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With Dick Simpson at her side, Lightfoot proposes ethics reforms

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot. | Colin Boyle / Sun-Times

Nearly eight years ago, David Hoffman, the corruption-fighting inspector general who embarrassed and infuriated Mayor Richard M. Daley, joined forces with then-mayoral challenger Rahm Emanuel to propose reforms designed to “change the culture” of corruption and cronyism at City Hall.

At least some of those plans didn’t happen. That’s because they clashed with the reality of a City Council that “ain’t ready for reform,” as Paddy Bauler famously put it.

On Tuesday, an identical script was followed. Only this time, Lori Lightfoot was the mayoral challenger and former independent Ald. Dick Simpson (44th) was doing the endorsing.

It happened after Lightfoot unveiled a nine-point plan to restore what she called the “deep-seated mistrust” that many Chicagoans have in city government.

Video by Fran Spielman

Lightfoot’s plan includes: limiting the mayor to two terms; prohibiting city employees, elected and appointed officials from holding paid side jobs that “conflict with the city’s interests”; and shifting control over Chicago’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program to the executive branch and away from Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Lightfoot’s plan would also grant Inspector General Joe Ferguson subpoena power to pursue ethics investigations and create a “unified office” modeled after New York City’s Department of Investigation to oversee investigations of waste, fraud and abuse across all agencies.

She also promised to: establish “performance thresholds” for tax-increment-financing districts; give the City Council its own independent legal counsel; promptly comply with Freedom of Information requests; merge city and Cook County election board functions; and hold at least four town hall meetings before the annual vote on the city budget.

“Glad to see Lori read our proposals from eight years ago, most of which were implemented. I guess imitation is the best form of flattery,” said an Emanuel adviser in a text message to the Sun-Times.

“Good luck merging election boards. Tried for two years.”

Rahm Emanuel, then a candidate for mayor, unveiled his “Ethics and Good Government Agenda” in December 2010 alongside then- Inspector General David Hoffman at the Union League Club — the same place Lori Lightfoot discussed her ethics proposals on Tuesday.
Rahm Emanuel, then a candidate for mayor, unveiled his “Ethics and Good Government Agenda” in December 2010 alongside then- Inspector General David Hoffman at the Union League Club — the same place Lori Lightfoot discussed her ethics proposals on Tuesday. | Sun-Times file photo

Emanuel campaign spokesperson Caron Brookens accused Lightfoot of “flip-flopping on her record again, this time on ethics.”

“If she wants to talk ethics, Lori cannot hide from misleading Judge Posner, which led to her not getting a position in the Obama Administration,” Brookens wrote in an email. He was referring to when Lightfoot was an assistant U.S. attorney and argued a case before Richard Posner, then a judge with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Lori can’t hide from being the lead attorney to send more Republicans to Congress for disgraced Speaker Hastert, who presided over countless ethics scandals. Lori can run for office, but she cannot run away from her record of ethics failures.”

Brookens was referring to how, as a private attorney, Lightfoot represented Republicans in the Illinois congressional delegation on electoral issues. Lightfoot has argued her legal work was designed to empower racial minorities against “hyperpartisan” Democratic power brokers.

During a news conference at the Union League Club, Lightfoot acknowledged the proposal to ban paid side jobs that conflict with the city’s interests is likely to encounter City Council resistance, just as Emanuel did.

Burke and Aldermen Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) and Patrick O’Connor (40th), for example, are not about to forfeit the right to make lucrative legal fees handling property tax appeals, zoning and other real estate cases.

But, Lightfoot said, the new City Council might look dramatically different after the 2019 election.

“We are not gonna continue to have aldermen who are profiting from their positions. That is unacceptable. It’s unethical. And it flies in the face of anything that even remotely resembles good government. I’m not gonna stand for it,” she said.

Emanuel once threatened to depose Burke as Finance Committee chairman or strip Burke of his personal bodyguards before reaching a political accommodation that has benefited both men.

But, Lightfoot said, “I’m not making peace with anybody … who is not gonna put the taxpayers of this city first. … I’m putting a very specific stake in the ground that this must change. The mayor hasn’t taken on that issue. And shame on him. But I am and I will.”

Burke, O’Connor and Thompson could not be reached for comment.

Emanuel has pushed through a seemingly endless string of ethics reforms in an effort to turn the page from the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant shadow over former Daley’s 22-year administration.

Under questioning, Lightfoot credited Emanuel with accomplishing what Daley could not: convincing a federal judge to release Chicago from the 42-year-old Shakman decree and dismiss a federal hiring monitor, after a hiring scandal with a $22.9 million pricetag.

“I know there was a significant amount of work that was put forward to get out from the yoke of Shakman,” she said.

But, she said: “People still don’t believe the government works. They believe that it’s corrupt. They believe that it’s opaque and that it only works for the chosen few. We’ve got to deal with that perception because it is pervasive.”