The first virtual City Council meeting in Chicago history, held Wednesday, lasted only 37 minutes and came off almost without a hitch.
It opened with Mayor Lori Lightfoot sitting alone at her desk. When the roll was called, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) responded: “Virtually present.”
Only two of the 50 aldermen didn’t answer the call: Debra Silverstein (50th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st), though Napolitano was spotted at his desk before the meeting started.
Lightfoot then led the Council in the Pledge of Allegiance, turning to face the U.S. and Chicago flags behind her.
Next was an invocation by Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who prayed for first-responders and health care workers who continue to risk their own lives to save others during the coronavirus pandemic. He offered a special prayer for those who have “died alone” from the coronavirus without their loved ones beside them.
After the invocation, the business portion of the meeting began.
Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) was recognized and moved that the Council adopt — by voice vote — emergency rules allowing aldermen to conduct substantive city business without meeting in person.
The rules further allow the general public to “address the City Council or any of its committees at any remote meeting required to be open to the public … in writing, or orally from a remote location by means of an electronic, video, audio or telephonic connection.”
The vote was unanimous. The confusion came after the perfunctory motion to re-consider the vote. Some aldermen shouted, “Aye,” while others shouted, “No.”
Lightfoot explained it again. The second time around, all of the aldermen shouted, “No.”
After that, it was time for the 30-minute public comment section that normally precedes Council meetings.
North Side resident Daria Porter urged Lightfoot to reconsider her “rash” decision to close the lakefront.
“In neighborhoods like ... the one that I live in, there are only high-rises. Anyone that wants to go for a short walk or take their children out or take their dogs out — we’re all cramped on a really small sidewalk with dozens of others. There’s no physical possibility to maintain anywhere near the recommended six feet of distance. Additionally, runners and bikers are forced to move on Inner Lake Shore [Drive] amongst the cars and buses,” Porter said.
“The shutdown seemed to happen before any attempt was made to stop those situations. So now, the many are put at risk because of the few. It feels like that was more of a rash reaction decision.”
Several speakers urged Lightfoot to shut down General Iron, 1909 N. Clifton Ave., citing evidence that air pollution makes it easier to contract the coronavirus.
Lightfoot said later she was “aggressively looking at” General Iron and other places that have “historically been a concern” to air quality and, “If we need to take decisive action, I think I’ve demonstrated that we won’t hesitate to do that.”
Steve Drane demanded to know why Chicago still allows non-essential construction when other major cities have shut down such projects during the pandemic.
“Workers on the construction sites are not maintaining social distance, nor do they have any protection. ... They’re going up a 5X5 [foot] lift. They’re sharing the same bathrooms. They can’t social distance when they’re setting a beam on a construction site,” Drane said.
“All of us would agree that bridges or tunnels or hospitals or affordable housing … might be worth the risk. But, that’s not the case with million-dollar condominiums. … We’re all being asked to stay at home to protect lives. But construction workers are going to work and risking their lives to build a million-dollar condo? It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”
Lightfoot said what is and is not considered essential is defined by the governor’s stay-at-home order.
After public participation, Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) was recognized to set the date and time of the next meeting, which will be next Wednesday. That’s when substantive business will be considered, including a vote to confirm newly-appointed Police Superintendent David Brown.
When it was all over, Lightfoot pronounced the historic virtual meeting a virtual success.
“We...needed to get on with the business of the city. There was a lot of time and effort put into making sure that we could have a virtual City Council meeting where all members could be seen and heard and that the public would have a meaningful opportunity to participate. With those goals in mind, I think we did a good job,” the mayor said.