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Lightfoot PAC creates website to light a fire under aldermen who opposed her $11.6B budget

The PAC Lightfoot created filled the inboxes of the 11 aldermen who opposed the mayor’s 2020 budget. Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said Lightfoot’s retaliatory website “shines the light on the true nature of her character: being petty and vindictive.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot addresses the City Council on Nov. 26, the day aldermen approved her $11.6 billion budget.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Minutes before the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $11.6 billion budget, Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) rose to assure his colleagues there would be no political retaliation.

“Whether you vote for or against this budget, you have no fear in your choice,” Waguespack said.

That guarantee apparently is not entirely true — at least not when it comes to attempting to incite a voter backlash.

The political action committee Lightfoot created to scare off opponents of her ambitious legislative agenda is swinging into action — by filling the inboxes of aldermen who opposed her 2020 budget.

Days after a who’s-who of women in politics and government jammed a fundraiser for “Light PAC,” a chicagobudgetvotes.com website was created that opens with the question, “How did your alderman vote?”

Beneath the question is a line crediting Lightfoot and her City Council majority with having “closed a record $838 million gap without overburdening taxpayers” with “structural solutions, savings, efficiencies and carefully considered revenue enhancements.”

Chicagoans are then directed to a drop-down box to choose their local alderman and determine how he or she voted.

If the alderman chosen is Ray Lopez (15th), one of the 11 who voted against the budget, constituents are told that Lopez “voted NO on a progressive, responsible budget that maximizes efficiency, ensures we maintain the quality of services … and does everything it can to prevent hard-working Chicagoans from bearing the burden as we strive to put our city finances back on track.”

“Alderman Lopez offered no viable alternatives to comprehensively close an historic $838 million budget gap and voted against” a budget that provides nearly “$30 million in new funding for affordable housing, mental health, homelessness and violence prevention” and raises the city’s minimum wage to $15-an-hour by 2021.

“The alderman voted to deny Chicago workers a chance at a living wage ... Click here to let Alderman Lopez know that Chicago needs a fair minimum wage and more resources for affordable housing, mental health, homelessness, and violence prevention,” the website states.

Aldermen who supported the mayor’s budget are lauded for supporting those measures. That includes indicted former Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th), Lightfoot’s political nemesis.

Lopez said Lightfoot’s retaliatory website “shines the light on the true nature of her character: being petty and vindictive.”

“For a mayor whose allies told even freshmen aldermen, ‘Feel free to vote your conscience without fear,’ to 10 days later try to put them on blast through social media without acknowledging that they had credible concerns about her budget is unbelievable,” Lopez said.

Lightfoot’s political director Dave Mellet said the website was created because, “We want Chicagoans to understand that this budget did not overburden taxpayers and still was able to close an $838 million budget gap while freeing up new funds for affordable housing, mental health, homelessness and violence prevention.”

Lopez noted that 20% of the City Council opposed the mayor’s budget after raising legitimate concerns.

In justifying its lock-step “no” vote, the six-member Socialist Caucus accused the mayor of underfunding social services, overfunding police and breaking her campaign promise to re-open shuttered mental health clinics.

The caucus further argued the budget includes no “new and dedicated revenue streams” and relies too heavily on “one-time funding sources” that amount to “kicking the can down the road.”

Those temporary fixes include: the largest tax increment financing (TIF) surplus in Chicago history; a $1.5 billion refinancing with all $210 million in savings claimed up-front, and a $93 million clawback from the Chicago Public Schools for pension and security costs previously covered by the city.

Lightfoot is also counting on $150 million in unspecified cuts from “zero-based budgeting,” and $163 million by raising ambulance fees paid by private insurers and getting federal approval for reimbursements administered by the state for ambulance transports for low-income patients on Medicaid.

“To dismiss it unilaterally while simultaneously heaping praise on people that she doesn’t like — like Ed Burke — just smacks of Old-Guard, top-down mayoral approach which, she said, she was not going to be about,” Lopez said.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), another one of the dissenters, had a different take.

“If the mayor wants to reach out to the city and give people her perspective, that’s perfectly fine. And we welcome any neighbors who want to ask us our take,” Vasquez said.

“It’s democracy.”