What Chicago Mayor Lightfoot did for 53 minutes and 25 seconds in Washington D.C.

I’m happy to defend Lightfoot’s D.C. trip. She’s here while the City Council is fighting over the ward remap. Said Lightfoot: “The perfect is not going to be the outcome.”

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday met with Illinois congressional delegation members in the Capitol office of Sen. Dick Durbin (center) and Rep. Robin Kelly (right).

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday met with Illinois congressional delegation members in the Capitol office of Sen. Dick Durbin (center) and Rep. Robin Kelly (right).

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Day 2 of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s D.C. trip, which runs through Friday, she spent 53 minutes and 25 seconds briefing reporters on a Zoom call, all of them except for Lightfoot and myself likely in or near Chicago.

Much of the late afternoon session centered on questions over the pending ward remap: the difficulty and acrimony over carving up the 50 wards as Black, and Hispanic and Asian-Americans fight and, to put a time peg in this conversation, how the City Council missed the deadline to approve a new map.

And all this is taking place while Lightfoot is in Washington. My reporting rivals back home pressed the mayor several times on why she left City Council members alone to negotiate, as if her physical presence in the city could force a deal.

It should only be that easy.

Asked why she didn’t stay in Chicago, Lightfoot sarcastically answered: “Let me see. I could come to Washington D.C. and advocate on behalf of the city about getting millions, hundreds of millions of dollars to support residents’ recovery from COVID, or I could preside over a City Council meeting that ended up — it was actually a committee today, not even a full City Council meeting — that ended up with just the filing of a map.”

In short:

  • The map the Rules Committee wants — supported by the Black caucus — does not have the votes to pass.
  • The Hispanic Caucus has a proposed preferred map and not enough votes to get it passed.
  • At this point, it takes 41 votes to approve a map.
  • If there is no agreement, there will be a referendum in June, where council members lose control of the process because voters choose the map.

Anyway, the sides are dug in, far apart and there are two Rules Committee meetings next week to continue negotiations. Against this backdrop, the mayor came to Washington on Tuesday afternoon.

I’m happy to defend the trip.

The mayor is here because she’s following the money, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city and related governments and agencies to grab tons of new federal cash from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. If the Senate can pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social spending and climate change bill, there will be lots more.

Getting this money takes a lot of work, especially when it comes to figuring out how to make successful applications for discretionary, competitive federal grants — deciding what’s worth chasing — and figuring out how the Biden White House and the powerful Office of Management and Budget can be helpful.

That’s why Lightfoot met with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the White House Intergovernmental Affairs director, who, by the way, is the granddaughter of the famed Hispanic labor leader, Cesar Chavez, and Susan Rice, ex-president Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador who now leads Biden’s Domestic Policy Council.

The city still may find financial opportunities in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the massive COVID-19 rescue package. That’s a reason Lightfoot met with the White House “ARP” czar, Gene Sperling.

Not all money will go directly to the city. Lightfoot said she discussed at the White House how “important it is to make sure our community partners,” already exhausted from dealing with COVID, “are strong and able to receive the funding that is going to come to them from ARP and to some extent, from infrastructure.”

The new infrastructure cash is a reason she met with assistant secretaries from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The mayor is also mapping strategy with Chicago’s two-person federal affairs office here — think of it as City Hall’s D.C. branch.

And speaking of money, Lightfoot is also doing fundraising and donor prospecting. She had an event Wednesday night keyed to potential donors who want to support female candidates.

On Thursday, she has a traditional fundraiser in D.C. — using a room in the office of her ex-law firm, Mayer Brown — and also a huddle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among other meetings.

About these remaps…

Remap politics, with new lines based on the 2020 Census, are brutal and messy, whether for Congress, the Illinois General Assembly, the City Council or other units of government. Just ask Democratic Reps. Marie Newman and Sean Casten, colleagues now pitted against each other because state Democratic mapmakers — their own brethren — threw them into the same congressional district in order to make room for a new Hispanic-influenced district.

When it comes to remaps, Lightfoot has it about right. Said the mayor: “The perfect is not going to be the outcome.”

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