Lightfoot accused of ‘stacking the deck’ on Chicago casino committee

After cutting the list of potential sites to three, Lightfoot rammed through a resolution creating a special committee led by Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) with soup-to-nuts jurisdiction over “all matters within the jurisdiction of the City related to the establishment of the casino.”

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A 2017 aerial view of the development site known as The 78.

The development site known as The 78, south of Roosevelt Road, between Clark Street and the Chicago River. Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez believes the “fix is in” for a casion on the site, which is in his ward. “This seems like a rush job that the mayor is pushing,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Mark Segal/Related Midwest

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Wednesday of “stacking the deck” by creating a special City Council committee to make all decisions related to a Chicago casino and filling that committee with members of her hand-picked leadership team.

After narrowing the list of potential Chicago casino sites from five locations to three, Lightfoot rammed through a resolution creating a casino committee led by Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th). Black Caucus Chair Jason Ervin (28th) will serve as vice-chair.

The final vote was 35 to 12. It happened after a substitute proposal by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to create a committee of the whole on a Chicago casino was shot down by a vote of 29 to 19.

“This is not bringing in the light. This is not transparency. This is not good government,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), referring to Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign slogan.

Lightfoot assured alderpersons that “ample opportunity will be given to every single member of the body to participate.” That’s even though the casino committee only includes the Council’s president pro temp and chairs and vice-chairs of each standing committee.

“It’s been 30 years of futility, folks before we’ve had the opportunity to get a casino...This is a big, momentous decision that will have to be made,” she said.

“Please, please, please take advantage of the briefings that are gonna be given both by the committee and also by members of my staff who have spent a lot of time going through the numbers. ... This has to be an iterative process where we hear from you and you hear from us so we get this decision right. This is one of the most important decisions that this body is going to be involved with, maybe in a long time, if ever.”

The special committee’s soup-to-nuts jurisdiction will include everything from zoning, licensing, permitting, land use and building code issues to contracting, security, environmental and public health issues along financial and budget considerations, tax incentives, public health, pedestrian and traffic safety.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) believes the “fix is in” for a casino at the South Loop site in his ward known as “the 78” and that what he calls the “stacked deck” committee will only ratify that choice.

“This seems like a rush job that the mayor is pushing. … With chairs and vice-chairs who rarely deviate from the mayor’s decisions, we can expect the mayor to make this choice unilaterally without consultation” of local alderpersons or the advisory committee or community leaders that the mayor appointed to ride herd over development at Roosevelt and Clark, Sigcho-Lopez said.

After campaigning in opposition to “mega-projects” with mega-subsidies like Lincoln Yards, Lightfoot appointed a special advisory committee to ride herd over development of the 78.

Its recent survey of 400 residents showed 78% opposition to a casino on the site amid concern about traffic, crime and gambling addiction.

“Overnight, she creates a committee made of loyalists that is not going to represent the best interest of our constituents. She’s bypassing the committee. She’s bypassing the local alderpersons. To me, it seems like this is going to be a decision made by the mayor,” he said.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Rivers 78 casino.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Rivers 78 casino.

Provided

Ald. Sophia King (4th) represents a South Side ward that once included three of the five proposed casino sites. King maintained that, “at the very least” the new committee should include “aldermen whose wards are gonna be directly impacted” by a Chicago casino.

“Their constituents need to have a voice,” she said.

King further argued that the city — not developers — should determine where the long-awaited casino should be located “based on revenue, based on impact to community—both negative and positive.”

Tunney noted that the “30-plus” membership of the committee includes the “vast majority of the City Council.”

“I don’t agree with the opinion that the deck is stacked. And I don’t think any alderperson has a pre-conceived notion. ... Even chairpersons have disagreed with the mayor,” Tunney said.

He added, “The way I run my Zoning Committee is in deference to the interests of the local alderman.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), the mayor’s most outspoken council critic, branded the special committee a “stacked deck and an affront to democracy.”

“Sending us a notice at 7 o’clock at night to ram this committee down our throats made up only of her hand-picked leadership clearly sends a message that this is not a conversation that’s going to be inclusive, open or transparent,” Lopez said.

“This is gonna be the ultimate rubber stamp that will ultimately be parking meters 2.0 if we’re not all involved to ensure Chicago gets the best deal possible.”

In addition to the 78, casino finalists include the River West site of the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant and the One Central project over the Metra tracks near Soldier Field.


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