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Lightfoot floats hybrid name change to avoid first City Council defeat and first mayoral veto since 2006 — but deal falls apart

Lightfoot offered a compromise to rename Chicago’s most iconic roadway “DuSable Lake Shore Drive.” Ald. David Moore was willing to entertain the compromise because he’s not certain he has the 34 votes needed to override a veto. But, the deal fell apart.

South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking north.
South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking north.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered Tuesday to rename Chicago’s most iconic roadway Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive to avoid her first City Council defeat, but the deal fell apart.

Ald. David Moore (17th), City Council champion for renaming Outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of DuSable, said Tuesday he was considering the hybrid name change—to honor the Black man of Haitian descent who was Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler—because he was unsure he could muster the 34 votes needed to override a mayoral veto.

Moore’s only condition was that DuSable Lake Shore Drive be voted up or down at Wednesday’s City Council meeting and not sent back to committee along with Lightfoot’s $40 million offer to complete DuSable Park, establish an annual “DuSable Festival,” rename the downtown Riverwalk in honor of DuSable and install monuments, sculptures and educational exhibits.

But hours later, Moore told the Sun-Times that a barrage of phone calls to his office, pushback from the Black Heroes Coalition and political game-playing by mayoral allies persuaded him to drop the idea.

“The people involved did not want to go with DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Others called my office and said they did not want me to further compromise,” Moore said.

“Either way, they wanted to package everything to together and re-refer it to committee, which was a non-starter.”

Moore and co-sponsor Sophia King (4th) are confident they have the 26 votes needed to pass the original name change — minus the Lake Shore Drive name — in honor of DuSable.

A mayoral ally, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed with that assessment.

But now that the proposed compromise has fallen apart, Moore has no way of predicting what will happen at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) was even proposing that Millennium Park be renamed for DuSable as an 11th-hour alternative to renaming Lake Shore Drive.

“It’s supposed to come up for a vote at the end of the meeting. If the clerk doesn’t call it under unfinished business, we’ll try and force a roll call,” Moore said.

“I’m hearing that a group of North Side aldermen may try and re-refer it to committee before the roll call. It shouldn’t have to be this way.”

The mayoral ally said Lightfoot floated the hybrid name change to avoid suffering her first Council defeat and the future political challenges that such a show of weakness surely would invite.

The only way to reverse that political defeat would be a mayoral veto that would come with considerable political risk.

It would further test Lightfoot’s already strained relationship with the council and mark a clean break from a Black Caucus united in its support for the name change.

The same Black Caucus whose members Lightfoot famously warned “don’t ask me for s—t” when it came to choosing projects for her $3.7 billion capital plan if they dared to vote against her 2021 city budget.

“She risks losing this vote, and she would have to veto it. She would get what she wants, but at a heavy political price. This way, it’s win-win” for both sides, the Lightfoot ally said.

“Let’s say they do have the votes — barely — and they pass it. She’ll veto it, and they get nothing out of it. This [hybrid name change] makes sense so we don’t have to go through all of this nonsense.”

King did not return repeated phone calls or text messages.

Earlier this month, King told the Sun-Times Lightfoot’s $40 million offer to complete DuSable Park, establish an annual “DuSable Festival,” rename the downtown Riverwalk in honor of DuSable and install monuments, sculptures and educational exhibits was “kind of insulting” and no substitute for a name change.

Nor did she buy Lightfoot’s argument the name change would confuse first-responders, be a costly inconvenience for business owners and high-rise residents and make it more difficult to market Chicago.

“We will be seen as an even greater city; we’ll be even more marketable. In this day of Black reckoning and really trying to understand our history and stand up to all of the racial barriers of the past, this would be a great time to say that Chicago is a diverse city and we celebrate diversity and we understand that it only makes us stronger,” King said.

“And oh, by the way, this was our founder, who just happened to be Black.”

Fifteen years ago, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley vetoed an ordinance that would have required Wal-Mart and other big box retailers to pay their employees at least $13-an-hour by 2010.

Daley’s first-ever veto stood after a bitterly-divided City Council failed to muster the 34 votes needed to override.

Now, Lightfoot may find herself in a similar political box.

A bust of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable stands along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
A bust of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable stands along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times