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Lightfoot accused of going through the motions of a war on poverty

Progressive groups complain the mayor left them out of last week’s poverty summit and say she has ignored their suggested remedies.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) has been critical of Mayor Lori Lightfoot for not yet keeping some of her campaign promises.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) speaking at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday. He has been critical of Mayor Lori Lightfoot for not yet keeping some of her campaign promises.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Wednesday of going through the motions of a war on poverty by leaving key stakeholders out of her poverty summit and ignoring their suggested remedies.

Progressive groups and their City Council allies have pressured Lightfoot from the left to deliver on her campaign promise to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales and use the $100 million in annual revenue to reduce homelessness and chip away at Chicago’s 120,000-unit shortage of affordable units.

They want the mayor to drop her opposition to lifting the ban on rent control in Illinois and reinstate the employee head tax that business hated and Rahm Emanuel eliminated.

They have criticized her tax-increment-financing reforms as grossly inadequate and pressured her to “municipalize” Commonwealth Edison’s expiring electricity franchise agreement and deliver the community benefits agreement she promised to prevent local residents from being priced out and pushed out by the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

On Wednesday, that bill of particulars against Lightfoot was aired at a City Hall news conference by a coalition of community groups that included United Working Families, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Democratic Socialists of America, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.

They also questioned why they weren’t invited to the day-long poverty summit that the mayor held last week. The mayor’s office said aldermen were invited. So was the Coalition for the Homeless.

“When working people come up with solutions to address the issues in their community, they are the policy experts that we need to listen to,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), dean of the City Council’s Socialist Caucus.

“And what have working people been fighting for? A real estate transfer tax that asks people buying million-dollar properties to pay just a little bit more to make sure that every single working person in this city has a roof over their head.”

Ramirez-Rosa noted his ward includes a homeless encampment. People who work as day laborers building other peoples’ houses are “unable to afford rent, so they live under a bridge,” he said. “They need that real estate transfer tax to be raised so that we can make sure that housing is a human right.”

Lightfoot has repeatedly and vociferously ruled out creating a dedicated revenue stream, even for an issue as important as reducing homelessness. She has argued that a city facing a $1 billion spike in pension payments is in no position to do that.

On Wednesday, the mayor reacted angrily when asked about complaints from aldermen and community groups who want to be invited to join her war on poverty.

“I would be embarrassed if I was an elected official and standing up and saying, ‘The mayor didn’t give me my golden ticket to invest and talk about poverty.’ That’s ridiculous. People need to step up,” she said.

“We are committed to making sure that we solve poverty in our city in a generation. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach. Nobody needs a golden ticket to talk about the fact that one in five of our people are suffering. People are living on $8.50-a-day. My goodness. That is disgraceful. If you want to be in on this, step up and lead. That is what people have elected you to do.”