Press "Enter" to skip to content

Challenger faces uphill battle against incumbent in 32nd Ward

Submitted on Fri, 02/23/2007 – 21:57.
Story by Jessica Pearce

It’s 19 days before the 2007 city elections, and Scott Waguespack is speaking to a room full of supporters. As he faces about 40 Roscoe Village residents at the Ravensview Tavern, he can see “Waguespack for Alderman” posters taped to almost every available surface. But look out the window to the auto parts store behind the bar, and there’s a huge “Matlak/Daley” poster attached underneath the “Mufflers 4 Less” sign.

It’s a tough act to beat, and that, Waguespack says, is about the tone of this election. Waguespack is making his first foray into Chicago city politics against incumbent Ted Matlak, who took over the seat in 1999 after Terry Gabinski resigned. They’re fighting for control of the 32nd Ward, which includes Wicker Park, South Lakeview, Bucktown, Ukranian Village and Roscoe Village.

Waguespack is a deep, deep, underdog, buried by Matlak’s campaign resources. Matlak raised about $78,000 in February alone, through just one of his four political action campaigns. Waguespack, on the other hand, collected about $10,000 over the same period.

And then there are the tactics.

At one point during the event at the tavern, a waitress wove her way through the crowd, looking for Brian Daley, one of the event’s coordinators. When she found him, she gave him a box full of folders and said that she had just been given $20 by a stranger to pass them out to customers. Inside the folders was a mock up of the Jan. 27, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times front page, the one with the article about faux-lawyer George Robotis.

The “Berwyn Truth Squad,” an anonymous organization not listed in any database or phonebook, switched out the original picture for one of Waguespack, and claimed that he’s not a lawyer nor is he the Berwyn city administrator, and that “he makes his living as a hack, patronage appointee of the mayor of Berwyn on whose campaign he worked.”

Waguespack chooses to take the flyer and the strategically located posters as signs that Matlak is running scared. In the past month, Waguespack has gathered endorsements from the Chicago Tribune, Service Employees International Union, Chicago Journal, Citizen Action Illinois and the Teamsters. He also has support from neighborhood groups such as the Roscoe Village Residents for Waguespack, the group that sponsored the event at Ravensview Tavern. Matlak has garnered support from the Chicago Sun-Times and most of the other unions in the city, including the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Matlak, far from being intimidated by Waguespack, insists that he doesn’t run negative campaign and says he doesn’t even pay attention to his opposition.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “We expect to win.”

Waguespack, who took a leave of absence from his job as Berwyn city administrator in order to run his campaign, is no stranger to either politics or Chicago. Although he was born in Chicago, he and his family moved to Colorado when he was young. He attended Colorado State University and received a bachelor’s degree in political science. After college, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years working in Kenya.

After returning from Kenya, Waguespack settled in Chicago, moving back to the same house his family lived in before going to Colorado. He attended law school at the Chicago-Kent College of Law but failed the bar exam and has never practiced law.

Waguespack says he first started taking an interest in his community when he coached a little league team in 1996. He said his group grew from 20 in 1996 to over 200 five years later. He approached then-Alderman Gabinski to see if there was any extra money for uniforms for the kids, but he says he was rejected.

It was at this point, he says, that he “started getting a little concerned about what was going on in my community.”

In 2004, Waguespack was hired by Berwyn mayoral candidate Michael O’Connor to head his election campaign. After O’Connor won, Waguespack went to work for him as his city administrator.

O’Connor says the claims by the “Berwyn Truth Squad” are not only false but are made by actual patronage workers who are bitter because O’Connor has cleaned up city politics since he took office.

“He probably never would have applied for the job if it had been cold and I didn’t know him,” O’Connor says. “But he had the qualifications to do what we needed to get done.”

Some of the changes O’Connor says Waguespack has helped him accomplish include completing almost three years of audits left undone by the previous administration, replacing many department heads and bringing in a human relations director to oversee city employees.

Some residents of the 32nd Ward are raising their voices through local political groups. The 32nd Ward New Leadership Alliance is a group of volunteers who are trying to get the word out about aldermanic abuses. They have a section on the group’s web site called “The Truth about Ted,” where residents can post their “horror stories” about their experiences in the ward. The stories, which are not signed, include complaints about the Blue Bag recycling program, parking in the ward, zoning changes and traffic congestion.

Roger Romanelli, one of the founders of the web site, says the ward desperately needs change.

“We think our job is to make a case for why this current alderman needs to be replaced,” he says. Matlak has been dismissive of their case, he says, but he believes that people can make a difference.

“He (Matlak) says we’re four or five people with a computer,” he says. “In some ways, we used to be four or five people with a computer. But now we’re eight to 10 people with a computer.”

Waguespack also faces another usual obstacle of the political underdog: low voter turnout. The 32nd Ward has the third lowest voter turnout in the entire city, with only about 23 percent of registered voters casting a vote in the 2003 municipal election.

In three hours spent in the ward, requests for interviews were met with either confusion about who the alderman was or an apparent lack of knowledge about the elections. The few people who called themselves informed refused to be interviewed.

Another big campaign problem for Waguespack has been funding. Running against any incumbent is a challenge, but running against one who opponents say favors developers with deep pockets over residents is a particular challenge. During the last half of 2006, Waguespack had expenditures of $6,003.89, while Matlak spent $168,377.41, or 28 times more. The difference has shown in their campaigns; while Waguespack has been saving in order to make a push closer to Feb. 27th election, 32nd Ward residents say they’ve been getting calls encouraging them to vote for Matlak for months.

According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Matlak recently received a $10,000 donation from the Burnham Committee, which is headed by 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke and $7,500 from the 7th Ward Democratic Organization, which until recently was led by Alderman William Beavers. Mayor Richard Daley appointed William Beavers’ daughter Darcel to fill the 7th Ward seat when her became a county commissioner.

Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says Matlak is trying to shore up his numbers with the most recent donations.

“My sense is that Matlak’s not in any real danger,” she says. “It’s not even so much that he’s afraid of losing but that he doesn’t want a close race.”

City Life Local Politics Public
32nd ward aldermanic elections matlak roscoe village waguespack

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *