City Council short-circuits Lightfoot’s plan for quick vote on ComEd franchise agreement

The mayor called the slowdown a “parliamentary game” and tried to call the Council back to meet Tuesday, just to rescue the deal. But that effort also was defeated, and the Council isn’t scheduled to meet again until March.

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ComEd Training Center, 3536 S. Iron St. in Chicago

The ComEd Training Center at 3536 S. Iron St. in Chicago. As part of a proposed utility franchise agreement with the city, ComEd has committed to train more than 10,000 Chicagoans for clean energy jobs.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s push for a quick vote on a proposed 15-year franchise agreement with Commonwealth Edison was short-circuited in the City Council on Wednesday.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) sent the complex agreement to the Rules Committee, where legislation normally goes to die.

That adds another step to the legislative process, potentially derailing Lightfoot’s plan to rush the agreement through the Council in what could be the final months of her tenure.

Lightfoot branded the legislative slowdown a “parliamentary game” and tried to schedule a Council meeting for Tuesday just to rescue the deal and send it to a joint meeting of two committees: Finance and Energy and Environmental Protection.

Mayoral ally Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) moved to set that date, but quickly ran into trouble.

Retiring Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) demanded to know the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting. He was joined by retiring Workforce Development Chair Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), a onetime Lightfoot supporter now determined to slow the ComEd train.

“I had a briefing on this that lasted about 20 minutes. None of my questions was answered,” Sadlowski Garza said. “It was rushed. I don’t know who worked on this or if any one of us had an input on this. I know I didn’t. This is a huge deal for the city of Chicago. I think we deserve more time to hash through this,” she added, invoking the unpleasant memory of the rushed vote to privatize the city’s parking meters.

Lightfoot agreed the Council “absolutely needs to look at every page and understand everything that’s in here,” but added that “the process to initiate that consideration is to have it introduced into committee,” which “cannot be done if we’re playing parliamentary games. We need to get this before a joint committee so that the entirety of the agreement can be considered in a timely and appropriate fashion.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) then moved to table Mitchell’s motion to meet Tuesday. Sensing defeat, Lightfoot called a recess to huddle with allies. When she banged the gavel again, Mitchell withdrew his motion, and the next Council meeting was set for March 15.

Indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) rose to say the rules did not allow Lightfoot to send the franchise agreement to a joint committee — a special committee must be created by a separate ordinance. Lightfoot ruled Burke was wrong.

“We have a difference of opinion,” Burke said.

Lightfoot replied, “As we usually do.”

At one point, the debate devolved into fighting over what to vote on and whether or not to vote.

“This is crazy. We look like a bunch of damn fools,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

After the meeting, Lightfoot and ComEd CEO Gil Quinones began the formidable job of selling the deal to skeptical alderpersons who believe it is too long, with too few consumer concessions. Some members also want to wait until after the mayoral and Council elections before they re-up with ComEd, given the utility’s role in a $1.3 million bribery scandal still swirling around indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Lightfoot called the deal “unparalleled compared to other initiatives around the country,” highlighting the $120 million from ComEd shareholders — not rate payers — for “community climate priorities.”

That includes things like weatherizing and retrofitting the homes of low-income residents, creating neighborhood solar projects, expanding electric vehicle charging stations and adding more stations for electric bikes. She also highlighted the company’s commitment to train more than 10,000 Chicagoans for jobs in the clean energy sector by building a new $32.5 million clean energy training hub on the West Side and provide as many as 4,000 rooftop solar installations for low-income residents.

“We’re doing what’s never been done before in the history of our city, which is providing economic benefits for our residents through a franchise agreement. … I believe very strongly in this agreement. We negotiated very, very hard,” she said.

“When members of the City Council actually have an opportunity to read it, ask questions, kick the tires, they’re gonna see this is a big deal, a significant win for the residents of our city.”

Ald. Matt Martin (47th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would put another crimp in Lightfoot’s ComEd timetable.

It would require the city to engage “one or more independent advisors” to prepare a report on the proposed franchise agreement prior to a final vote. It would also demand that “monetary compensation paid under a franchise agreement” be paid directly to the city — not to a nonprofit entity.

Martin is concerned information may surface during the upcoming corruption trial of former ComEd executives and Madigan cohorts that will adversely impact the city’s view of ComEd as being a “steward of our electrical grid.”

ComEd has paid a $200 million fine and signed a deferred prosecution agreement in connection with the bribery scandal.  

A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot is certain there will be new revelations during the trial, scheduled to start next month. But she argued those revelations are “irrelevant to whether or not this deal has merit and is beneficial to the residents of our city.”

She does not believe there is anything that will come out at the upcoming trial of former CEO Anne Pramaggiore and others that will make her regret this deal.

“This is brand new leadership. This is after ComEd has signed a deferred prosecution agreement, paid hundreds of millions of dollars. Absolutely, the sword of Damocles hangs over their head with the DPA and the terms of it. So I don’t see these two things as matching up,” the mayor said.

Vowing to “take a list of questions” from alderpersons and respond to all of them, Lightfoot said, “An introduction is not a vote. An introduction is the formal start of a conversation. And there’s gonna be a lot more steps that we will travel, obviously, before we get to any kind of vote.”


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