Lightfoot, who had never held elected office before capitalizing on her outsider status to win an overwhelming victory in April’s mayoral race, silenced at least some of those whispers Wednesday by racking up overwhelming victories on two of her biggest priorities — protections for Chicago workers forced to work unpredictable schedules and an ethics reform package aimed squarely at indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14).
The City Council’s annual August recess started after Wednesday’s meeting, and aldermen will not meet again until Sept. 18 — after Lightfoot will have passed the largely symbolic 100-day mark in office.
Lightfoot said she had learned a lot since taking office in May, and was committed to working with aldermen and listening to their concerns while clearly communicating her priorities and goals.
“I think we’ve done fine,” Lightfoot said. “But I think we can do better. I’m committed to that. My team is committed to that. We’ve got to make sure even where we don’t agree that we are talking to each other and communicating effectively.”
Before Lightfoot graded her legislative accomplishments, she celebrated the City Council’s 50-0 vote to approve a new law that would force Chicago employers to give their workers two weeks notice of their schedules in an effort to reduce the stress caused by unpredictable shift work by 2022.
Lightfoot said the measure, lauded by the Chicago Federation of Labor as “the most expansive predictive scheduling law in the country,” was a victory for all Chicagoans struggling to make ends meet.
“It’s not a perfect ordinance,” Lightfoot said. “We haven’t made everybody happy. But I think that we’ve struck the right balance.”
Business groups dropped their opposition after Lightfoot made several changes, including an agreement to exclude workers who earn more than $26 per hour. Salaried workers who earn more than $50,000 are also excluded.
Business groups also convinced city officials to remove a provision that would have restricted employers’ ability to limit hours worked by employees on the cusp of moving from part-time to full-time status.
In addition, the law does not prohibit firms from hiring a new employee unless its owners determine that they consistently have shifts available that their workers do not want to fill.
However, the law does employers to offer additional shifts to existing workers before offering the shifts to temporary or seasonal workers and before hiring new employees.
After 2 ½ years of negotiations, aldermen stood one by one to praise Lightfoot for muscling through the measure — and convincing skeptical aldermen and vehemently opposed business groups to get on board the train.
“I’ve never seen this City Council turn out more important legislation for the people of this city,” Ald. George Cardenas (12) told the mayor. “And it’s all thanks to you.”
Workforce Development Committee Chair Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10) who shepherded the measure through the City Council grew emotional several times Wednesday.
“We’ve just changed the lives of many people,” Sadlowski Garza said, before telling Lightfoot from the floor of the City Council chambers that she wished she could give the mayor bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
Instead, Sadlowski Garza offered Lightfoot a bottle of “South Side hot sauce” prompting loud cheers from other aldermen — and a shouted warning in jest from Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38.)
“As long as it’s [worth] under $50,” Sposato said, prompting Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22) to confirm the bottle of Hienie’s famed orange hot sauce cost $4.99, below the threshold set by the city’s Ethics Ordinance for gifts to city officials.
Aldermen also voted 50-0 — with nary a word of debate — to approve Lightfoot’s first attempt to end corruption at City Hall, where several federal investigations are looming amid raids by federal agents.
The measure bans aldermen from working as property tax attorneys or in any capacity “that poses a potential liability or a conflict of interest with City of Chicago business.”
That is aimed squarely at Burke, who has pled not guilty to a 14-count indictment that he repeatedly — and brazenly — used his powerful position at City Hall to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm in mind.
Lightfoot reiterated her call for Burke to step down, and acknowledged he could face sanctions from the Chicago Board of Ethics if he continues to represent property owners looking for a break on their taxes — which comes at a cost to the city.
“The chips will fall where they may,” Lightfoot said.
The measure also expands the powers of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to investigate aldermen and “audit council administrative procedures.”
A similar proposal was defeated by aldermen in February 2016 after being thwarted by Burke.
The proposal would also hike the fine for violating the ethics ordinance from $500 to $1,000 for low-level violations and from $2,000 to $5,000 for high-level violations.
In addition, the law expands the definition of lobbyists to include non-profits.
In addition, Lightfoot on Tuesday introduced a measure (O2019-5548) that would give Ferguson the authority to release confidential investigatory files and reports to the public “when the conduct investigated is associated with a death or a felony, generating high interest from the public.”
“People have a right to question the decisions made by their government officials and to hold them accountable,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Withholding all OIG reports only generates mistrust at a time when city government should be focusing its efforts on rebuilding trust and restoring the public’s faith.”
Even as aldermen relaxed into their summer break, Lightfoot faces significant challenges in the weeks ahead.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union demonstrated Wednesday outside the Board of Education meeting to press the mayor to fulfill her campaign promise to boost staffing, cut class sizes and hike pay for teachers and staff members.
Lightfoot is also at loggerheads with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which represents rank-and-file Chicago Police officers, who have been working without a contract for more than two years amid reform efforts ordered by a federal judge in a wake of the murder of Laquan McDonald.
As Patrick Murray, the union’s second vice president, stepped to the microphone to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, Lightfoot could be heard on a live microphone calling him “this FOP clown.”
Murray was there to tell the aldermen and the mayor that the union believed four officers fired earlier this month by the Police Board in connection with efforts to cover up McDonald’s death had been “scapegoated” and not treated fairly.
In June, Lightfoot tangled with Murray during the City Council meeting, after he accused her of not consulting the union on reform efforts.
After the meeting, Lightfoot acknowledged she made the remark, but declined to apologize to Murray or the union.
“It was not appropriate for me to say that out loud,” Lightfoot said. “I’m sorry that I said it out loud.”
Lightfoot will also face pressure from progressive aldermen to make good on her promises to increase the supply of affordable housing in Chicago and make changes to the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance.
Fourteen aldermen resurrected a proposal (O2019-5599) first introduced in June 2018 that would require city officials to approve projects that include affordable family housing units in wards where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is as dedicated to low- and moderate-income residents.
The proposals would eliminate developers’ ability to pay into the city’s Low Income Housing Trust Fund and require them to build larger units with two, three and four bedrooms and set them aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans in perpetuity.
In addition, developers would have to set aside 30 percent of new units in “high-rent zones” as affordable. In neighborhoods with moderate rents, 20 percent of the units would be set aside, under the proposal.
While the current law only applies to developments of at least 10 units, the revised law would require to three- to nine-unit buildings to build at least one affordable unit if they request special permission from the city.
Lightfoot promised to work with housing advocates.
“We are at a crisis point, there is no doubt about that,” Lightfoot said.