Mayor Lori Lightfoot is set to preside over her first meeting of the City Council and face the first test in her push to reform Chicago government — whether the 50 aldermen she will face from the rostrum are ready for it or not.
The City Council is set to vote on Lightfoot’s proposal to remake the council’s committees to her liking by tapping Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) as chairman of the Finance Committee while sidelining those she considers not on board with the new spirit of change.
City Hall observers will be tracking whether her opponents attempt to use parliamentary procedure to force individual votes on each appointment — and whether Lightfoot is able to put together a comfortable margin of victory.
Since Lightfoot tapped him for his powerful perch, critics have focused most of their ire on Waguespack — who voted against Mayor Rahm Emanuel more than any other alderman from April 2017 to November 2018 except for Ald. David Moore (17) — and was not afraid to stake out what he considered the moral high ground in City Council debates that turned cutting and deeply personal at times.
Whether Lightfoot can put together a comfortable majority for her picks — those of her predecessor were rubber stamped without debate — could signal the fate of her ambitious agenda, which she laid out in a speech at the City Club of Chicago.
“Many have said we are in still the ‘honeymoon’ phase,” Lightfoot said. “Really? Folks, let me tell you: there is no ‘honeymoon’ in city government.”
Lightfoot said her agenda would be guided by an effort to reverse the “deliberate policy choices made in decades past by people in power in this town” that have created deep inequity.
“It’s about changing the systems — predicated on race and structural racism, on leaving working families struggling check to check — that determine who wins, who loses, and who is left out altogether,” Lightfoot said. “The legacies of racial discrimination and race- and class-based inequality are tied to the culture of corruption that has favored the clouted and the wealthy.”
Reversing that legacy means ending aldermanic prerogative, Lightfoot said, calling it a tool “used by the powerful to build a system that excludes, disinvests and isolates working people.”
“Some aldermen and their benefactors in the real estate industry have used it to reinforce segregation in Chicago, to pile subsidized and affordable housing into black and brown wards and keep it out of white wards,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot promised more reforms in her first 100 days, including an expansion of the powers of the inspector general and an increase in the fines for ethics violations.
In addition, Lightfoot said she would move to make “sure no elected official can monetize their position for personal gain.”
Lightfoot also backed a number of specific policy proposals that languished under Emanuel, including a resurrected ordinance that would force employers to give their workers two weeks notice of their schedules by 2020 in an effort to reduce the stress caused by unpredictable schedules as well as a measure to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 by July 1, 2021.
Lightfoot said she would also ask the City Council to approve the plan crafted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability that would give elected civilians oversight of the Chicago Police Department.
Lightfoot declined to say just how big of a budget hole the city is facing, saying her team was “burning the midnight oil” to define the scope of the deficit.
“We’ll need to work with Springfield and the federal government — and we need to make sure we’re asking the very wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share and provide some relief to working families,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor again called on state lawmakers to legalize marijuana and approve a casino in Chicago.
However, the budget gap will not be bridged “on the backs of poor people,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot again vowed to change the way city officials immobilize cars with unpaid tickets, and block drivers with ticket debt from working for the city or as taxi or rideshare drivers.
“This approach to revenue traps people in debt spirals and isolates them from meaningful employment and a chance to live a life with dignity,” Lightfoot said at the City Club.
Next month, Clerk Anna Valencia is scheduled to unveil the findings of the task force she launched in December after a series of articles by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ documented how Chicago’s city sticker fees disproportionately hurt the working poor and African Americans and can lead to spiraling debt.
The task force was charged with developing reforms of the city’s vehicle fees and fines system and to address racial disparities in the way laws are enforced.
In addition, Lightfoot promised to change the sanctuary city ordinance “to protect undocumented Chicagoans from the backwards policies of the Trump administration.”
The City Council is set to make quick work of items left over from the waning days of the Emanuel administration, including:
- O2019-1346 — a proposal to convert an early 1900s-era Logan Square building at 3601-3611 W. Cortland St. that currently houses a substance abuse recovery center into a 35-unit apartment complex targeted at millennials. [Our coverage]
- O2019-1377 — a proposal from former Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1) to convert his own Wicker Park single-family home to a two-flat.
- O2018-8012 — a proposal for a $95 million office tower at the Fulton Market gateway.
- O2019-1391 — a request to allow a fitness center to operate at the Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash Ave. in the 42nd Ward. Bloomingdale’s now uses the Moorish Revival temple as a furniture showcase but is looking to sell the landmark.
- O2017-3800 — plans from A Safe Haven to build a five-story building with 90 studio apartments and 28 parking spaces at Roosevelt Road and Richmond Street in the 28th Ward. Veterans working to recover from drug or alcohol addiction will live at the center, which has the support of the Chicago Housing Authority.
- O2019-1384 — a proposal from People’s Gas to build a 100,000-square foot warehouse on 10.9 acres at 4207-57 W. 35th Place in the 22nd Ward with 130 parking spaces.
- O2019-1380 — a proposal to add three stories and 12 apartments to a one-story commercial building at 1530-34 N. Halsted St. in the 2nd Ward. The transit-oriented development would include six parking spaces, according to the proposal.
- O2019-1359 — a proposal to renovate two vacant buildings near Indiana and Prairie avenues into offices, a music studio and a video editing suite, under the city’s commercial transit-oriented development rules.
- O2018-8153 — a proposal to build a six-story building with nine units at Randolph and May on what is now a vacant parking lot. The transit-oriented development would include zero parking spaces but nine bicycle parking spots, according to the proposal.
- O2019-1344 — a request to allow a drive thru restaurant to be built as part of the shopping center anchored by Seafood City at 5033 N. Elston Ave. in the 39th Ward.
- SR2018-837 — a resolution calling on Gov. JB Pritzker “and the Illinois General Assembly to restore necessary oversight” of the utility’s pipe-replacement program that is tied to the high cost of natural gas in Chicago.
- SO2018-8080 — a proposal from Ald. Marty Quinn (13) and Clerk Anna Valencia would offer a $135 city sticker to those 65 and older who own a truck, recreational vehicle or motor home. [Our coverage]
- O2019-2716 — Ald. Brendan Reilly’s (42) annual proposal to allow Downtown patios to serve booze until midnight.
- Twelve measures regarding the sale of packaged liquor [Our preview; our coverage]
- Four commercial property tax breaks. [Our coverage]