Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin resigns as committee chairman

‘I have always attempted to be loyal to the mayors whom I served, as well as work to achieve resources for my community over the last 28 years’ — Austin

SHARE Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin resigns as committee chairman
Ald. Carrie Austin speaks with reporters after a Chicago City Council meeting in June. Facing federal charges, Austin has stepped down from her committee chairmanship but remains on the city council.

Ald. Carrie Austin speaks with reporters after a Chicago City Council meeting in June. Facing federal charges, Austin has stepped down from her committee chairmanship but remains on the city council.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

One day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded it, indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) resigned Tuesday as chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity.

“I have always attempted to be loyal to the mayors whom I served, as well as work to achieve resources for my community over the last 28 years,” Austin was quoted as saying in a written statement minutes before she was scheduled to chair a subject matter hearing on the mayor’s plan to extend Chicago’s construction setaside program until December 2027 and dramatically alter its eligibility requirements.

Austin will remain as alderman but is widely expected not to seek re-election in 2023. She might even resign before then to give her replacement a leg up in that election — if she can convince the mayor to name her choice as her replacement.

Earlier this week, Lightfoot left no doubt she wanted Austin to step down as chairwoman before the newly-created committee holds a pivotal vote on the set-aside program.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning of my time as mayor. I think it’s virtually impossible for an alderman to be able to fulfill their responsibilities to their ward and residents who are in need, particularly now, when they have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head. And that is a federal indictment,” the mayor said

“I’ve had that conversation with Ald. Austin. I will continue to be in dialogue with her. But, I think it’s very difficult for her to be able to do her job, just as it is the others who are indicted. It’s an extraordinary thing that we have three sitting aldermen indicted. That’s not a good thing for our city.”

Lightfoot created the Committee on Contracting and Oversight — and chose Austin to chair it — to line up the 26 votes she needed for her council reorganization.

It happened after the mayor dumped Austin as chairman of the city council’s powerful Budget Committee and replaced Chicago’s second most senior alderman with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), one of Lightfoot’s closest council allies.

The outspoken Austin initially said she wasn’t interested in a “consolation prize” before accepting it and becoming one of Lightfoot’s most reliable council votes.

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.

Austin’s indictment was preceded by the racketeering indictment of Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and followed by the bank fraud indictment of Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).

Burke stepped down immediately as Finance Committee Chairman after the first charges were filed against him. Then-candidate Lightfoot led the charge in demanding his resignation as chairman and followed by demanding that Burke step down as alderman.

She has been comparatively silent about Austin and Daley Thompson, grandson of one mayor and nephew of another.

It’s not clear who will replace Austin as chairman when the committee finally gets around to voting on the six-year extension. The vice-chair is Ald. David Moore (17th), a political maverick who fought the mayor tooth-and-nail on the plan to rename Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.

Moore presided at Tuesday’s hearing after Austin’s resignation. He identified himself as sitting in for Austin, who is “not available at this time.” No permanent committee chair has been announced.

The mayor’s minority contracting plan also would change the eligibility requirements by:

  • Allowing minority-and women-owned companies to qualify for the program until they reach 150% of the size standard established by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Averaginggross receipts over a seven-year period instead of five years.
  • Narrowing factors used to calculate personal net worth by eliminating non-liquid assets that include real estate, retirement savings and the owner’s interest in non-certified businesses.

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