Budget Committee chair becomes latest member of Lightfoot’s leadership team to abandon mayor’s reelection bid

Fed up with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s uncollaborative, my-way-or-the-highway approach to the City Council, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) is endorsing mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson.

SHARE Budget Committee chair becomes latest member of Lightfoot’s leadership team to abandon mayor’s reelection bid
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she’s endorsing Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson for mayor.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

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Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) on Friday joined the stampede of members of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council leadership team to abandon the mayor’s reelection bid.

After carrying the water for all four of Lightfoot’s budgets and presiding over sometimes contentious budget hearings, Dowell is endorsing Cook County Commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson in the race for mayor.

“To have good government requires the legislative and the executive branch to respect each other and work together closely. It’s been a challenge in this administration. We don’t see that on a consistent basis. And I’m just tired of it,” Dowell, one of 10 unopposed incumbent alderpersons, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It’s not about buying votes. It’s about being collaborative and how one approaches initiatives or projects. I don’t see a lot of that [now]. I’m supporting Brandon because I believe he is a candidate that you can have a dialogue with. It’s not a one-way exchange,” Dowell said.

“He’s been a community organizer, which means he understands the needs of communities of people. He’s been a teacher. So, he knows how to work with students. ... And he’s been an elected official, so he knows what it’s like to work in a legislative body.”

Dowell stressed “none of this is personal with me” and unrelated to Lightfoot’s decision not to endorse Dowell’s campaign for Illinois secretary of state or the 1st Congressional District seat won by Jonathan Jackson, son of civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

Dowell, chair of the Council’s Budget Committee, is at least the seventh member of Lightfoot’s City Council leadership team to abandon ship.

The others are retiring Workforce Development Chair Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th); Aviation Chair Matt O’Shea (19th); former Lightfoot floor leader and Economic Development Chair Gilbert Villegas (36th); President Pro Temp Brendan Reilly (42nd); retiring Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th); and Health and Human Relations Chair Roderick Sawyer (6th), who is running for mayor.

Tunney has endorsed former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas over Lightfoot. Vallas has also been endorsed by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Anthony Napolitano (41st). Villegas and Garza have endorsed U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Lightfoot set the stage for her contentious relationship with alderpersons on day one.

She used her inaugural address to denounce the City Council as corrupt, shame alderpersons into joining her and the Wintrust Arena crowd in a standing ovation for reform and then rushed back to City Hall to sign an executive order stripping Council members of their prerogative over licensing and permitting in their wards.

“I felt as if I was a child being scolded by a parent. ... That was a major mistake for an executive who has to work with a legislative body,” Dowell said.

It was all downhill from there.

Among other things, Dowell pointed to Invest South/West, the Chicago casino, the NASCAR race, the tax increment financing district being used to fund the extension of the CTA Red Line and the decision to build a Chicago Fire Department training facility on CHA land as examples of Lightfoot’s style of running roughshod over the City Council.

Lightfoot’s stormy tenure has also featured a recorded, obscenity-laced tirade against Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) after the first of two devastating rounds of looting; a finger-pointing confrontation with Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) on the City Council floor; and a warning to members of the Black caucus who dared to vote against her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s--t for the next four years” when it comes to choosing projects for her massive capital plan.

The Lightfoot campaign took the Dowell desertion in stride in a statement that appealed directly to 3rd Ward voters.

“Mayor Lightfoot has championed historic investments in communities like Bronzeville through her signature Invest South/West initiative, is working to build a new high school for the Near South Side and cleared the path to extend the Red Line. She’s proud of her work in and around the 3rd Ward and looks to continue collaborating with Ald. Dowell and the rest of the City Council in a new term,” the statement said.

Tensions between Dowell and Lightfoot have been building for some time. What’s surprising is that Dowell chose Johnson over neighboring Ald. Sophia King (4th).

Dowell said she “respects Sophia King as my colleague” and works “closely together with her” on matters involving the 4th Ward. But she said, “My choice is Brandon Johnson.”

“There are elements of Brandon’s tax proposal that I do not support. But clearly the city needs different and more revenue sources. He’s got some ideas. We should discuss them, and at least we can have a discussion,” Dowell said.

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