John Fritchey needs to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. If he runs for mayor -- as he told the Chicago News Cooperative he’s thinking of doing -- it will be the fifth office he’s sought in the last three years.
In 2008, Fritchey ran for re-election to his state representative seat and was elected 32nd Ward Committeeman. The next year, he ran to replace Rahm Emanuel in Congress -- a race he lost to Mike Quigley. At the moment, he’s the Democratic nominee for a county board seat, a position that offers him a way out of Springfield. He’s been paying his dues there for the last 14 years, and wants to get into the big game: Chicago politics. The Democratic Leadership Council named Fritchey one of its 100 Rising Stars in 2000 and 2003, but there’s only so far you can rise in the state legislature. As Mayor Daley and Barack Obama can tell you, it’s a stepping stone.
Fritchey has been using his final months as a legislator to snatch control of the city’s TIF money from Daley’s hands. He introduced a bill that would require the city to restore unused TIF money to local taxing bodies at the end of each year, rather than banking it in a pot controlled by Daley. That was not only a swipe at Daley, it was a swipe at Scott Waguespack, Fritchey’s alderman and political nemesis, who was also talking about running for mayor as a TIF critic. (Waguespack has decided to run for re-election to the City Council.)
“I think the public right now wants to have a viable option for mayor,” Fritchey told the Chicago News Cooperative, adding, “People want intelligent debate on decent proposals. They are tired of being told, ‘This is what we are doing, here is the deal, take it or leave it.’ It’s healthy to offer competing alternatives and ideas. Not every proposed idea has to be seen as a challenge to his authority, but that has been the case.”
There’s no doubt we need a real debate in the real choice in the mayor’s race -- Daley hasn’t faced a serious challenge in 22 years. Fritchey is a more experienced politician than Waguespack, but their shared constituency -- white, North Side reformers -- has never been a strong base for a citywide race. To most Chicagoans, Fritchey isn’t going to look much different from Daley. He may be presenting himself as an independent now, but he won his first office -- Rod Blagojevich’s successor in the legislature -- as the result of a deal between Blagojevich’s father-in-law, Ald. Richard Mell, and Fritchey’s uncle-in-law, Ald. William J.P. Banks.
Unlike Waguespack, Fritchey won’t have to give up his seat to run for mayor. But if you live in his county board district, make sure he’s paying attention to his new job. John Fritchey, rising star, always seems to have his eye on something bigger.