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Lightfoot on City Council pushback: ‘I don’t buy votes’

“I’m not saying to somebody, `Hey, if I get your vote, I’ll give you this project’ or `You’ll get this money,’” the mayor said. “That’s not the way I’m gonna operate.”

Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over her first Chicago City Council meeting in May.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday the City Council isn’t a rubber stamp for her because “I don’t buy votes.”

The mayor offered the candid assessment of aldermanic pushback during a question-and-answer session that was the centerpiece of a daylong “Innovation Summit.”

Charlotte Howard, New York bureau chief for The Economist, noted more aldermen “than normal” had voted against Lightfoot’s $11.6 billion budget. Howard said she considered those 11 dissenting votes a sign of a functioning city that encourages healthy debate.

Lightfoot agreed.

“I don’t need or want a rubber-stamp City Council. I think that undermines the legitimacy of all government when that happens,” she said.

“We have 12 new members of the City Council, some of whom ran on very progressive ideas about revenue and essentially taxing the rich. That’s not a prescription that I’m going to buy into. So, they felt like, because they knew the budget was gonna pass, that they could kind of make their statement.”

The mayor then opened up even more about her tenuous relationship with a City Council pushing back against her efforts to eliminate aldermanic prerogative.

“I don’t buy votes. By that, I mean, I’m not saying to somebody, `Hey, if I get your vote, I’ll give you this project’ or `You’ll get this money.’ That’s not the way I’m gonna operate. That kind of transactional way of governing is not something that I will ever embrace,” the mayor said.

Three months ago, Lightfoot defiantly defended her decision to use money from her newly created political action committee to shame the 11 aldermen who voted against her first budget.

”Since when is letting voters and residents know how aldermen voted bullying?” she said then in response to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial taking her to task for her chicagobudgetvotes.com website.

“We have an absolute right to make sure that people really understand who voted, why they voted, what they voted for .... I stand by it. … This is not a political exercise for me. This is about educating the public about what happened.”

On Thursday, Lightfoot predicted the vote on her next three budgets will be even closer than the first.

“This is probably the easiest budget vote that anybody is gonna have to take in the next three years because we didn’t raise property taxes. We closed almost a billion-dollar gap without a significant increase in property taxes. I can’t promise that every other vote is gonna be nearly as easy,” she said.

In recent months, the Council has pushed back against the mayor with greater frequency.

Three times Lightfoot was forced to alter plans for the Council’s rollout of recreational marijuana or fend off efforts to delay it.

Aldermanic opposition forced Lightfoot to pull back plans to license consumption sites for recreational weed. Aldermanic support forced her to go along with a plan to freeze demolition along The 606 trail. She was forced to pull the plug on her own plan to strip aldermen of their unbridled control over sidewalk signs.

Lightfoot is not the first to claim her refusal to horse trade for votes and play the reward-and-punishment game is straining her relationship with the Council.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the mayor’s hand-picked Finance Committee chairman, told the Sun-Times the same thing in late January.

“[Richard M.] Daley and Rahm [Emanuel] were giving people crumbs … ‘Vote for my … $10 billion budget — as bad as it is — and I’ll give you $100,000 for this little thing.’ What she’s trying to do is say, ‘We don’t need to do those things to get the things you and your constituents need.’”