Lightfoot gets unlikely assist with potential end-run around City Council on aldermanic prerogative

DuPage County Republican state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi has introduced a bill to end the unwritten rule at the heart of so many aldermanic indictments over the years.

SHARE Lightfoot gets unlikely assist with potential end-run around City Council on aldermanic prerogative
Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.

Chicago aldermen have resisted efforts to limit their control over zoning in their wards.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Is Mayor Lori Lightfoot quietly plotting an end-run around the City Council to deliver on her signature campaign promise to end aldermanic prerogative over zoning?

Or is a DuPage County Republican state lawmaker acting on her own to target the unwritten rule at the heart of the racketeering indictment against Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and virtually every other aldermanic indictment over the years?

That’s the question Chicago aldermen have been asking themselves after learning about the Chicago-only bill introduced this week by state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Westmont).

It states: “In the City of Chicago, a property owner, or a developer or contractor having the written permission of the property owner, shall not have any approvals under the Zoning Division denied because of an aldermanic hold, objection, extra-judicial or extra-legal request, or for any law or ordinance enacted or adopted after” development plans are presented and approved with permits issued.

The mayor’s office issued a statement distancing itself from the bill.

”While we are committed to working with the state on broad issues concerning all of our Illinois communities, we did not ask Rep. Mazzochi to file this bill, and respectfully, a state statute is not necessary or appropriate to address a uniquely local issue,” the statement said.

Mazzochi categorically denied she was asked to introduce the legislation by Lightfoot or anyone close to her administration. She said she has her own reasons for ending aldermanic prerogative in Chicago.

She and her husband own rental properties. They did development and renovation work in Chicago. They know first-hand the chilling effect of giving local aldermen iron-fisted control over zoning in their wards.

“There’s a lot of people that, when the allegations came out about Alderman Burke, were not surprised because this sort of thing happens behind the scenes all the time. I’ve actually divested most of my interests in the city of Chicago because of that toxic climate,” she said.

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

She has promised to do the same for aldermanic prerogative over zoning. But that will require a City Council vote — no sure thing in a Council that has been feeling its oats and pushing back.

In fact, the mayor’s own Finance Committee chairman has advised Lightfoot to abandon her threat to abolish aldermanic prerogative over zoning because it’s a fight she is destined to lose.

Mazzochi said she appreciates Lightfoot’s efforts to crack down on corruption in Chicago, but she “can’t do it alone.”

“If her state legislators aren’t gonna step up and help her, then I’m perfectly willing to. There’s a lot of people who fear retaliation if they don’t’ go along with this. Well, guess what? I can’t be touched here in the suburbs by what a city of Chicago councilman wants to do,” Mazzochi said.

“If the City Council for decades has resisted surrendering aldermanic privilege and used that as an opportunity for corruption and pay-to-play, why wouldn’t we be interested in ending that process?”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, called the bill a publicity stunt tailor-made to capitalize on the burgeoning corruption scandal that has spread from City Hall and the south suburbs to Springfield.

“I don’t see that bill getting out of the Rules Committee,” he said.

Villegas is certain Lightfoot is not the heavy hand behind the bill.

“The approach of having dialogue with the aldermen is a lot more effective than having a bill introduced in Springfield,” Villegas said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, said Lightfoot “doesn’t need a Republican from DuPage to carry her water.” Nor would that be wise.

“We, as a city, have a lot of work to do down in Springfield — whether it’s cannabis, real estate transfer tax or casinos. Clouding the issue about this in Springfield takes away from the focus of what our legislative team needs to do in Springfield in short order,” he said.

Tunney predicted that Lightfoot will have a tough time winning a City Council showdown over aldermanic prerogative over zoning.

“It sounds like good optics. But in reality, it would take control out of the neighborhoods,” Tunney said.

“I just don’t think there’s enough bandwidth at City Hall to deal with all of the nuances of zoning applications that come in from neighborhoods. … For an alderman to lose that authority or delegate it to some planning board at City Hall — I don’t think residents of the city are gonna like that.”

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