Lightfoot delivers televised address on city response to coronavirus

It’s the second time in 10 months Lightfoot has used a televised address to discuss a crisis confronting Chicago. The last topic was a financial crisis. This time, it’s a public health crisis that is likely to trigger another financial crisis.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall press conference in May.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will again address the city on prime-time TV. This time, her topic will be the coronavirus.

Sun-Times file

For the second time in her 10-month tenure, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is using a live, televised address to confront a crisis threatening Chicago. Only this time, the threat is to public health as well as city finances.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, Lightfoot will address Chicagoans from her City Hall office to outline what she calls the “comprehensive and proactive steps” she has already taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Chicago and “preview measures” she plans to take in the weeks ahead.

“This is a make or break moment as COVID-19 is one of the greatest public health threats of our lifetime. Now is the time for bold, urgent and transparent leadership, not false claims and political games,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a statement.

“In the midst of unprecedented uncertainty, residents turn to their public officials and expect us to take swift and decisive action grounded in the data to ensure the well-being of their personal health and financial security. Frankly, they should demand nothing less.”

Already, Chicago Public Schools are closed on orders from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, along with bars, on-site dining in restaurants and cafes and all public gatherings larger than 50 people.

The mayor has canceled Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and disclosed that she’s shutting down the police academy, suspending “certain non-essential government services that cannot be performed from home” by city employees and allowing authorized workers who can to work from home for two weeks. 

With only three aldermen in attendance, Lightfoot gaveled Wednesday’s City Council meeting to order and recessed it until April 15, when aldermen will, hopefully gather again in person, or via tele-conferencing.

During a conference call with reporters a few hours later, Lightfoot reiterated that she is working with the Illinois Restaurant Association to craft a “local package” to support restaurants, other small businesses, hourly and tipped workers severely impacted by the pandemic.

“We know that there’s a significant amount of economic pressure all over, but particularly service employees, hourly workers in the hospitality area in particular. That’s why we’re looking at ways to give them relief to put money in their pocket rather than collecting it in fines and fees, or worse, driving people into bankruptcy,” the mayor said.

Last year, Lightfoot delivered a prime-time address on the city’s financial crisis caused, in large part, by skyrocketing pension payments. But the only real news to come out of that speech was her claim that the deficit she inherited from former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was $838 million — far more than her predecessor claimed.

Ultimately, Lightfoot’s $11.6 billion budget was precariously balanced with one-time revenues.

With conventions and concerts cancelling, professional sports leagues on hiatus and more and more employees working from home, city revenues are now dropping like a rock.

A budget based on a bunch of shaky assumptions even before the crisis will now hemorrhage revenue.

It’s not clear whether the mayor’s address will confront the financial impact of the pandemic or whether she will confine her remarks to public health.

On Wednesday, the mayor played down the financial impact.She argued that no single revenue stream accounts for more than 13 percent of overall revenue and that “economically-sensitive taxes are less than 25 percent.”

“We’ve not seen any significant adverse impact yet on city revenues. We have a substantial amount of cash in the event that we need it. So, we feel like we’re well situated, for the short term at least to weather the storm” she said.

Nine progressive aldermen aren’t waiting for the impact to be felt. They’re proposing a plan of their own that includes:

• A property tax abatement for “at least 120 days” after restaurants and small businesses are allowed to re-open.

• A state payroll tax cut, a moratorium on business tax and license fee collections.

• An emergency fund to provide no-interest loans and grants to businesses and employees impacted by the virtual shut-down.

• A moratorium on foreclosures, evictions, utility shut-offs and late payment penalties.

• A guarantee that Chicago Public School employees — including full-time and substitute teachers, support personnel and parent workers — will be paid for the duration of the crisis, even if schools remain closed.

Lightfoot said she welcomes suggestions from aldermen. But, she argued that the “most effective way to create public policy is to actually have conversations and collaborate—not just by press release or tweet. We see how effective that is at the federal level.”

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