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New City Council sworn in: ‘We have to restore the trust’

Many of the newcomers, who campaigned on a platform of change, saw Lightfoot’s speech — and the promises she made — as the first step in a progressive agenda they hope will make the city work for all residents.

Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Wintrust Arena, Monday morning, May 20, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Wintrust Arena, Monday morning, May 20, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Apparently, some aldermen are ready for reform.

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the city, and the newly minted 2019 Council sitting behind her, that reform was coming, some may have sat in silence or even rolled their eyes.

But others, such as the 33rd Ward’s Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, liked what they heard.

“I think we have a really incredible opportunity to start pushing for the things that our city desperately needs,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “It’s really important to make sure that there are enough jobs for Latino people who are underrepresented in terms of city jobs ... there’s going to be a lot of work to do.”

All 50 aldermen were sworn in on Monday, including 14 who weren’t there four years ago. Two of those were appointed and won their first election this year, the other 12 are completely new to the Council.

Many of the newcomers who campaigned on a platform of change, saw Lightfoot’s speech — and the promises she made — as the first step in a progressive agenda they hope will make the city work for all residents.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, elected to succeed the disgraced Ald. Danny Solis in the Southwest Side’s 25th Ward, said he was excited by Lightfoot’s words.

“The pay-to-play culture that was unfortunately part of my predecessor’s modus operandi really hurt our community and we inherited a community that is fragmented,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Freshly sworn in, the Council’s ranks this time around are a little younger, a little more diverse and a political tick to the left of those sworn in four years ago. That could make the progressive agendas of both Lightfoot and the Council easier to pass into law.

The Council includes a dozen Latino aldermen, and 19 African American and 19 white aldermen. There are also six aldermen endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Wintrust Arena, Monday morning, May 20, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Rodriguez Sanchez wore red shoes as a nod to the democratic socialists who backed her. She said her plans for the Northwest Side ward dovetail with the push for change Lightfoot talked about.

She thinks the younger, more diverse bent of the Council will help make that a reality.

Some of the new aldermen — as well as some veterans — have already signed on to pass an ambitious, progressive plan within their first hundred days.

Aldermen Andre Vasquez (40th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Daniel La Spata (1st) Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and Michael Rodriguez joined with returning Aldermen Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th) and Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) to announce their policy plans last Thursday.

Others, including 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin and Sigcho-Lopez, also say they support the slate.

The agenda includes ordinances focused on developing more affordable housing and preserving existing housing, as well as a community benefits agreement ordinance for the incoming Obama Presidential Center. Another would stop Chicago Police officers from arresting or detaining immigrants whose names may appear on the department’s controversial gang database or if they have an outstanding warrant or a previous felony conviction.

Lighfoot touched some of those issues, like affordable housing, in her inaugural speech.

Ramirez-Rosa, the Council’s returning socialist, said on matters such as affordable housing, fully-funded public schools and transparency and reform in government are all things that both progressives and socialists agree with.

“I think that there were a lot of strong progressive commitments in that speech,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of space to work together — the socialists on the City Council, the progressives on the City Council, those that want to bring change to the city of Chicago, we’re now going to have a lot of ability to work together with our new mayor to get those things done.”

Ramirez-Rosa did say the “devil’s in the details” on getting things done, but he’s excited “to have that general blueprint laid out for us because that’s a blueprint i want to work on.”

Sigcho-Lopez said he is eager to bring city residents to the table to make Chicago better.

In his ward, that’ll look like holding developers accountable and regulating development to make sure there’s more affordable housing.

“There’s a lot of frustration, we have to restore the trust and it starts with holding ourselves accountable first and making sure that the taxpayer is represented well in these discussions,” he said.