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Lightfoot suffers first City Council defeat — on aldermanic prerogative

Ald. Brendan Reilly moved to take out the part of the relief package that invades aldermanic turf. Among other things, it would have ended the practice of requiring separate ordinances for each public way permit. That part was deferred. The rest was approved unanimously.

Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.
A midnight curfew on packaged liquor sales is expected to be approved Friday as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pandemic relief package.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday suffered her first City Council defeat on the issue that has divided her and Chicago aldermen since Day One: aldermanic prerogative.

Just as aldermen were poised to approve the mayor’s pandemic relief package — including a midnight curfew on packaged liquor sales — downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) moved to “separate out” a portion that invades aldermanic turf.

It would shave up to two months off the 150-day wait for business permits, signs and awnings by ending the long-standing practice of requiring a separate ordinance for each public way permit.

“My concern is future City Councils and future mayors, who might not play nice with us,” Reilly said Friday. “98 percent of this ordinance is excellent. But we need to retain a role in this [sign] process.”

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) moved to table Reilly’s motion. Reilly prevailed by a vote of 29 to 20.

That prompted License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) to tell her colleagues, “I plead with you. Don’t do it. We need to approve this ordinance today. Don’t put us under the gun when we don’t need to be there.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) added: “This is a package deal. ... Small business owners are looking to what we do to determine what they do. We have to work to streamline this stuff. If that means we need give up some power,” so be it.

Aldermen then voted on Reilly’s motion to separate the sign portion from the rest of the mayor’s ordinance — and Lightfoot suffered her first Council defeat, by a vote of 25 to 24.

The rest of the package was approved unanimously. The sign portion was deferred and published, delaying action on it for one Council meeting.

After the meeting, Lightfoot vowed to continue the fight.

“We will be back. We will keep fighting for the public way portion of the package,” the mayor said.

“It takes months — months — for that business to get approval. Every single City Council meeting, literally pages and pages and pages of businesses that just want to get a sign to say that they’re open for business. That makes no sense, folks. So, we’ve got to keep working and fighting for them.”

Also in the sweeping ordinance:

• Requiring third-party delivery services to collect and remit Chicago’s restaurant tax and extending the 15% cap on delivery fees until 180 days after all pandemic-related restrictions on restaurants are repealed.

• Authorizing delivery and carryout of to-go cocktails.

• Shaving up to three weeks from the time it takes for new restaurants to get licenses to open in spaces occupied by previously shuttered establishments.

• Relaxing restrictions on sidewalk sandwich boards and overhaul licensing and permitting to make it easier for restaurants to open.

• Extending the life of Chicago taxicabs from seven to 10 years for standard vehicles and from 10 to 15 years for fuel-efficient taxis.

• Eliminating barriers that have made it impossible for nonviolent ex-offenders to drive public vehicles or enter the hospitality industry.

• A first-ever “wage-theft” ordinance to help Chicago’s most vulnerable workers recoup what City Hall pegs at “up to $400 million in wages stolen” every year by “bad-faith employers.”

• Clarifying Chicago’s minimum wage ordinance so chain businesses do not, as Escareno put it, “undercount their employees in order to pay a lower minimum wage.”

• A requirement that Chicago’s domestic employees be paid at least $15 an hour and get written contracts outlining hours and working conditions.

• Strengthening Chicago’s paid sick leave ordinance by allowing workers to take paid leave to care for family members if their school or place of care is closed. The revised ordinance would also cover mental and behavioral health and “future public health orders.”

• A compromise “Right to Return to Work” ordinance requiring hotels to rehire employees laid off during the pandemic — or at least give them first crack at the openings.

Instead of giving laid-off employees 10 business days to decide whether to accept an offer to return to work, the right of refusal period was reduced to five business days.

The original version would have required Chicago hotels to rehire employees based on seniority, regardless of skills. The new version narrows that requirement to jobs in the same section.

The worker protections would remain in place until Dec. 31, 2023, at least three years earlier than the initial sunset. The final version also imposes a 15-day “curing period” that allows hotels charged with violating the ordinance to “make it right” before employees can file suit seeking relief.