DSA’s campaign to Democratize ComEd. Waugespack said he’ll “work with them on anything that they want to,” but quickly pivoted away to emphasizing that his first priority is ethics reform for the council.
One reason Waugespack may dislike Alderman Ramirez-Rosa was the latter’s support of Toni Preckwinkle during the mayoral election, as well as both Rosa and Chicago DSA’s support of the #StopLightfoot campaign. Lightfoot herself seems to hold the endorsement against the alderman of 35th Ward, of which she is a resident, having allied with his Mark Fishman backed challenger Amanda Yu Dietrich, as well as 33rd Ward also-ran candidate Katie Sieracki, back in the February election. Another sign of what Waguespack and the mayor’s view of the socialists might be: not one of the six is on the 35-member Finance committee.
Still on the Finance committee: Ed Burke.
The socialists will be on a number of other committees though:
Committee on Committees and Rules
All (Committee of the whole)
Committee on Budget and Government Operations
Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity
LaSpata, Taylor, Sigcho-Lopez, Ramirez-Rosa, Vasquez
Committee on Economic, Capital, and Technology Development
Committee on Education and Child Development
Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight
Ramirez-Rosa, Rodriguez-Sanchez, Vasquez, LaSpata, Taylor
Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy
LaSpata, Taylor, Rodriguez-Sanchez
Committee on Housing and Real Estate
Committee on Human Relations and Health
Sigcho-Lopez, Rodriguez-Sanchez, Ramirez-Rosa, Vasquez
Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs, and Recreation
Vasquez (Vice-Chairman), LaSpata
Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety
LaSpata, Sigcho-Lopez, Rodriguez-Sanchez, Vasquez
Committee on Transportation and Public Way
Taylor, Sigcho-Lopez, Ramirez-Rosa, Vasquez
Committee on Workforce Development
Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards
Two ordinances of note were reintroduced at the first council session: Fair Work Week and Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). All six of the city council’s socialists are co-sponsors of the ordinances.
The Fair Work Week ordinance has Mayor Lightfoot’s approval and looks set for an easy passage by the council. CPAC, however, may again languish in committee as it did during the last term. None of the six socialists are on the Public Safety committee, although other co-sponsors are, and with Reyboroas out as chair of the committee the ordinance might have some chance of moving to a council vote.
The next City Council session is scheduled for Wednesday 6/12.