The long goodbye: City Council honors Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 13 departing members

Tears were shed, good-natured barbs traded, hatchets buried. One would never have known Ald. Edward Burke is leaving under the cloud of a federal indictment or that the mayor’s relationship with the Council was so contentious.

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Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who served on the Chicago City Council more than five decades, walks out of the Council chambers at City Hall on Wednesday, April 19, 2023 after his last meeting.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who served on the Chicago City Council more than five decades, walks out of the Council chambers at City Hall on Wednesday after his last meeting.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

If the City Council were as good at solving intransigent problems as it was at saying goodbye, Chicago would be a crime-free nirvana.

That much was evident Wednesday as the Council bid bittersweet farewell to lame-duck Mayor Lori Lightfoot and 13 departing members, including indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), longest-serving alderperson in Chicago history.

Tears were shed. Good-natured barbs were traded. Hatchets were buried. Past tensions, hard feelings and old grudges were put aside.

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The hours-long love-fest was so upbeat and heartfelt, you’d never have known Burke is leaving under the dark cloud of a federal extortion and racketeering indictment or that Lightfoot’s relationship with alderpersons had been so contentious, it laid the groundwork for the Council to declare its independence and reorganize itself before the new mayor and Council can even be sworn in.

“I know that you are in this role because of your love of Chicago,” said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who battled with Lightfoot her entire term.

“Your presence made me a better alderman. My presence made you a better mayor.”

Ald. David Moore (17th) credited Lightfoot with “doing more than any mayor, including Harold Washington” for impoverished neighborhoods through her Invest South/West initiative.

“He did not get a chance to invest in the South and West Sides. He laid the foundation, but you implemented things. ... I wish you could have done more, but you made a big dent in it. Everybody after you will have to do it now,” Moore said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot receives a gift from Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) while presiding at her final Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot receives a gift from Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) while presiding at her final Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who endorsed Brandon Johnson over Lightfoot, told the departing mayor it was “objectively true” that she had “the hardest hand dealt to you of any mayor in the history of Chicago.” Her only term was dominated by the pandemic and civil unrest that devolved into two devastating rounds of looting and years of violent crime.

“Everyone makes different calls based on their perspective. But you always, like, led. There have been times where we’ve all butted heads and had very tense conversations. But never did we have doubts that you didn’t fully believe in or were committed to the decisions that you were making,” Vasquez said.

“We’re gonna look back at the way we dealt with some of the hardest times the city has ever faced with you at the helm. I want to express our appreciation for that.”

Budget Committee Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) thanked Lightfoot for trusting her to carry the water for all four budgets during her term, and preside over sometimes contentious budget hearings. Dowell, however, also endorsed Johnson over Lightfoot — one of at least seven members of Lightfoot’s leadership team to abandon ship.

“I want to thank you for appointing me your Budget chair. ... I did not want to do this, but I learned a lot in four years. I want to thank you for shepherding us through the pandemic. I think the team of you and Dr. [Allison] Arwady kept us from going off the cliff. We certainly made it through,” Dowell said.

“While we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I wish nothing but the best for you and your family.”

Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8th) doubled as the mayor’s Council floor leader and stuck with the mayor through the Feb. 28 election, when Lightfoot’s third-place finish made her the first elected mayor of Chicago in 40 years to be denied a second term.

“To the mayor, who has been an awesome leader for the city of Chicago, I cannot thank you enough for your commitment, your time, your service to the city,” Harris said. “I have enjoyed every minute of this journey. And it has been a real amazing journey. You taught me how to put on a seatbelt and buckle in. I appreciate you. And more than that, I appreciate the legacy that you’re gonna leave for the city.”

Ald. Michelle A. Harris (center) chats with colleagues during the Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Ald. Michelle A. Harris (center) chats with colleagues during the Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As for Burke, Harris chose to focus on his extraordinary legislative impact on everyday life in Chicago, such as pushing for a ban on smoking in most indoor public spaces.

Burke, she said, is “saving our lives today because we don’t have second-hand smoke. Not just in buildings, but in restaurants.”

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), noting the 79-year-old Burke has “been here longer than I’ve been alive,” thanked him for being “nothing but a gentleman” and for offering his sage advice “freely” and “generously.”

He called Burke “an example of having an opinion of somebody from the experiences you have with someone instead of what somebody may say was right about an individual,” Gardiner said.

“You are a walking encyclopedia. ... You need to be highlighted and you need to be recognized for the work you have done for your community, for the work you’ve done for your city. We should all pay homage for the work that you have done. It is much appreciated ... but few of us will probably actually say it and I will proudly say it. You have done this city a favor.”

Departing alderpersons were presented with framed Chicago city flags at their final meeting on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

At Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, departing alderpersons were presented with framed Chicago city flags.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Harris presented framed Chicago city flags to Lightfoot, Burke and the 12 other retiring alderpersons honored Wednesday: Sophia King (4th); Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th); Anabel Abarca (12th); Howard Brookins (21st); Roberto Maldonado (26th); Ariel Reboyras (30th); Carrie Austin (34th); Tom Tunney (44th); James Cappleman (46th) and Harry Osterman (48th).

Each flag included the retiree’s brass name plate — as Harris put it, to “remind you of the commitment that you gave to this body ... and the hard time that you spent in this building.”

When Lightfoot accepted her gift, she was visibly moved but did not speak.

She put her hand over her heart and received a standing ovation from the alderpersons who spent much of the last four years bristling at her abrasive, dictatorial style.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is given a framed Chicago flag while presiding at her final Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is given a framed Chicago flag while presiding at her final Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Council’s resident historian, Burke could not resist ending his long and storied career with yet another history lesson.

He talked about the funerals he has attended since 1969 for 147 Chicago police officers and 96 Chicago firefighters killed in the line of duty.

“As I leave here today with the other members who will retire, it is my hope that the 243 families of those brave police officers and firefighters whose funerals I have attended will be well and it will be well with them. And further, that God will watch over and protect all the brave police officers and firefighters who, each and every day, put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens,” Burke said.

The Council dean closed by repeating one of his favorite quotes: “In politics, there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends. Only permanent interests.”

“Those words are wise, are they not? And should be a goal for all who are in government,” Burke said.

“And, Madame President and ladies and gentlemen with whom I have been proud to serve, if I have failed during these past 54 years in achieving that goal, please permit me to apologize.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2023 was the final Chicago City Council meeting for Ald. Ed Burke, 79.

After more than five decades on the Chicago City Council. Wednesday was the final Council meeting for Ald. Ed Burke, 79.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times


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