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Lightfoot angered by leaked audio from call with aldermen during looting

Ald. Ray Lopez denied leaking the audio, but said the mayor’s office should release the full recording. Lopez argued the conference calls with aldermen violate the Open Meetings Act.

Chicago police officers investigate at City Sports, 2024 E. 71st St., on June 1 after the store in South Shore was looted,
Chicago police officers investigate at City Sports, 2024 E. 71st St., on June 1 after the store in South Shore was looted,
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday accused Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) of “illegally” taping her May 31 phone call with aldermen upset about looting and mayhem in their wards and “leaking” the part that included a profane exchange between them.

The mayor never mentioned Lopez by name, but her comments made it clear he was the one being accused. Lopez (15th), Lightfoot’s most outspoken critic on the City Council, denied the accusation.

However, he said the mayor’s own staff also records the calls with aldermen. He demanded they release those recordings to the public, arguing the calls violate the Open Meetings Act.

The Illinois attorney general’s office said it has received a complaint about the alleged violation, and is looking into it.

It all started Wednesday when Lightfoot was asked whether she regretted using profanity during the May 31 call, which the Chicago Sun-Times first disclosed on June 1. A tape of the conversation has since been widely circulated on social media.

“First of all, if you heard the entirety of the conversation, it was I believe on a Sunday night. The conversation went for an hour and a half. Unfortunately, one of the aldermen — and I think we know who it is — illegally taped and then shared only that portion of the conversation that served his purposes,” the mayor said.

The portion of the conversation she referred to was between her and Lopez.

“These are tough and difficult times. We ought to be able to have candid conversations. There were a lot of incredible emotions that were shared on that call by fellow aldermen. Now, aldermen don’t feel secure or safe coming together with their colleagues because of one individual who decided to illegally tape a conversation that was intended to be a private conversation among all of us. Shame on them. Shame on him.”

Lopez was asked whether he was the person who taped the call and leaked it to the media.

“I will not — uhh, no. … Until she proves otherwise, I stand by my assertions that this is not from me. These leaked tapes are not from me,” Lopez said.

“There are 51 elected officials on these calls and about a dozen staff members. So there’s well over 60 possibilities of who could have done what.”

Lopez called Lightfoot’s focus on the leaker a “distraction” from what was said.

“What has been said on these calls clearly shows a lack of planning and a lack of preparation by this administration. … She’s most enraged about … her inability to control her branding during a time of crisis, crafting an image of control that is contrary to what the facts are,” Lopez said.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) speaks with reporters before the start of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) denied leaking audio to the media from a conference call between Chicago aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“This singular leak shows the complete difference between what she reports to the city and what she’s telling aldermen behind closed doors. Behind closed doors, there were concerns about outsiders and police deployment. There were objections to the use of National Guard downtown at the expense of the community. There were concerns raised by many aldermen, myself included, that were brought to her attention and ignored,” Lopez said.

“That is in stark contradiction to the message that she has portrayed that it’s ridiculous that these things were ever brought up to her. That she would have acted if she had known. This is a window into the truth of what was happening during the unfortunate rioting downtown and the sacking of the neighborhoods. Things were presented to her. Alarm bells were going off. And despite all of her pronouncements to the contrary, she did not act on them.”

During the first call on the morning of Sunday, June 1, Lopez said he asked Lightfoot directly what her plan was to protect neighborhoods after sealing off a downtown area devastated by looting, vandalism and arson Saturday night.

According to Lopez, the mayor responded she had a plan for every neighborhood.

“I said, ‘I heard on the scanners that we have hundreds of people, caravans, driving in from Indiana and other places to come and terrorize our city,’” Lopez told the Sun-Times last week.

“She said, ‘That’s an unsubstantiated rumor. You can chase that if you want, Ray.’”

By Sunday night, Lopez said neighborhoods were in chaos, and he believed his warnings about a “coordinated attempt to destabilize our city” had come true.

On a second conference call, Lopez said several aldermen were “in tears” about the damage in their communities.

“I said, ‘I told you this was gonna happen in the morning. I warned you. What is our plan for the neighborhoods? How are we gonna stabilize the communities? We need a five-day plan. The assumption that this is all gonna go away because you’ve got a curfew is wrong. We need to stabilize the communities. I want an answer,’” Lopez recalled.

“When I was finished, she basically said, ‘OK. Next.’ and tried to move onto the next alderman. ... I interrupted and said, ‘No. I demand an answer. I want to know what your plan is.’ At which point, she said I was full of s- -t for saying that all she cared about was downtown and that she wasn’t prepared and that there’s nothing she could say intellectually that would make sense to me.’”

Lopez wasn’t having it.

“I told her, ‘F - - k you. You don’t know what’s going on,’ “ he recalled.

The mayor’s office denied that the calls Lightfoot and top mayoral aides have held repeatedly with aldermen during the pandemic and subsequent rioting violated the Open Meetings Act.

“These updates were arranged and carried out solely for the administration to convey information about the status of COVID-related efforts and field questions on those efforts. For a meeting to be subject to The Open Meetings Act, it must include deliberation (for example, legislative debate) and/or action (for example, a vote), which did not occur on these calls,” mayoral press secretary Anel Ruiz wrote in an email.

ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka disagreed.

“If there was a meeting by video or phone where a quorum of the City Council was present and discussing public business — and if there had not been a majority vote for a closed meeting during a previous open session — then these sessions appear to violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act,” Yohnka wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.

Under the Act, a meeting is “any gathering, whether in person or by video or audio conference, telephone call, electronic means” attended by “a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business.”

In the case of the City Council, a “majority of a quorum” would be 14 aldermen.

On Sunday night, Lightfoot had another conference call, this time with committee chairmen. There are 19 council committees.

She told them she would no longer be holding conference calls with aldermen because one of their colleagues had chosen to violate everyone else’s trust. Sources said Lightfoot clearly wanted Council leaders to condemn and ostracize the leaker.

But when the mayor got off the call, sources said, the chairmen chose not to get involved because it would also require rebuking Lightfoot for her role in the profane exchange.