Lightfoot dodges City Council defeat, narrowly delivers $12.5 million gas, transit card giveaway
The vote was 26 to 23, the closest of Lightfoot’s tenure. It would have been an embarrassing defeat if the mayor hadn’t broadened the boundaries to include the wards of two critics: North Side Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) and South Side Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th).
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday dodged an embarrassing City Council defeat — and narrowly delivered her $12.5 million gas and mass transit giveaway — after broadening the boundaries to include the wards of two former critics.
The vote was 26 to 23. It was the closest shave of Lightfoot’s more-than-three-year tenure.
The ordinance appeared destined for defeat before Lightfoot changed the boundaries of the eligibility area yet again to include the wards of Alderpersons Derrick Curtis (18th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).
“My ward was included as a high-mobility area. A lot of people are struggling right now and I wanted to help my constituents,” Silverstein wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.
Curtis said he voted against the mayor’s plan in committee “because it wouldn’t benefit all of my ward” but, “They promised to change it. They did. So, I supported it.”
Ald. Sophia King (4th) did not attend Wednesday’s meeting after testing positive for COVID-19. Remote voting has been off-limits since May 2021, when the council resumed meeting in person.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) was among the ‘no’ votes. He and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who has held three gas giveaways, spending $2.2 million of his own fortune, already have joined what’s expected to be a crowded race for mayor.
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“I applaud this Council and you” for trying to do something to help Chicagoans squeezed by inflation, Lopez said before the vote. “But this is 100% the wrong way to go.”
“Gift cards and Ventra cards do not solve the issues facing our residents. To say it comes off as a gimmick would be an understatement,” Lopez said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said “something is not right” when the city “gives $3 million to the food depository” and more than four times that much for gas and mass transit cards.
“I might get two full tanks of gas — and then what?” Hairston said.
“It’s not that we’re against it. It’s just not what we need.”
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) urged his colleagues to plow all $12.5 million into improving CTA security to lure back passengers too afraid to ride for fear of being mugged or worse.
“I don’t think as a matter of policy the city should be subsidizing fossil fuels,” Reilly said.
Before the final vote, Lightfoot delivered an impassioned plea for the giveaway she said is desperately needed.
“Are we solving every problem with this? Of course not. It’s a modest program. But the suggestion that it’s a gimmick, it’s a stunt, the mayor is political — let’s put all that nonsense aside,” the mayor said.
“The bottom line is, there are people in Chicago who barely have a couple dollars in their pocket and now, they cannot meet a basic need, which is the need for transportation. ... People in this city are hurting badly and we feel — I feel —an obligation to address this need. This is an emergency.”
Applications are now being accepted online at chicago.gov/ChicagoMoves. For more information, call 1-312-742-3317.
Entries also can be submitted in person at any Chicago Public Library branch or can be mailed to: Department of Finance; Chicago Moves; 121 N. LaSalle St., 7th Floor; Chicago, IL 60602.
There’s no need to enter each month once you have applied. If you aren’t selected, you are automatically entered in the next month’s drawing.
No one tried to delay the vote until the next meeting — a parliamentary maneuver known as “defer and publish” — and Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st) thinks he knows why.
Anybody who dared stall the plan to dole out 50,000 gas cards worth $150 each and 100,000 Ventra cards worth $50 would have been playing with fire.
“They risk a backlash because we know it’s extremely popular. We know that it is needed,” Brookins said.
“To rip away a chance to get a significant benefit would not endear them to the public.”
With summer driving season fast approaching, Brookins said motorists are already calling ward offices to say they want the cards.
“Even with the latest round of gas giveaways by Dr. Wilson, they still remain insanely popular. And I don’t see that going away soon. I saw a guy saying he waited in line to be the first person in line and he was so thankful because now, he can buy his prescription medication,” Brookins said.
Opposition to the plan she calls “Chicago Moves” forced Lightfoot to make several tweaks just to get it through committee.
The income ceiling for eligibility was lowered, and three-fourths of the $7.5 million in gas cards will be reserved for South and West Side neighborhoods defined by the city as “high-mobility hardship community areas.” The eligibility area was further broadened Wednesday.
The rest will be distributed through citywide lotteries “in equal portions to each ward,” officials said.
On Wednesday, Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) again led the charge for the mayor’s plan.
“We need to help the most challenged — not only by COVID but by economic conditions. Anything we can do to give people a leg up” will be welcomed, Ervin said before the vote.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) argued Lightfoot is being unfairly taken to task for giveaways tolerated and embraced by her predecessors.
“All of the sudden this mayor, who happens to be a female, African American mayor, does it and it’s a problem,” Cardenas said.
“I don’t know. I feel like, what’s going on here? Seriously. You’re doing it for political reasons. There’s folks here running for office. Maybe more will announce tomorrow. I don’t know. Sounds to me political.”
The cards will go to winners of rolling lotteries starting in May and continuing in four more monthly waves.
Gas card lottery entrants must be motorists living in Chicago, 18 years or older, with a valid city sticker and a maximum household income of 100% of the area median income — $93,200 for a family of four. Ventra lottery entrants do not have to be motorists or have a city sticker.
Applications must be submitted by the first day of each month for lotteries conducted the second week of each month.
The gas cards will be valid for one year and may be spent only on gas, and only at 417 “active filling stations” within the city limits. Nine stations have been excluded from the program because they are “not in good standing with the city,” officials said.