New Alderman Daniel La Spata is eager to get started as the new leader of the First Ward, and his excitement showed at the Wicker Park Bucktown State of the Ward Address on May 23.
“It’s an honor to be alderman,” La Spata said to the packed crowd.
Along with Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) and Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), the three men joined Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce and neighborhood residents at The Goddess and Grocer (1649 N. Damen Ave.) to share current projects, issues that need to be tackled and the importance of working together. Also important: hearing from constituents and being accessible as an alderman, La Spata said. Especially as the newcomer, he said he wants to be receptive to First Ward residents and have flexible office hours, unlike his predecessor, some people noted.
But before that, he said his new office needs to finish construction because his landlord decided to redo the floors last minute. After some jokes about the length of that kind of project, La Spata assured residents at the meeting that his address would be revealed within the next week.
Echoing Mayor Lightfoot in her inaugural speech, La Spata touted his own four stars, or pillars, that he wants to focus on: Safety, education, civil liberty and housing. He knows there is much to be done in terms of crime and education reform, but he said he is committed to working with law enforcement, visiting all the schools in the area and listening to what people need.
He said he has already visited abut half of the schools and plans to visit more to meet teachers, understand what they need and how he can help allocate independent funding for education.
“If I can be a booster for those schools and making sure they have resources and wraparound services for those schools… that’s the leadership I hope I to give,” he said.
Like he said a lot during his campaign, he wants to curb the violence at night and make sure people feel safe going out after dark. Logan Square and Wicker Park have seen more thefts this year and last, Alderman Waguespack noted, and both want to collaborate to make sure there is an active police presence at night.
Waguespack said what alarmed him most about vehicle thefts was the amount of stolen guns recovered. He said visitors and patrons that come to the neighborhood are leaving their handguns in their cars when they go out to drink in the area.
“Because they are not secured they are taken right from their vehicles,” he said, adding that some new business owners are culprit to this because they think the area is unsafe.
Moving away from crime, Waguespack shared a new project he is working on called the Cortland Greenway. All three alderman are working together to create more bike lanes on Cortland that goes through Wood Street to Armitage Avenue and Humboldt Avenue in Logan Square. It is part of DCOT’s Vision Zero to eliminate traffic deaths and improve pedestrian safety.
“It is essentially making a bike path to make it a little easier to get to the city along Cortland,” Waguespack said. “It’s making it safer for a lot of our families and bicyclists, going east and west.”
He said right now there is not a great way to get downtown, and the greenway will move some of that bike traffic to more residential areas and keep it off Milwaukee, he said.
Waguespack, who was recently recommended to lead the Council Finance Committee, said in his weekly newsletter that if he is voted in, he will begin the restructuring of the committee that will see an immediate budget and staffing cut.
At the meeting, he also touched on one of the big platforms Mayor Lightfoot ran on, which was limiting aldermanic privilege. Last week, she signed an executive order to begin the process of reining in some forms of aldermanic prerogative, and he wants people to know that he, La Spata and Hopkins pride themselves on moving things along when it comes to permits and business matters.
He said the steps Lightfoot wants to change are all the hoops, lines and processes people need to go through downtown to get approval. Speeding the process and cutting some of the buffer will speed up ordinances and permits alike, he said. The next thing to look at is zoning and permit changes, which have been in discussion.
Waguespack had a strong message to business owners in the wake of the new administration and new housing ordinances possibly going into effect.
“Keep sending that message about things you want to see changed,” he said.
Featured photo: Paulina Fadrowska