Parliamentary maneuver spares Johnson a City Council defeat on ethics reform — for a little while

The measure would stiffen penalties for lobbyists who contribute to mayoral campaigns in defiance of a 2011 executive order signed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In other action, after vigorous debate, the Council approved a “quiet zone” around a West Loop abortion clinic.

SHARE Parliamentary maneuver spares Johnson a City Council defeat on ethics reform — for a little while
Brandon Johnson kicked off his campaign for mayor of Chicago on Thursday morning, Oct. 27, 2022 in Seward Park, 375 W. Elm St.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s campaign returned improper contributions.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

An emboldened City Council was poised Wednesday to defy Mayor Brandon Johnson for the second straight month — this time, on the issue of ethics, but a parliamentary maneuver spared the mayor, at least temporarily.

The ordinance championed by Johnson’s handpicked Ethics Committee chair would have authorized suspensions and/or stiff penalties for lobbyists donating to mayoral campaigns in defiance of a 2011 executive order signed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The ordinance also would ban lobbyists from donating to mayoral candidates through separate business entities.

But two other members of the mayor’s leadership team — Police Committee Chair Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Special Events Chair Nick Sposato (38th) — exercised their right to delay consideration for one meeting.

“This common-sense legislation seeks to codify something that’s been on the books for 13 years that spans three administrations. It was done in response to a request sent by the Board of Ethics to both myself and the mayor,” Ethics Committee Chair Matt Martin (47th) said Wednesday before the maneuver.

“I don’t have an ax to grind. There’s nothing personal here. This is based on the issues that continue to come up that are important to City Council and, most importantly, to our residents.”

Two months ago, the Chicago Board of Ethics was unable to take punitive action against several registered lobbyists because the board lacked legal authority to enforce Emanuel’s executive order.

Martin said he talked to the mayor’s office, trying unsuccessfully to find language acceptable to Johnson.

“I asked if there was anything that we could change — one thing or a series of things in the ordinance that would change their mind and cause them to support the ordinance. They said, `No.’ “

Current city ordinance allows lobbyists to give up to $1,500 to candidates for city office, or up to the statewide limit of $13,700 through companies they control.

The temporarily delayed ordinance would have barred all lobbyist contributions to incumbent mayors or mayoral candidates. Contributions would also be barred from companies in which a lobbyist has an ownership stake of at least 7.5%.

Lobbyists found in violation would be fined three times their contribution amount, unless they seek a refund. Further violations would result in 90-day lobbying suspensions.

The Board of Ethics urged the City Council to codify Emanuel’s executive order after investigating several contributions to Johnson’s campaign, including a $2,000 contribution from lobbyist Anthony Bruno. The donations were returned.

The board found probable cause that the contributions were improper but dropped its cases against the lobbyists after determining it didn’t have the legal authority to enforce Emanuel’s order.

Previously, the Sun-Times has reported Lightfoot’s campaign took $68,500 from companies affiliated with lobbyist Carmen A. Rossi. Her campaign also ended up returning most of that money.

The proposed ordinance doesn’t apply to contributions from city contractors, and doesn’t cover donations to Council members or other statewide elected officials.

Martin also introduced an ordinance that would lay the groundwork for the city to establish what he called a “voluntary, small-dollar-donor-matching program” similar to a proposal that went nowhere nearly 10 years ago.

Last month, Johnson suffered an embarrassing defeat on an issue central to the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to reduce violent crime. A defiant Council voted 34 to 14 to lay the groundwork to tie Johnson’s hands when it comes to canceling the city’s contract for the gunshot detection technology known as ShotSpotter.

Another defeat Wednesday would have been another blow to the mayor that could have signaled more of the same heading into what is likely to be a difficult budget season.

Johnson said he opposed the ethics ordinance because it’s time to stop “nibbling around the edges” of reform.

“If the goal is to eradicate the proclivity of corruption, then let’s get at that. ... Let’s all work together for public financing,” the mayor told reporters after the Council meeting.

