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Lightfoot passes first test of City Council muscle with flying colors

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) had predicted “north of 30” votes for the City Council leaders but it passed on voice vote instead — no roll call.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over her first Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

If the roll had been called during Wednesday’s first test of her City Council muscle, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s confident it would have been “north of 40.”

But a roll call “wasn’t necessary,” Lightfoot said.

Chicago’s newly-elected mayor managed to reshape the City Council in her reformer image — installing new chairmen and new operating rules to prevent aldermanic conflict of interest — by a voice vote.

Only three aldermen could be heard shouting “No”: Anthony Beale (9th), Edward Burke (14th) and Ray Lopez (15th).

“I think it went fine,” a self-satisfied Lightfoot said, in a dramatic understatement.

It actually went more than fine. It was a triumph.

Lightfoot easily survived her first test after deftly handling a minor skirmish with Burke, the deposed Finance chairman charged with attempted extortion, which helped set Lightfoot on a path to the mayor’s office.

Lopez raised the only substantive objection, complaining that only two of the 18 committee chairman are Hispanic and that the “male-to-female ratio” remains 2-to-1.

“It shows that she is gonna be making decisions in very strict silos that are not inclusive of the entire City Council. It’s bad for governing because all of us were elected from wards that she won,” Lopez said.

Lopez noted that during the mayoral campaign, Lightfoot insisted she didn’t want a rubber-stamp City Council.

But Lopez said he was “cut off from the conversation” when he dared oppose her executive order stripping aldermen of their unbridled control over licensing and permitting in their wards.

“Despite the rhetoric, it’s her hope to have the same rubber stamp that every mayor before her has had,” Lopez said.

Lightfoot advised Lopez to “spend more time trying to reach out and be collaborative rather than vent himself in the media.”

“If he wants to reach out in collaboration, he knows my number,” she said.

Lightfoot sloughed off the claim by Lopez that she is not interested in dissenting views and determined to rule with an iron fist.

“It’s easy to say, particularly when you’ve had zero conversation. If Ald. Lopez wants to have a conversation, I’m real easy to find,” the new mayor said.

Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader had predicted at least 30 votes for her new committee chair lineup and City Council operating rules, but in the end, no roll call was needed. Both passed on voice votes.
Sun-Times file

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Lightfoot’s choice to chair a Finance Committee that for decades had been Burke’s primary power base, is not popular with his colleagues.

In fact, Waguespack is viewed as a cross between a chronic naysayer and a holier-than-thou know-it-all.

Had there been a separate vote on his appointment, it could have been embarrassingly close.

But behind-the-scenes rumblings about a parliamentary maneuver aimed at separating Waguespack from the carefully-crafted package went nowhere.

By stripping Beale, a 20-year veteran, of his Transportation Committee chairmanship, Lightfoot sent a message: Those who dare join Beale in opposition to her line-up could face similar punishment.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) chats with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and a staffer before the start of Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) chats with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and a staffer before the start of Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall. Waguespack is Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice to run the City Council’s Finance Committee, despite complaints from some Council vets that Waguespack “doesn’t play well with others.”
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Waguespack will preside over a Finance Committee with a much lower budget — just a third of the $2.3 million Burke had to spend back when the Finance chairman still rode herd over Chicago’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program.

The program was transferred to the city’s Department of Finance shortly after Burke was charged with attempted extortion.

The new Finance Committee also has been stripped of control over tax increment financing subsidies, like the record $1.6 billion package for Lincoln Yards and “the 78” Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through shortly before leaving office.

The power over TIF subsidies has gone to the Economic Development Committee, to be chaired by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Lightfoot’s floor leader.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader pictured chatting with another alderman during Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, predicted easy passage of Lightfoot’s package of new committee chairs.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader pictured chatting with another alderman during Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, predicted easy passage of Lightfoot’s package of new committee chairs.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Wednesday, Waguespack promised to listen more and preach less in his new role.

“I know why people have been upset. I’ve been calling out a lot of the different problems in the city for many years. People take that in the wrong way sometimes,” he said.

“I’ve never made it personal. I always look at each thing … and say, `How can we do better by the taxpayers.’ Sometimes, people take affront to that. But I’m gonna work better with my colleagues and try to be nicer.”

Lightfoot’s broader promise to end aldermanic prerogative over zoning will require a code change and, therefore, a council vote.

That is certain to encounter resistance. It could trigger a floor fight and a roll call. So will her first budget, which is certain to include another painful round of post-election tax increases and budget cuts.

But that’s a fight for another day.

Wednesday was Lightfoot’s day to bask in the glow of an impressive, albeit temporary victory — even over an unpredictable City Council with six democratic socialists that has taken a sharp turn to the left.