clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Lightfoot bests Burke in early City Council skirmish

It’s not the first time Lightfoot has squared off against her political nemesis. But now, the tables have turned.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t just survive the first test of her City Council muscle.

She humiliated and obliterated her political arch-rival in the process. And it was all at the invitation of deposed Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th).

It happened after Burke rose to complain about the City Council rules drafted by the Lightfoot administration.

His problem, he said, was they were not “gender-neutral” and that, according to Burke, was rather egregious, considering the fact that Lightfoot is Chicago’s first African American female and openly gay mayor and only the second woman to serve as chief executive in the city’s history.

“In reviewing this, Madame President, I think that there’s a serious flaw in the proposal on rules. For instance, Rule 2 provides as follows, `The clerk parenthesis or someone appointed to fill his place.’ It’s not gender-neutral,” Burke said.

“In Rule 4: `The presiding officer shall preserve order and decorum and may speak to points of order and preference to other members, rising from `his’ seat. It’s not gender-neutral. And clearly, the presiding officer of this body is a her. That should provide `his or her.’”

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Burke went on, citing similar examples throughout the Council rules.

The point was made. Lightfoot was getting antsy.

“Anything further, alderman?” the mayor said.

Burke cited five more “mistakes.” Lightfoot was running out of patience.

“Ald. Burke, you’ve been in the City Council for approximately 50 years. Is that correct?” the mayor said in questioning honed as a federal prosecutor.

“Yes, your honor,” Burke replied.

“And you’re a lawyer. Is that also correct?” she said.

“Yes, your honor,” Burke said.

“You’re aware that, under terms of the law and particularly as provided in the municipal code, that gender, whether it’s designated as his or her, applies with equal force. So, if you’re making an objection, please make it so we can move forward,” Lightfoot said.

“Is your general concern that the rules have a gender designation and not `his or her.’ Is that the gist of it? Is there any other thing that you want to call to the chair’s attention?”

When Burke said there was not, Lightfoot said, “Alright. So, sir, we’ll take your issue under advisement and we’re gonna move forward.”

The crowd gathered in the chambers to witness Lightfoot’s first meeting dissolved into applause.

The council’s longest-serving and once most powerful alderman had been swatted away like a pesky mosquito.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Talking to reporters afterward, Lightfoot basked in the glow of the beatdown of an alderman she once accused of trying to organize the council against her.

Burke had pulled his Perry Mason routine before — when she was Police Board president and he was playing prosecutor, putting her under the microscope.

This time, the tables were turned. And she loved every minute.

“Ald. Burke has an interest in trying to take me on publicly. Every time he’s done it before, he’s got the same result. And he’ll get the same result every other time,” she said.

“The notion that Ed Burke, fill in the history, is somehow now concerned about gender equity is laughable. That was just a stunt.”

Lightfoot was asked to speculate on Burke’s motive. He’s already facing attempted extortion charges, and federal prosecutors have a June 7 deadline to issue a broader indictment.

“Showmanship. Apparently, Ald. Burke has forgotten that I’m a 30-year trial lawyer,” she said.

“Ald. Burke is somebody who likes to test people. He likes to see if there are weaknesses. And he has attempted to do this in the past with me and he’s failed spectacularly. And every time he tries it, he will again fail spectacularly.”

Lightfoot was just getting started.

“I’m not gonna start off my term as mayor with the City Council putting up with somebody who is just playing games for the sport of it. People in this city expect us to do our jobs. They expect the government to actually work on behalf of the people and not have a Game of Thrones gamesmanship on the floor of the City Council. I’m not having it,” she said.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) speaks during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) speaks during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Burke wasn’t the only one Lightfoot singled out. She accused Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) of opposing her plan to end aldermanic prerogative because he’s “carrying the water for Ald. Burke.”

Lightfoot also explained why she punished Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) — stripping the 20-year veteran of his committee chairmanship — for daring to lead a movement against Finance Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).

“Ald. Beale thought that it was appropriate to not be forthright in discussion with me and to invoke my name in trying to carve up the spoils of government for himself. I don’t take kindly to that,” Lightfoot said.

“He had every opportunity when I confronted him with the things that he was saying and doing. He told one story. But I had too many people amongst his colleagues and otherwise come to me. We can’t countenance somebody who doesn’t stand for integrity and doesn’t tell the truth. It’s as simple as that.”

Beale could not be reached for comment. Burke left the chambers through the front door — also, without comment.

Alds. Anthony Beale (9th) laughs with Alds. Michelle Harris (8th) and Gregory Mitchell (7th) during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Alds. Anthony Beale (9th) laughs with Alds. Michelle Harris (8th) and Gregory Mitchell (7th) during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times