Days before lowering the boom on Chicago taxpayers to erase a $1 billion shortfall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has signed off on a $220,000 remodeling of the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s aging office suite in the widely despised Thompson Center just got a $275,000 face-lift, courtesy of the billionaire governor’s own deep pockets.
Lightfoot’s installment of “Windy City Rehab” is funded by $220,000 generated by tax increment financing.
The work is being done by the Department of Fleet and Facilities Management in partnership with Kenny Construction “to expedite the turnaround,” officials said.
On Thursday, a giant orange ladder was positioned in the outer reception area of the mayor’s office. There was cardboard on the floor next to a giant dumpster.
The door to the press conference room was open. At least two workmen could be seen inside. One was standing on a scaffold reaching toward the ceiling.
Lightfoot is on an end-of-summer vacation in Maine this week with her wife and daughter. The remodeling was apparently timed to coincide with the trip “during a period when traffic in the mayor’s office is limited,” officials said.
In a written statement in response to questions from the Sun-Times, the mayor’s office described the project as a “series of routine upgrades to the mayor’s office, the lobby and hallway into the mayor’s suite and the press briefing room” where news conferences are held.
Similar work has been going on all over City Hall for several years now “to replace outdated ceilings, lighting fixtures, old carpeting, etc.,” the mayor’s office said.
“This work includes addressing ‘Band-Aid’ projects completed over the years, such as removing old projection equipment and rerouting ductwork for greater efficiency,” the statement continued.
Dropped ceilings have been largely replaced throughout the building, according to the statement.
“This was one of the last locations needing to be done. Work also includes some minor flooring and counter replacement. This is a continuation of work ... started in May in the Mayor’s Office, which consisted of painting, carpet replacement, and moving furniture in and out of the office.”
Facilities Management “also took this opportunity to repair audio equipment in the press briefing room.”
The remodeling may be perfectly timed for the mayor’s vacation. But from a political standpoint, the timing couldn’t be worse.
Lightfoot is about to ask taxpayers to endure another painful round of post-election tax increases to tackle the “mounting, looming, all-consuming” pension debt once and for all.
“It kind of smacks the face of the taxpayers at a time when we’re gonna be asking to dig into their pockets a little further to help fund government to spend almost a quarter million dollars on repairs using outside contractors to expedite things,” said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critic.
“I don’t know how you can justify that less than a week before you’re about to drop the boom on the taxpayers. It shows a level of being tone deaf to the financial constraints we’re dealing with as a city and what we’re gonna be asking our taxpayers to handle.”
Asked about the timing, the mayor’s office again described the work as “routine repairs” that have been “scheduled for some time” and are being “funded by TIF — not the corporate fund.”
“When this work is done, there will only be a handful of other locations in the building” still needing upgrades to ceilings, lighting and other areas, the statement said.
Taxpayers already have paid a $2 billion price to help former Mayor Rahm Emanuel chip away at the city’s pension crisis.
Lightfoot told reporters last week she plans to put a heavy emphasis on cost-cutting to show the public that “we understand the pain and the burden they have been facing with taxes.”
“I get it. I hear it everywhere I go — particularly around property taxes. And I’m very mindful of that,” the mayor said then.
“But the reality is — given the gap that we’re gonna face next year, given the pension payments that are demanded — we are gonna have to look for additional revenue sources. There’s no question about that.”