Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration said Thursday it would no longer require letters of support from aldermen on a host of issues ranging from the location of Divvy stations to the construction of off-site units to fulfill the city’s affordable housing rules.
Members of Lightfoot’s administration briefed aldermen on how she plans to implement the executive order issued just hours after she took office, which will go into full effect July 19. The change is part of her effort to root out corruption at City Hall.
Lightfoot’s Chief of Policy Dan Lurie told The Daily Line that if an alderman and department leaders disagree, the alderman will not have the final say — a change that Lurie acknowledged would fundamentally change how City Hall has operated for “generations.”
“The mayor ran on changing the system, and that is exactly what she is doing,” Lurie said. “The kind of corruption we are seeing is a real concern.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) — who has emerged as one of Lightfoot’s leading critics on the City Council — said the proposal to unwind the unwritten rule of aldermanic prerogative does not go after the “meat and potatoes” that causes corruption in Chicago.
The changes address only “odd low hanging fruit” that serve only to give the mayor “political cover” to claim she is fulfilling her promise to end the practice of allowing aldermen to veto — or green light — projects in their wards, Lopez said.
The changes are “dangerous” because they will “centralize” decisions at City Hall and empower officials who know nothing about Chicago’s varied neighborhoods, Lopez said.
“Aldermen are now being made to wear the jacket” and treated as if all are corrupt, Lopez said.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38), who endorsed Lightfoot in the runoff, said he was also put off by the tone of the proposal, which he said was “accusatory” and presented by Lightfoot’s staff as “my way or the highway.”
“I don’t see it flying,” Sposato said, adding that he had asked to meet with Lightfoot one-on-one to discuss the change.
Under the new policy, aldermen “will be notified of items affecting their wards” and will be “encouraged to continue to provide meaningful feedback based on their knowledge of the needs facing their communities.”
“Departments will thoroughly review any input offered by an alderman,” according to the policy.
Aldermen could introduce an ordinance to the City Council to override the administration’s decision.
Lurie said he hoped that it would not come to that, but acknowledged that it could happen.
While Lopez and Sposato said the aldermanic briefings were “very tense,” Lurie disputed that characterization.
“The discussions were really productive, with good back and forth between aldermen and department heads,” Lurie said.
The new policy is designed to end a “very opaque system that doesn’t work for residents and businesses,” Lurie said.
Lightfoot’s policy is designed to spur development on the South and West sides, which have suffered from disinvestment for decades, Lurie said.
“There should be a clear path to development,” Lurie said. “But there is not one right now. They have to go through the alderman.”
Chicago’s culture has “strangled” development by forcing developers and investors to navigate 50 different systems in 50 different wards, Lurie said. Lightfoot intends to ensure one set of rules applies to everyone, he added.
“This is a significant and important step,” Lurie said. “But it is not the end.”
More changes that will require City Council approval are in the works, Lurie said. That will include changes to the city’s Zoning Code, which determines what can be built and where — and is at the heart of aldermen’s power.
“That will require real collaboration” between the administration and aldermen, Lurie said, declining to speculate on a timeline.
Based on plans crafted by city departments and vetted by the mayor’s office, letters of support from aldermen will no longer be required to approve:
- Landmark designations, Landmark permit fee waivers
- Class L property tax breaks
- Demolition applications
- Plan Commission action
- Land sales
- Lease of city property
- Designations, redevelopment agreements and intergovernmental agreements
- Small Business Improvement Fund grants from Tax-Increment Financing districts
- Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants
- Special Service Association appointments and budgets
- Permission to build off-site units to fulfill the Affordable Requirements Ordinance
- New Divvy stations
- New People Spots
- Open Space Impact Fee expenditures
- Preserving Communities Together grants
- City Lots for Working Families grants
- Parade of Homes grants
- Multifamily financing grants
- Outdoor special event permit
- Tax-Increment Financing district designations and redevelopment agreements
In addition, aldermen can no longer make a call to replace a resident’s black garbage cart, a service aldermen delight in reminding voters of at election time.
The policy will also change the way tree trimming requests are handled. No longer will aldermen be able to call on city crews to remove as many as 20 trees annually at his or her discretion, according to the policy.
Instead, all requests will be entered into the city’s system and aldermen should notify the Department of Streets and Sanitation of “particularly urgent needs related to public, health, safety, etc.”
However, aldermen will still have the sole authority to grant permits for block parties, Lurie said. Officials decided they were best equipped to resolve any disputes that arise between neighbors, Lurie said.