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One of Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics scores rare victory

The Budget Committee approved a revised resolution pushed by Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) calling for quarterly meetings on the city budget for the next two years and an annual meeting on the CPD budget separate from city budget hearings.

Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she needs do a better job of working with people with whom she disagrees — and that includes members of the Chicago City Council.
Sun-Times file

One of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics scored a rare legislative victory on Wednesday that he hopes shows Lightfoot was sincere when she vowed to be more collaborative, even with those who disagree with her.

The City Council’s Budget Committee approved a revised resolution championed by Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) that calls for holding quarterly meetings on the city budget for the next two years and an annual meeting on the Chicago Police Department’s budget separate and apart from CPD’s appearance at city budget hearings.

The first of those police hearings — before a joint meeting of the budget and public safety committees — will be at 10 a.m. on Sept. 17. That’s a month before budget hearings begin and is almost certain to include demands to “de-fund” the police, fueled by the death of George Floyd.

“This earlier meeting ... gives us an opportunity to understand clearly the programs that the police department operates, staffing. And I’m sure there’ll be questions regarding overtime,” Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) said Wednesday.

Lopez’s resolution was referred to committee at a special City Council meeting Wednesday.

Although the two-year time frame and quarterly meeting are a far cry from his original demand for monthly budget hearings in perpetuity, Lopez views the watered-down resolution as a sign that Lightfoot meant what she said about being more collaborative.

“This shows, to the mayor’s point, that when we come together, we can move forward,” Lopez said.

“This is my colleagues meaning what they said during our special meeting — that they were willing to … be more inclusive of others’ ideas. … Assuming that the mayor joins us and allows her administration to participate, it’s proof that she’s willing to work with us. But we need to see how forthcoming she is with information.”

Lightfoot unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against Lopez when he dared accuse her of being caught flat-footed after the first round of looting that spread into South and West side neighborhoods after downtown was belatedly sealed off.

She has further accused Lopez 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.

During a major speech Monday called to reveal what the mayor claims is a combined $2 billion budget shortfall for this year and next, Lightfoot bemoaned the bitter tone of political discourse in Chicago and vowed to do her part to turn the page instead of ascribing “the worst motives to anyone who does not agree with 100 percent of our beliefs.”

“I need to push myself harder to work with people with whom I do not agree and who do not agree with me,” she said in a rare moment of self-criticism and reflection.

“If you are focused on creating a better tomorrow for all of our residents, then I will be even more intentional in finding common ground with you. Reach out to me and I will do the same.”

After the speech, Lopez took the mayor up on her offer. He reached out by phone and by email, hoping to meet face-to-face to clear the air. He’s still waiting for a response.

On Wednesday, Lopez said he thinks he knows why a mayor who has spent her first year in office stripping aldermen of their treasured local powers, keeping the City Council in the dark and openly fighting with a handful of aldermen is suddenly reaching out.

It’s highly unlikely she will be able to plug a $2 billion budget gap without a massive property tax increase. But her strained relationship with the City Council will make rounding up the 26 votes for a major tax increase infinitely more difficult.

“In order for her to avoid the political risk, she needs to have as close to a unanimous vote as possible to say that everyone was buying into this shared sacrifice,” Lopez said.

“And that is a very different change from how she approached the last budget — or even the emergency powers ordinance. Which was, ‘I went past 26, and that’s all I need.’ She needs to go past the win and blow it out of the park to avoid any political pushback.”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, said Lightfoot “needs to listen more. ... I’ve been beating that drum for more than a year now.”

He added: “I’m glad that vacation she took gave her an opportunity to really relax and think about things because, the reality is that a mayor can propose a budget. But ultimately, it’s the City Council that has to approve the appropriations.”