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Lightfoot critics stir up trouble; is broader City Council rebellion brewing?

The mayor accused Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Ray Lopez (15th) of a ‘political stunt,’ said she won’t tolerate a “back door to aldermanic prerogative.”

Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown at her first City Council meeting earlier this year, is dealing with unrest among some aldermen.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Was it a feeble and failed attempt to stir up trouble by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s two most outspoken critics?

Or does it signal a broader City Council rebellion during a brutal budget season by aldermen chafing behind the scenes at Lightfoot’s decision to chip away at aldermanic prerogative?

Those questions will take time to answer. But one thing is certain: Lightfoot calmly and deftly put Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Ray Lopez (15th) in their place at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

With the gavel in her hand, the new mayor showed who’s boss by ruling both aldermen out of order.

It started when Beale and Lopez exercised the right of any two aldermen to put off a vote on Lightfoot’s appointment of James Rudyk Jr. as an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Appeals that will play a pivotal role in deciding where recreational marijuana can be sold in Chicago.

Last week, Rudyk raised eyebrows by saying he would consider the opinion of the local alderman “just like any other resident of the ward.”

When Beale rose Wednesday to explain his decision to hold up the appointment, Lightfoot ruled him out of order because Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) was still reading his committee report.

“Can you just let him finish? I don’t believe he’s finished, sir. Alderman, please take your seat and let Ald. Tunney finish and then, you can stand and have your objection. Please. You’re out of order,” the mayor said calmly.

When Tunney was done, Beale accused Rudyk of stating: “In his opinion, aldermen were not the voice of their community.”

A few minutes later, Lopez tried but failed to suspend the rules to force an immediate vote on the proposal he introduced Wednesday to ban all e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine products in Chicago.

Lightfoot favors a ban only on flavored cigarettes and vaping products — and only after an “engagement process” with community leaders.

Once again, Lightfoot banged the gavel and ruled Lopez out of order — this time, on grounds that the matter had not been approved by committee and that, without 48 hours notice, a vote would violate the Open Meetings Act.

Adding insult to injury, the Lopez ordinance was sent to the Rules Committee — where legislation the mayor opposes traditionally goes to die.

Beale has been in the doghouse — stripped of his committee chairmanship — since trying to marshal opposition to Lightfoot’s choice of Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Lopez has been the most outspoken Council critic of Lightfoot’s plan to strip aldermen of their unbridled control over permitting in their wards and her threat to do the same for their control over zoning.

That’s why it was relatively easy for the mayor to dismiss Wednesday’s mischief as a “political stunt.”

Lopez and Beale “have been very vociferous in their objection to banning and ending aldermanic prerogative. They’ve clearly decided that what they’re gonna do is try to resurrect that by making appointees swear an oath to them as aldermen,” Lightfoot said.

“We’re not gonna have a back door to aldermanic prerogative.”

Lopez warned Lightfoot to ignore the rumblings of discontent at her peril; aldermen with cold feet may warm up.

“If she does not resolve her interactions with aldermen, it will ultimately lead to greater tension come budget, when the hard decisions happen. ... Let’s see what happens when people are forced to raise over $1 billion in taxes. How much they’re gonna be willing to stand with her,” Lopez said.

“This isn’t just about prerogative. This is her overall dealings with aldermen. Assuming that sending us an email means we’re in support of what you’re doing. That’s not how you work with us. If you take us as an afterthought, that’s a dictatorship.”

Beale noted a silent majority of his colleagues are “extremely fed up with not having a voice” because Lightfoot is trying to “suppress” them.

“This is the beginning of the budget season and we’re gonna see what happens,” he said.

Beale denied he’s trying to get even with Lightfoot after losing his committee.

“I could care less about that. What we need to understand is that aldermen are the voice of their community and we’re concerned about the direction this ship is going,” Beale said.