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Lightfoot will have the votes to deliver City Council reorganization plan, harshest critic says

But Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said Lightfoot will pay a price when the tough votes come for the strident tone of her inaugural address

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) at a recent City Hall news conference.
Sun-Times Media

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has the votes to deliver the City Council leaders she has chosen, but she will pay a price down the road for the strident tone of her inaugural address, a council critic said Tuesday.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) is the most outspoken critic of the executive order that Lightfoot signed just hours after being sworn-in stripping aldermen of their absolute power over licenses and permits in their wards.

Lopez literally accused the mayor of fundamentally changing an alderman’s job description and attempting to “steamroll” a City Council she has “disrespected.”

His decision to position himself as the leader of the City Council opposition is not surprising. He’s a close ally of Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who became the poster boy for ending aldermanic prerogative when he was charged with attempted extortion on Jan. 3.

But Lopez acknowledged Tuesday that Lightfoot will have the 26 votes she needs — and then some — to deliver her lineup of City Council leaders.

That includes Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the Progressive Caucus chairman who is not popular with his colleagues but is nevertheless Lightfoot’s choice to chair the City Council’s Finance Committee that was Burke’s primary power base for decades.

“It’s pretty obvious that she expanded City Council committees [to eighteen] to give her as close to a majority as possible,” Lopez said.

“I don’t see her not winning. The [only] question is, by what margin will she be winning it.”

Lopez noted that Lightfoot punished Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) but retained several other members of the old guard.

They include: Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th); Traffic Committee Chairman Walter Burnett (27th) and License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th). Even Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th), who was replaced by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), was offered the chairmanship of a new Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity as a consolation prize.

But even if Lightfoot wins the vote that will be the first test of her City Council muscle, Lopez warned that the new mayor’s decision to embarrass aldermen during her inaugural address will come back to haunt her in the long run.

“The tone that she has set — the confrontational nature her historic inauguration speech took — definitely will have an impact with members,” Lopez said.

“There are many tough votes she needs to take. Not just committee chairs, but on raising taxes, dealing with [union] contracts]. And under the sub-text of calling us all corrupt to try and then go backwards and say, ‘I still need you to do x, y and z’ is gonna make life more difficult for her.”

The reorganization vote won’t be the only action at Lightfoot’s first council meeting.

Organized labor’s City Council allies also plan to introduce an ordinance raising Chicago’s minimum wage in 50-cent increments until it reaches $15-an-hour, and no later than July, 2021. Chicago’s minimum wage is $12-an-hour, increasing to $13 on July 1.

Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of SEIU Local 1, said the ordinance will be introduced by Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th). She’s Lightfoot’s choice to chair the Committee on Workforce Development once run by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).

Morrison was a chief strategist for vanquished mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle.

Morrison noted that Lightfoot campaigned on a $15-an-hour minimum wage and that many of Chicago’s 12 newly elected aldermen did too. So did a lot of the newly re-elected incumbents.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to has been supportive thus far. We’ve gotten no opposition yet. Last time the city moved a minimum wage, there were three or four votes against. I don’t have any reason to believe this would be any different,” Morrison said.

On the eve of the 2015 election, then-Mayor Emanuel persuaded the City Council to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 to help him shed the “Mayor 1%” label and undercut the progressive base of his strongest challengers.

The 44-to-5 vote followed dire warnings about the impact on small businesses struggling to stay alive amid increased competition from the Internet at a competitive disadvantage. notes

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, 2020, followed by $1-an-hour increases on Jan. 1 of each year until the hourly wage reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

But Morrison said Chicago’s minimum wage workers can’t afford to wait that long because the city’s cost of living is “considerably higher” than it is in the rest of the state.

“There are no legislative pay increases [in Chicago] after July 1 of this year. If that is allowed to stand, then the state will eventually catch up to the city and city workers will lose 40 percent of their buying power,” he said.

SEIU Local 1 is among a coalition of unions that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.