The honeymoon is coming to a rocky end for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
On Tuesday, leaders of a campaign to use a Chicago real estate transfer tax increase to fund an aggressive effort to reduce homelessness slammed the new mayor for abandoning their cause now that she’s eyeing the same revenue source to help balance her first budget.
“We’re deeply disappointed that Mayor Lightfoot broke her campaign promise to support the Bring Chicago Home proposal. In addition, she did so without making any attempt first to collaborate with the community,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, accusing the mayor of “business-as-usual” politics.
The falling out between the new mayor and the Bring Chicago Home coalition that once regarded her as an important ally comes as Lightfoot prepares for an August 29 bad news budget presentation that is bound to leave additional constituencies disenchanted.
During the mayoral campaign, Lightfoot burnished her progressive credentials by repeatedly promising support for a plan patterned after the one advanced by Bring Chicago Home — using funds from a tax on the sale of high-end real estate to support construction of affordable housing and expand homeless services. Her housing transition team listed it as a priority.
Since the election, however, Lightfoot has given the group conflicting signals, encouraging them to continue their efforts to seek a binding referendum while warning that the city’s fiscal problems were worse than former Mayor Rahm Emanuel had made known.
Any hope the mayor still intended to keep her promise vanished after an interview last week with city Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara by Sun-Times’ City Hall reporter Fran Spielman in which Novara began laying the groundwork for the boss’ reversal.
The Sun-Times reported Lightfoot now is planning to ask the General Assembly to authorize the city to raise the transfer tax on $1 million-plus properties — without going through a referendum. But she wants to use the anticipated $120 million revenue to help close the $1 billion budget hole created in large part by scheduled contributions due the city’s underfunded pension plans.
Lightfoot also plans to seek legislative authority to levy a tax on high-end professional services.
That would leave advocates for affordable housing and homeless services back where they always are, nibbling around the edges of the problem in search of resources, instead of embarking on the bold initiative they believed the public would support.
“These actions run counter to how the Mayor promised to govern,” Dworkin said in a written statement. “Instead, they resemble a textbook practice from a business-as-usual school of politics in Chicago, where candidates make bold promises to get votes during the campaign, and then reverse once in office due to circumstances they claim are unforeseen.”
Dworkin noted that Lightfoot had pledged to support the affordable housing plan even as the mayor was promising other “progressive revenue streams” to take care of the budget deficit.
“The idea that the city’s financial problem is new information is ludicrous,” she said.
United Working Families Executive Director Emma Tai, a supporter of the Bring Chicago Home campaign, said Lightfoot’s backtracking runs counter to the “agent of change” Chicago voters thought they were electing.
Voters wanted someone with the political courage to stand up for working people and “demand that the rich finally pay their fair share,” she said.
Twenty-seven of Chicago’s 50 aldermen have signed as co-sponsors of the Bring Chicago Home proposal, which contemplates a referendum at the March primary. Many of them campaigned on the same promise as Lightfoot.
The homeless campaign sent Lightfoot a letter Friday urging her to rethink her new plans and to redouble her support for their cause, citing an “abiding faith in your personal desire to combat homelessness.”
They also raised questions about whether Lightfoot can push her proposals through the General Assembly — even with Democrats in firm control of Springfield — and whether such a law would violate the state constitution.
Those questions remain. As for the “abiding faith,” that may have been lost with the broken promise.