Lightfoot on City Council pushback: ‘I don’t buy votes’

Lightfoot on City Council pushback: ‘I don’t buy votes’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over her first Chicago City Council meeting in May. | Sun-Times file

“I’m not saying to somebody, `Hey, if I get your vote, I’ll give you this project’ or `You’ll get this money,’” the mayor said. “That’s not the way I’m gonna operate.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday the City Council isn’t a rubber stamp for her because “I don’t buy votes.”

The mayor offered the candid assessment of City Council pushback during a question-and-answer session that was the centerpiece of a daylong “Innovation Summit.”

Charlotte Howard, New York bureau chief for The Economist, noted more aldermen “than normal” had voted against Lightfoot’s $11.6 billion budget. Howard said she considered those 11 dissenting votes a sign of a functioning city that encourages healthy debate.

Lightfoot agreed.

“I don’t need or want a rubber-stamp City Council. I think that undermines the legitimacy of all government when that happens,” she said.

“We have 12 new members of the City Council, some of whom ran on very progressive ideas about revenue and essentially taxing the rich. That’s not a prescription that I’m going to buy into. So, they felt like, because they knew the budget was gonna pass, that they could kind of make their statement.”

The mayor then launched into her candid self-assessment of her tenuous relationship with a City Council pushing back against her efforts to eliminate aldermanic prerogative.

“I don’t buy votes. By that, I mean, I’m not saying to somebody, `Hey, if I get your vote, I’ll give you this project’ or `You’ll get this money.’ That’s not the way I’m gonna operate. That kind of transactional way of governing is not something that I will ever embrace,” the mayor said.

Three months ago, Lightfoot defiantly defended her decision to use money from her newly created political action committee to shame the 11 aldermen who voted against her first budget.

”Since when is letting voters and residents know how aldermen voted bullying?” she said then in response to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial taking her to task for her website.

“We have an absolute right to make sure that people really understand who voted, why they voted, what they voted for …. I stand by it. … This is not a political exercise for me. This is about educating the public about what happened.”

On Thursday, Lightfoot predicted the City Council vote on her next three budgets will be even closer than the first one.

“This is probably the easiest budget vote that anybody is gonna have to take in the next three years because we didn’t raise property taxes. We closed almost a billion-dollar gap without a significant increase in property taxes. I can’t promise that every other vote is gonna be nearly as easy,” she said.

In recent months, the City Council has pushed back against the mayor with greater frequency.

Three times Lightfoot was forced to alter plans for the City Council’s rollout of recreational marijuana or fend off efforts to delay it.

Aldermanic opposition forced Lightfoot to pull back plans to license consumption sites for recreational weed. Aldermanic support forced her to go along with a plan to freeze demolition along The 606 trail. She was forced to pull the plug on her own plan to strip aldermen of their unbridled control over sidewalk signs.

Lightfoot is not the first to claim her refusal to horse trade for votes and play the reward-and-punishment game is straining her relationship with the City Council.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the mayor’s handpicked Finance Committee chairman, told the Sun-Times the same thing in late January.

“There’s a new era of questioning and deliberation. They feel emboldened to be able to finally break away from the chains of ‘The mayor says this and you absolutely have to do it or they’re gonna withhold funding from you some way,’” Waguespack said then.

“[Richard M.] Daley and Rahm [Emanuel] were giving people crumbs … ‘Vote for my … $10 billion budget — as bad as it is — and I’ll give you $100,000 for this little thing.’ What she’s trying to do is say, ‘We don’t need to do those things to get the things you and your constituents need.’”

Also on Thursday, Lightfoot risked insulting Pilsen residents with remarks about creating “vibrant, healthy and safe neighborhoods” to reduce gun violence.

“Pilsen 10 years ago was a neighborhood we all would have been a little bit concerned about being in after dark. Pilsen now is a vibrant, thriving neighborhood. What’s the difference? The difference is economic development,” she said.

“Not that long ago, River North was an area you drove quickly through to get on expressways to take yourself someplace else. What’s the difference? Intentional economic development. … That kind of intentionality is what we are bringing to areas like Austin, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park, Englewood, the Far South Side.”

Rookie Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) branded the mayor’s remarks about Pilsen “insulting.”

It shows how “disconnected” she is from the problems posed by the gentrification that has “eroded” a strong Mexican-American community “internationally-renowned” for its “culture, murals, festivals, restaurants and people,” the alderman said.

“We still have small businesses struggling and empty storefronts. We still have homeowners, especially the most vulnerable, struggling to pay their property taxes. … We have a community that is still the victim of violence,” he said.

“To say this community is just thriving without acknowledging that we have many challenges ahead of us … shows an administration disconnected from the reality of our community. Thriving for whom? We still see the most vulnerable being left out. The marginalized being left out of the conversation.”

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