“If people are concerned about unfettered access that’s handed to a handful of people, let’s implement public financing. … I challenge the Ethics Board to join me in this effort. ... Let’s lead the way for the entire country,”

Johnson appeared to argue Martin’s ordinance, covering only the mayor and mayoral candidates, was too narrow.

“If you want to eliminate corruption in government, we certainly should make sure that the rules apply to anyone who has been given the trust of the public,” he said.

Abortion clinic ‘quiet zone’ approved

The Council also voted 41-4 to shield women from intimidation and abuse from bullhorn-bearing protesters on their way into a West Loop abortion clinic operated by Family Planning Associates at 659 W. Washington Blvd.

The vote came after an emotionally-charged debate that saw most women in the Council rise to demand that women entering Chicago’s largest abortion clinic and the doctors and nurses who serve them be protected from harassment.

Health and Human Relations Chair Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) recalled how “incredibly scared” she was getting an abortion in Puerto Rico at age 19. That experience, seared in her memory, left her “baffled by what I am hearing in this Council.”

Women going into a clinic are “already feeling a lot of different ways — fear being one of the things that commonly we experience,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “And having to face and feel threatened by loud noise, by shaming, by guilt-tripping — it’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Finance Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) said a woman who “makes it to the door” of an abortion clinic “has already wrestled with her God” before making what is almost always a gut-wrenching decision.

“That woman should not be subject to have to run a gauntlet of threats, of people who are just spewing their interpretation of the Bible or how they feel in their heart about how this woman should behave. This woman is making a choice on her own and we should respect that and we need to all vote yes on this ordinance.”

The anti-abortion forces were led, as always, by Sposato.

“You all have really blown this out of proportion, what was going on over there,” the Northwest Side Council member told his colleagues.

“You act like there’s a bunch of biker thugs out there looking to beat the crap out of somebody. And that’s not what’s going on,” Sposato said. “There’s a bunch of women and children out there — mostly praying. A lot of Catholics.”

He added: “I admit, I’m a Christian against abortion. It’s no secret. So abortion advocates can go after me. Do whatever you want. I have no problem with that,” he said.

Hearing sought on Bally casino’s ‘financial viability’

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) introduced a resolution calling for City Council hearings on the “financial viability” of Bally’s plan to build a $1.7 billion permanent casino and entertainment complex in River West. Johnson had expressed similar concerns during a meeting earlier this week with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

Hopkins, chair of the Public Safety Committee, also introduced his proposal to turn back the curfew clock — from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. — for minors in the downtown area. But the rollback, strongly opposed by the mayor, was referred to the Rules Committe, where legislation the administration doesn’t like often is sent to languish.

Record settlement approved

The Council also voted to pay a record $50 million to four men who spent a combined 73 years in prison after confessing as teenagers to a 1995 double murder they did not commit.

LaShawn Ezell, Charles Johnson, Larod Styles and Troshawn McCoy, known as the “Marquette Park 4,” were subsequently cleared by fingerprint evidence. The city’s catastrophic insurance will cover $29 million of the settlement, with the rest coming from taxpayers.

The men “are among the scores of kids who the Chicago Police Department has targeted for false arrest and coercive interrogations over the years, leading to Chicago’s reputation as the False Confession Capital of the country,” Alexa Van Brunt, Director of the Illinois office of the MacArthur Justice Center and counsel for Johnson, said in a statement issued after the vote.

In a joint statement, the men said, in part: “We are grateful that the City of Chicago has chosen to resolve our case and allow us to move on with our lives. No amount of money can ever return the years we lost due to Chicago Police misconduct.”

Vacant building oversight

The Council also approved a measure to increase city oversight of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts, and create a registry for those buildings. Within 30 days of vacancy or taking ownership, building owners must register the building with the city. As long as a building remains vacant, registration has must be renewed every six months. The ordinance also includes vacant storefronts in the city’s maintenance standards for vacant buildings to reduce blight in commercial corridors.

Contributing: Abby Miller

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