For­mer Ald. Arena resigns city plan­ning ad­viser post

Rep­re­sented 45th Ward on coun­cil for 2 terms; move ef­fec­tive Jan. 17

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By Gre­gory Pratt [email protected]­bune.com

Con­tro­ver­sial for­mer Ald. John Arena has re­signed his po­si­tion as se­nior ad­viser to Mayor Lori Light­foot’s plan­ning de­part­ment, city of­fi­cials con­firmed Fri­day.

The Light­foot ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a state­ment say­ing Arena in­formed them last month he was re­tir­ing ef­fec­tive Jan. 17. The state­ment gave no ex­pla­na­tion for the res­ig­na­tion, and Arena did not re­turn mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

Arena rep­re­sented the North­west Side’s 45th Ward for two terms be­fore be­ing thumped in last year’s elec­tion by Chicago fire­fighter Jim Gar­diner. In Septem­ber, Light­foot hired Arena to a $123,996-a-year job, draw­ing crit­i­cism from some North­west Side al­der­men.

Arena re­mains the 45th Ward com­mit­tee­man and has kept a higher pro­file than most city em­ploy­ees. Last month, Arena showed up at a com­mu­nity meet­ing where crit­ics say he passed out nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions for a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date he sup­ports, ac­cord­ing to a Sun-Times re­port.

Dur­ing his time on the City Coun­cil, Arena earned re­spect from Chicago pro­gres­sives for po­si­tions in­clud­ing his sup­port for af­ford­able hous­ing even in com­mu­ni­ties where res­i­dents op­posed such de­vel­op­ments. Last sum­mer, Arena ex­changed in­sults with fel­low North­west Side Ald. An­thony Napoli­tano, 41st, over a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment Arena sup­ported in Napoli­tano’s ward.

At the time, Napoli­tano called Arena a “cow­ard of an al­der­man” for lob­by­ing Zon­ing Com­mit­tee mem­bers on be­half of the project Napoli­tano op­posed. Arena shot back: “A cow­ard is one that caves to pres­sure that’s based in big­otry and hate.”

Arena also raised the ire of many first re­spon­ders in his ward by call­ing the city’s in­spec­tor gen­eral and Civil­ian Of­fice of Po­lice Ac­count­abil­ity to re­port racially charged on­line com­ments about a con­tro­ver­sial Jef­fer­son Park apart­ment de­vel­op­ment plan that in­cludes af­ford­able hous­ing.

At the plan­ning de­part­ment, Arena’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­cluded work­ing with de­vel­op­ment part­ners on the South and West sides, help­ing out­side del­e­gate agen­cies co­or­di­nate with city de­vel­op­ment projects and help­ing fa­cil­i­tate de­vel­op­ment goals set by neigh­bor­hood groups, the city said in Septem­ber.

Gar­diner ex­pressed his op­po­si­tion to the hire dur­ing a meet­ing with Light­foot. Asked about Gar­diner’s op­po­si­tion at a news con­fer­ence, Light­foot said, “With due re­spect to the fresh­man, I make my de­ci­sions based upon the mer­its.”

“If we start a prece­dent of some­body who is a win­ner ba­si­cally ban­ning some­one from em­ploy­ment, where does it end? And so, I think what Gar­diner should fo­cus on is what mat­ters to his ward,” the mayor said. “He doesn’t have a say over my hir­ing de­ci­sions, nor does any other al­der­man. I re­spect the views that al­der­men bring to the ta­ble, but at the end of the day I’m go­ing to make the calls that I think are in the best in­ter­ests of the city, and that’s what I did in this in­stance.”

Asked whether giv­ing Arena a high-paid City Hall job shortly af­ter he lost is an ex­am­ple of the in­sider pol­i­tics she had promised to van­quish, Light­foot replied that she thought Arena would be an as­set in the plan­ning de­part­ment.

“With due re­spect, I don’t spend my time com­par­ing my­self to other may­ors,” she said. “I know that’s some­thing that hap­pens in the me­dia. I’m call­ing balls and strikes based on the in­for­ma­tion that I have in front of me, based on what our spe­cific needs are. I think John Arena is a smart, able per­son who brings a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence that will, I think, aid us and a new com­mis­sioner in Plan­ning sub­stan­tially, or other­wise he wouldn’t be there.”

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