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Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin delivers early endorsement of Lightfoot reelection

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said it’s “not a gimme” she will seek a second term. If Lightfoot does run again, she’ll have a powerful ally in her corner: Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th)
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said it’s “not a gimme” she will seek reelection. But if she does run for a second term, she’ll have a powerful political ally in her corner.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he expects Lightfoot to run again, and when and if she does declare her candidacy, he’ll be among those standing beside her.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges in our city. But the intensity and directiveness that the mayor has had towards some of our most challenging communities is something we’ve seen no mayor do,” Ervin said Friday.

“Look at Englewood. ... Look at areas that have long been forgotten by many administrations. The work the mayor has done is good stuff for those communities. ... If Mayor Lightfoot runs for reelection, I will be supportive of her efforts. I do believe that she is running.”

Earlier this week, Lightfoot helped Ervin leapfrog over Vice Chairman David Moore (17th) to become chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity. He replaced indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who resigned under pressure from Lightfoot.

But Ervin said that’s not the reason he’s returning the favor.

Instead, he pointed to the mayor’s war on poverty, her signature Invest South/West plan and Lightfoot’s efforts to plug what he called the “doughnut hole of the West Side” otherwise known as West Garfield Park.

“I was disappointed that East or West Garfield Park was not included [in Invest South/West]. But when I look at the resources that have been poured into West Garfield Park, I feel right on par with those Invest South/West communities,” he said.

“Crime is always a challenging issue. … There is no magic bullet. We have to take a holistic approach. … Trying to deal with poverty. Trying to deal with drug addiction. Trying to deal with a lot of issues that create crime. Mental health. … It’s just not a law enforcement solution. This is a public health crisis. This is an economic crisis.”

Last year, Lightfoot famously threatened members of the Black Caucus who dared to vote against her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s---t” when it comes to choosing projects for her five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan.

But Ervin said the mayor understandably flashed her hair-trigger temper in the heat of battle, and it was only words. He has heard “no complaints” about Lightfoot doing anything to make good on that threat.

“If somebody is coming at you, this is a business where you don’t back down. … With certain individuals, it goes from zero to 100 real quick. … In the heat of a particular situation, a lot of things are said that truly are not meant,” Ervin said.

Ervin’s wife, City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, has been mentioned as a possible mayoral challenger.

But Ervin said Friday his wife is “singularly focused on the job that she has,” loves what she’s doing and he expects her to focus on her own reelection as treasurer.

Ervin delivered his early endorsement of the mayor during a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. On other subjects, the Black Caucus chairman:

• Made no apologies for accepting a 5.5% aldermanic pay raise tied to the cost of living but suggested future salary increases for City Council members be capped at, perhaps, 3%.

• Suggested a “signing bonus” similar to the stipends offered in the military to entice more young people to take the police exam at a time when the Chicago Police Department is struggling to fill nearly 1,000 vacancies.

• Pushed back against Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell’s claim that the mayor’s plan to use civil lawsuits to seize the “blood money” of Chicago street gangs will end up “taking a lot of Camrys and Civics from unsuspecting grandmas.”

“If Grandma is driving the Civic, the Cadillac or whatever that grandson bought or son bought out here killing the community, then that deserves to be taken,” Ervin said.

• Declared reparations for Chicago descendants of African American slaves among the “top five priorities” for the Black Caucus when it comes to spending $1.9 billion in federal stimulus money.

• Argued that Lightfoot’s plan to shrink the downtown exclusion zone and relax zoning requirements for cannabis businesses all over Chicago needs to be on the fast track, even if Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is correct in assuming that 40% of social equity applicants are white-owned fronts.

“We had an opportunity to delay sales totally and the City Council balked on that. ... The horse is out of the barn. All this delay is doing is giving the current players in the market a field day,” Ervin said.