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Lightfoot plans to demand end to shut-offs and answers on ComEd lobbying scandal before renewing utility’s franchise agreement

Chicago’s 20-year deal with ComEd expires Dec. 31, 2020. That creates a rare opportunity for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to protect customers and hold the company’s feet to the fire on the burgeoning lobbying scandal in Springfield.

ComEd Training Center, 3536 S. Iron St. in Chicago
Chicago must decide whether to renew a 20-year franchise agreement with ComEd that expires at the end of 2020.
Sun-Times Media

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she plans to call Commonwealth Edison on the carpet for the Springfield lobbying scandal — and ask the utility to join the city in ending shut-offs—before Chicago will even consider renewing its franchise agreement.

One focus of the burgeoning federal investigation that has spread from Chicago and the south suburbs to Springfield is the roster of ComEd lobbyists with close ties to Ilinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

It includes Jay Doherty, who resigned last week as president of the City Club of Chicago.

WBEZ-FM has reported that ComEd paid Doherty $3.1 million between 2011 and 2018 — nearly six times the amount he disclosed on his lobbyist filings with the city.

Doherty’s resignation came one month after he quit lobbying for ComEd and seven months after FBI agents raided City Club headquarters.

Against that backdrop, Chicago must decide whether or not to renew a 20-year franchise agreement with ComEd that expires at the end of 2020.

It represents a rare opportunity for Lightfoot to hold the company’s feet to the fire.

“There’s a lot of questions Com Ed is gonna have to answer before we’re gonna get comfortable in renewing the franchise. … The more that gets dribbled out through media accounts, my concern is rising,” the mayor said during a taping of the WLS-AM Radio program “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s not just news reports and smoke. There’s something real there. And there’s got to be a measure of accountability to the public on that. … We’re gonna call them for some kind of hearing and make them answer some questions ... about what they were doing, how they were using their shareholders’ dollars and give us assurances that we can be comfortable doing business with them.”

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus has demanded any new franchise agreement with ComEd include both a progressive rate structure and an end to shut-offs — not just for those unable to pay, but also for those who refuse to pay.

Lightfoot has already ended water shut-offs, which has cost the city $20 million in water bill revenues.

The mayor plans to ask ComEd to get on board.

“All the utilities — whether it’s ComEd, whether it’s Peoples Gas” should end shut-offs, she said. “People are suffering and they’re struggling. And we can tell from the data where those … problems are,” Lightfoot added. “I certainly would hope, as a minimum, that the utilities would follow our lead. But that’s something that I’m willing to push them on as well.”

ComEd spokesman Paul Elsberg said the utility is “cooperating fully with all requests related to the investigation and is not able to comment further.”

As for Lightfoot’s demands, Elsberg noted the utility works closely with its “most vulnerable customers to provide options to keep [them] from falling behind” on electric bills.

That includes “direct financial assistance from ComEd, which is paid using shareholder—not customer — dollars,” he said.

ComEd also does not shut off service to its customers during the winter months.

“We’re proud of our long, productive partnership with the city, which has helped us deliver record-setting reliability and customer services to families and businesses,” Elsberg wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“The franchise agreement reflects that partnership and we’re committed to working collaboratively on an agreement that builds on our progress to ensure the continued safe and reliable delivery of energy that is increasingly clean and resilient.”

Details have slowly emerged in recent months about the broadening corruption probe that has included raids of several southwest suburban village halls and the Springfield office of state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

Sandoval chaired the state’s powerful Transportation Committee and announced last week he’ll give up his legislative seat in January.

Sandoval’s daughter, Angie, listed herself online as a senior account manager in government affairs at ComEd.

Exelon Utilities CEO Anne Pramaggiore abruptly retired in October as questions swirled around ComEd lobbyists under her control.

The utility has acknowledged receiving two grand jury subpoenas about its lobbying activities in Illinois, where the company has enjoyed a long winning streak in the state legislature.

The Chicago Tribune has reported the feds are looking into $10,000 in payments from current and former ComEd lobbyists to Kevin Quinn, a Madigan political operative forced out in the Springfield edition of the “Me too” scandal that has swept the nation. Quinn is the brother of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th).

Madigan has insisted he is “not the target of anything.” Tuesday, Lightfoot said “I take him at his word.”

The mayor did note the burgeoning scandal has created a “difficult environment” in which to push her ambitious Springfield agenda.