Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Tuesday of making a failed, eleventh-hour bid to reduce the threshold for City Council approval of a new ward map — from 41 votes to 26 — to make it easier to redraw the wards of her most outspoken critics.
The surprise power play blindsided the Black Caucus, whose members learned of the maneuver when they started getting frantic calls from Springfield.
That was followed by a Zoom call on Sunday with Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Rules Committee chairman and the mayor’s floor leader.
Harris told colleagues she was acting alone — not on behalf of the mayor — and was simply trying to protect Chicago’s 18 majority Black wards, even though there has been a precipitous loss in Black population over the last ten years.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) didn’t buy it.
“Have you ever seen her [Harris] push something on her own? ... I believe this came from the mayor. Same thing with this elected school board crap,” Taylor said.
“She’s down there pushing her own agenda without talking to us. Which is why nobody wants to work with her. Who are her friends? The [committee] chairs? I guess they gotta be her friends. Those are the only friends she’s got. Nobody else is rockin’ with Lori — for very good reason. She does not know how to be a team player. … She’s a one-woman show. She feels like she can do this by herself. But she just proved she can’t. So, good luck.”
Taylor said she has no doubt about the mayor’s motives.
“This felt really personal. I feel like I would be the sacrificial lamb. Me and Stephanie Coleman. We are two freshmen who give pushback and hold her accountable. They would love to write us out,” Taylor said.
“Stevie Wonder could see what’s going on. Cut out people who don’t agree with her and she’s tired of fighting with.”
Harris did not return repeated phone calls or text messages. The mayor’s office had no immediate comment.
Coleman, daughter of longtime Ald. Shirley Coleman (16th), said she has no idea who was behind the failed power play. She can only hope that motive was to preserve 18 majority Black wards — not to punish the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critics.
“I’m worried about saving the 16th Ward and ensuring it stays African-American. As well as the 20th Ward. And the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th,” she said.
“I’m never going to stop speaking out and stop speaking truth to power. Remapping isn’t going to change that.”
Any map that receives at least 10 City Council votes automatically triggers a referendum, allowing Chicago voters to choose between rival maps.
In the last remap, 10 years ago, the Council approved a new map without a vote to spare.
That map included 13 majority-Hispanic wards and two Hispanic “influence” wards to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 census. It also included 18 Black wards, down from 19, after a 181,453-person drop in Chicago’s Black population.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, argued that requiring 82% of the 50-member City Council to approve new ward boundaries coinciding with the 2020 U.S. Census is “a little unheard of.” The threshold should probably be lowered, he said.
“The number at 41 was a higher threshold than anyone else had to reach. Changing the number is not a bad idea. But we think the number should be more towards two-thirds, which would be 34 members,” Ervin said.
No matter what threshold the Lightfoot administration was seeking, mayoral allies should have been up-front about it, Coleman said.
“If someone is fighting for Black Chicago, you should let Black Chicago know. We should not be … getting messages or phone calls from Springfield at the ninth hour,” Coleman said.
Taylor accused Lightfoot of “being sneaky.”
“If you’re doing something you feel like will help protect the Black community or communities of color, you have that conversation with people so nobody can come behind you and come tell me something different. I heard it from you. You were upfront and honest about it. That’s not what was done,” she said.
“I need for Lori and everybody in her administration to understand. We are co-workers. We do not work for her.”
It’s not the first time Taylor has called out the mayor.
The same thing happened last fall after Lightfoot famously warned Black aldermen who dared to oppose her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s—t for the next three years” when it comes to choosing projects for her $3.7 billion capital plan.
“She’s no better than Daley and Rahm. One of the first things she said was, ‘I’m not making deals with folks.’ ... Then, you turn around and say that? That’s no different from what they did. You claim you’re different,” Taylor said then.
“That’s not what you do to communities that are already disinvested in. That’s like saying, ‘Kiss the ring.’ No. I’m not doing that.”