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Mayor playing hardball to get votes for $94 million property tax increase, aldermen say

Lightfoot told the Black Caucus said she’ll play hardball when choosing projects in her $3.7 billion capital plan. She’s also tying the budget to removing loopholes in the Welcoming City ordinance that allow police to assist immigration authorities in some cases.

Chicago City Hall
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is playing tough to round up support for her 2021 city budget.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

If Mayor Lori Lightfoot is so certain she has the 26 votes needed to pass her “pandemic” budget, why is she attaching political sweeteners and threatening aldermen who dare to oppose her $94 million property tax increase?

That’s the question after Lightfoot held two calls this week with members of the City Council’s Black Caucus, followed by Thursday briefings for a larger group of aldermen on the management ordinance tied to her $12.8 billion budget.

The sweetener is tying the budget to eliminating “carve-outs” in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance that, among other things, allow police to assist federal immigration authorities in some instances.

The threats were made to the 20-member Black Caucus, divided into two groups to avoid violating the Open Meetings Act again.

Sources said the first call was more contentious.

Apparently concerned North Side opposition to the property tax increase may deny her the 26 votes she needs, Lightfoot threatened to play hardball when choosing projects in her $3.7 billion capital plan.

“She said if we don’t vote for this budget, don’t ask her for s- -t for the next three years,” said one alderman who was on the call, but asked to remain anonymous to avoid alienating the mayor.

“We were all floored. It was like, wait a second. You’re supposed to represent the entire city. You’re telling us that you’re not gonna represent certain areas because they don’t vote for you and or they don’t vote for your budget? That ain’t right.”

Sources said the mayor’s threat prompted a rebuke from Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who told Lightfoot, “This is some bull-s- -t ...We’re elected just like you are.”

Taylor did not return repeated phone calls. Neither did Ald. Sophia King (4th), chairman of the Progressive Reform Caucus, who also stood up to the mayor during the call.

Another alderman, who participated in the second and more tranquil of the Veterans Day conference calls, agreed Lightfoot is now talking tough amid fierce resistance to the property tax increase from North Side aldermen.

“She said, ‘People ask for program ideas. Ask for money and ask for different things. And when I put them in there, they don’t [vote for the budget]. I’ve been burned on that and I’m not gonna be burned again,’” the second alderman, who also requested anonymity, quoted the mayor as saying.

Mayoral press secretary Anel Ruiz defended the mayor.

“Black aldermen have repeatedly told the mayor that, for years, they have stepped up, taken the hard votes and then had nothing to show for it. The mayor is committed to addressing these past wrongs, as she has throughout her tenure through investments on the South and West Sides,” Ruiz wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“It is fundamentally unfair for some to step up, bear the burden, and then for others who chose not to take tough votes to have the same expectations of receiving taxpayer dollars that they are unwilling to support through revenue votes.”

Earlier this year, Lightfoot argued the Council is not the rubber stamp that it was for her predecessors because, “I don’t buy votes.”

“I’m not saying to somebody, ‘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” the mayor said then.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said Lightfoot’s statements to the 20-member Black Caucus contradict that earlier statement.

“Aside from the mayor who doesn’t trade for votes threatening to cut people off, it just shows … how desperate she is right now in trying to pass this austerity budget,” Lopez said.

“Rather than trying to listen to alderman’s concerns, she’s trying to browbeat them into submission.”

Then, there is the sweetener.

Last year, Lightfoot cleverly tied the budget to an increase in the minimum wage.

On Thursday, aldermen were told the management ordinance would honor the mayor’s campaign promise to eliminate “carve-outs” in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance.

The ordinance prohibits Chicago Police from questioning the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or other law-abiding citizens or assisting federal immigration officials. But the “carve outs” mean it doesn’t apply if targeted individuals: are the subject of outstanding criminal warrants; have felony convictions; have pending felony prosecutions; or are in the city’s error-filled gang database.

Lopez called tying the budget to eliminating the carve-outs another “sleazy tactic” to appease Hispanic aldermen and “some of the more leftist aldermen, who have championed some of these reforms.”

“They’re not buying it. They’re seeing it as the bait that it’s meant to be,” said Lopez, who on Twitter accused Lightfoot of using immigrants as “pawns.”

Lightfoot called that “offensive to people in this city who are fearful every day of ICE coming and knocking on their door and children who leave their homes during the day and are fearful they’re gonna come home to an empty house.”

She is, she said, simply honoring a campaign promise.

“I ask for aldermen to support it. If you don’t support it and you don’t think that our immigrant and refugee community deserves protection, you’ll be on record as casting your vote against that,” she said.