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Lightfoot says she’s filled out her City Council lineup but won’t disclose it

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot has some big changes in mind for the Chicago City Council once she takes office. | Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she’s filled out her lineup of City Council chairmen — but she won’t show it just yet, and dismissed grousing from aldermen as resistance to change.

During an interview with WBBM-AM (780), Lightfoot said she plans to “set the City Council up for success” by adding several new committees to the existing roster of 16.

She plans to bankroll the surprise expansion by dramatically reducing the budget of the Finance Committee that, for decades, was the primary power base of Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

After a deep dive into City Council spending and hiring, Lightfoot said her staff has uncovered deep discrepancies and personnel practices that have plagued the City Council for decades.

“The Finance Committee, for example, has a budget of about $2.3 million. No other committee even remotely comes close. The closest is the Budget Committee that has a budget of about $560,000. So there’s this huge disparity,” she said.

“Part of that certainly was a result of the worker’s compensation program being embedded within the Finance Committee. [But] that’s gone. So there’s no justification for a budget that large — other than patronage hiring of committee employees.”

Decades ago, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a series of articles documenting how aldermen engaged in the personnel version of “wife-swapping” — using their committee payrolls to employ the spouses of fellow committee chairmen.

Lightfoot said her research has uncovered other troubling trends.

“I’ve seen, in the data that we’ve received, instances of nepotism, which should absolutely not be a thing. That’s something we’re gonna take on. You should not be able to hire your immediate family members and pay them with taxpayer dollars where you’re supposedly supervising them,” she said.

“There’s also a wide disparity in the payments of employees, some of which, if that’s their only job, are barely making subsistence living.”

Lightfoot has pushed back a week — until May 29 — the date of the City Council meeting where a reorganization vote will be taken.

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On Tuesday, Lightfoot said she has chosen her line-up of committee chairmen, but she’s not ready to disclose it until she notifies the aldermen involved.

She dismissed griping about her close-to-the-vest maneuverings — by Transportation Committee Chairman Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and others —as an outgrowth of her nosing around about Council spending and hiring.

“Some aldermen don’t think that’s appropriate, don’t want us to be asking and looking behind the curtain. But that’s what I was hired to do by the voters of this city and I’m gonna fulfill my obligation,” she said.

“We can’t have a circumstance where we just give them a fat pot of money and say, ‘Do whatever you want with it and we don’t care.’ That’s offensive to me personally. But it’s certainly offensive to taxpayers, who expect much, much more from us.”

Last week, Beale told the Sun-Times that senior aldermen tired of waiting for a clear signal from Lightfoot were taking matters into their own hands.

They’re reorganizing themselves with a tentative lineup that includes Tunney as Finance chairman; Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) retaining the role of Budget Committee chairman; Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) hanging onto the Rules Committee; possibly Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) as Zoning Committee chairman, and Beale as chairman of the Committee on Workforce Development and, perhaps, floor leader.

If Lightfoot is the least bit concerned about a City Council rebellion, she didn’t show it Tuesday.

“There’s only one alderman I know of who’s actually put that out there. He has big ideas about what he should be doing, which don’t meet up with my view. And they certainly don’t meet up with what I’ve heard from his colleagues,” she said of Beale.

“Other ones, who have been less willing to put their names behind their statements, represent the status-quo. They’re old-school aldermen who want me to just fall in lock-step with what’s been done forever and keep them and perpetuate their power. And that’s not what I’m gonna do. They’re unhappy because change is coming and they’re not going to be able to have absolute dominion over a fiefdom, which is offensive to any notions of good government.”