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Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) collapses in her seat at City Council meeting

“At times like these, we take life for granted. We don’t know when and where anything can happen to any one of us,” Ald. Emma Mitts said. “So, right now Lord, we’re asking for your blessings for our colleague, Ald. Austin.”

Paramedics were called to City Hall after Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) collapsed in her seat Wednesday afternoon during the Chicago City Council meeting.
Paramedics were called to City Hall after Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) collapsed in her seat Wednesday afternoon during the Chicago City Council meeting.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), Chicago’s second most senior alderperson, collapsed in her seat at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, prompting a brief recess, followed by a prayer for her healing.

After the Council chambers were cleared, Austin was evaluated by Chicago Fire Department paramedics and taken out of the chambers conscious.

Fire officials said she was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in good condition.

When the council reconvened, License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts led her colleagues in prayer for Austin, who is beloved by her colleagues and endeared herself to them even more by choosing political retirement over fighting a new ward map that shifted the 34th Ward to the North Side.

“At times like these, we take life for granted. We don’t know when and where anything can happen to any one of us,” Mitts said.

“So, right now, Lord, we’re asking for your blessings for our colleague, Ald. Austin, as she goes in and lets the doctors do the work that they do to make sure that her health is good and she’s good. You say, `Ask and it shall be given.’ We’re calling upon you because you are the one who has all of the power. All of the medicine. Everything she needs to be able to be healed.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said there is “too much attention paid” to the “gamesmanship” in the City Council.

“What you saw today was an outpouring of our humanity. Every single alderman was here and concerned. Ald. Austin has been through a lot. I wish her Godspeed,” Lightfoot said.

Aides later said that doctors tending to Austin at Northwestern Hospital believe the alderperson’s collapse may have been related to her blood sugar levels or to dehydration.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) chats with another alderman Wednesday morning during the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) chats with another alderman Wednesday morning during the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Austin has pleaded not guilty to charges that she took home improvement bribes — including new kitchen cabinets and granite countertops — from a developer seeking her help in navigating a project through the City Hall bureaucracy. She is also accused of lying to FBI agents who sought to question her about the perks.

Wednesday’s collapse was just the latest in a string of health-related challenges for Austin, 72.

Last year, she tested positive for the coronavirus after what sources described as a bleeding episode that initially appeared to signal complications from the surgery she had five years ago to repair a torn aorta that nearly killed her.

Though COVID-19 is commonly associated with severe respiratory symptoms, coronavirus patients also can develop blood clots leading to serious blockages such as deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and stroke.

Two years ago, Austin was bounced as Budget Committee chairman by Mayor Lori Lightfoot only to be appeased with a consolation prize — as chairman of the newly-created Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity.

She resigned from that job in August under pressure from Lightfoot.

Six years ago, Austin choked back tears as she talked in surprising detail about the health crisis that nearly killed her. It was stunning in an era when privacy laws allow public officials to conceal the true nature of their health issues.

“I tore my aorta. I almost wasn’t here. But I’m grateful that God allowed me to be here. I was in the hospital 29 days. For the first two weeks, I was unconscious. I was in a coma. Blood pressure went up over 300. The bottom number was 205. They couldn’t bring it down. But I’m grateful for the God that I serve because I’m sitting here today,” Austin said on that day as her colleagues applauded.

“When I came home, I was home a week. The rest of it was tearing. It was tearing [near] my spine. I went to the hospital at Northwestern. I got three stents. So, I’m doing pretty good unless it decides to go the other way. Then, it’ll be instant death. But if it happens, I’m ready to see the Lord because I have served him all of my life.”

Paramedics were called to City Hall after Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) collapsed in her seat Wednesday afternoon during the Chicago City Council meeting.
Paramedics were called to City Hall after Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) collapsed in her seat Wednesday afternoon during the Chicago City Council meeting.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Austin’s decision to retire from politics rather than fight the new ward map has made it easier for the Black Caucus to accommodate the loss of more than 85,000 African-American residents over the last decade.

The move drew praise from Lightfoot, who came to office at odds with Austin, but has forged a surprisingly close alliance with her ever since.

“Ald. Austin made the determination that she would give up her ward as part of this remap process, that’s a heck of a thing,” the mayor said recently.

Lightfoot argued then that the allegations against Austin “aren’t even remotely the same” to that of indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14th), whose resignation Lightfoot has repeatedly demanded.

“Every time that I’m down there, anytime there’s a project there, any time that she’s talking about her community, she has a fire for them and advocating for people in the area that many people in the city don’t know much about and never been to. So I think that would be a big important part of her legacy,” the mayor said.

Contributing: Dave Struett