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Lightfoot accuses Reilly, Hopkins of exercising ‘aldermanic prerogative at its worst’

The mayor said commercial properties fronting the Magnificent Mile were willing to tax themselves to shore up their defenses and lure back shoppers.

A shopper walks by with a shopping bag on North Michigan in Magnificent Mile, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.
A shopper on North Michigan Avenue.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday condemned as “aldermanic prerogative at its worst” the decision by downtown aldermen to block plans to raise commercial property taxes along North Michigan Avenue to bankroll security improvements after two rounds of looting.

Lightfoot said commercial properties fronting the Magnificent Mile are “suffering and hurting” after a dramatic dropoff in sales and foot traffic and were willing to tax themselves to shore up their defenses and lure back shoppers.

But Aldermen Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) blocked plans to create the special taxing district.

“The businesses in the downtown area came to us in light of the challenges they experienced and were facing over the course of the summer and the fall and asked for help. Were willing to be taxed. And what you saw was a manifestation of aldermanic prerogative at its worst,” the mayor said.

“What possible legitimate reason could there be? We worked with the aldermen. We addressed every single concern that they had — even as the goal posts repeatedly kept moving. So those businesses are left high and dry because of those aldermen. It’s a mistake.”

Hopkins countered that Lightfoot’s efforts to “achieve dictatorial rule of Chicago have been stymied, not because of aldermanic prerogative, but because the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government.”

“That’s a lesson she needs to learn and needs to learn quickly,” Hopkins said.

Reilly renewed his complaint about the “truncated, hurry-up-and-approve-it” process used to create the taxing district and about plans to spend a “significant portion” of the money generated by the three-year tax hike on “salary, contracts, personnel and other operating expenses.”

“This proposal was unveiled just four months ago [and] was developed without any input from the local aldermen. A number of key procedural checkpoints [to gauge support] were waived. And roughly a third of the impacted property owners still do not support the application,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“This rushed process was flawed and the proposed budget was not focused on security & safety improvements — which was always the stated purpose.”

Reilly made it clear that he would not support the tax increase for commercial property fronting North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River unless there is “near-unanimous support among property owners.”

As for Lightfoot’s claims about “aldermanic prerogative at its worst,” Reilly wrote, “The legislative branch serves an important role in city government and is a co-equal partner to the executive branch. Sometimes those branches disagree. Unfortunately, this is one of those times.”

The alderman said he values his working relationship with the mayor and stands ready to work with her “to develop a meaningful proposal that will truly benefit the businesses and property owners on Michigan Avenue.”

“While we may currently disagree on how to get there, we both want the same thing: to provide real relief to struggling businesses,” Reilly wrote.

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to eliminate aldermanic prerogative, which is at the heart of the indictment of Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and countless other City Council scandals over the years.

Hours after taking office, Lightfoot issued an executive order stripping aldermen of their control over licensing and permitting in their wards.

She has threatened to do the same for their control over zoning in their wards but that would require a City Council vote she is almost certain to lose.

Also Tuesday, the mayor stopped short of endorsing the revised plan championed by Aldermen Sophia King (4th) and David Moore (17th) to rename the Outer Drive portion of Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Chicago’s first permanent settler.

“What I support is long overdue efforts to acknowledge in an appropriate way du Sable, the founder of our city. What we have done is engage in a conversation that is ongoing with those who are advocating for a number of different things, not the least of which is a monument to memorialize du Sable,” she said.

“We will figure out the appropriate way to honor the founder of our city. And we’ll do it in a way that is collaborative and respectful.”