City Council member condemns Mayor Lightfoot as ‘phony reformer’

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez is furious over the tavern license granted to the Giant Penny Whistle, defying a moratorium along a three-block stretch of Blue Island Avenue. Sigcho-Lopez joined the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council in suing to nullify the license.

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Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (center) leads a march and protest against alleged toxic pollution blowing from Sims Metal Management in the 2500 block of South Paulina Street in Pilsen on the Lower West Side, Monday afternoon, Jan. 17, 2022.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (center) leads a march and protest against alleged toxic pollution blowing from Sims Metal Management in the 2500 block of South Paulina Street in Pilsen on the Lower West Side in January.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is a “phony reformer” whose actions in office contradict her promise to “bring in the light,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said Thursday.

Sigcho-Lopez is furious at the Lightfoot administration for granting a tavern license to the Giant Penny Whistle, 1854 S. Blue Island Ave., defying a moratorium on such licenses along a three-block stretch that had been in place for 20 years.

Last week, Sigcho-Lopez joined the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council in filing a lawsuit seeking to nullify the license that, the inspector general’s office has said, was improperly issued by City Hall as part of a settlement with tavern owners.

The Penny Whistle owners had filed their own lawsuit seeking to recoup an $800,000 investment made after former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis promised to lift the moratorium. Instead of keeping that promise, Solis disappeared on the day the ordinance was up for a vote after the Sun-Times exposed him as an FBI mole.

Sigcho-Lopez noted that before being forced out by Lightfoot, Inspector General Joe Ferguson branded the decision to lift the moratorium for the Penny Whistle a “blunt violation of the law” and urged the mayor to take immediate corrective action.

“Any progressive, anybody who is fighting for reform has to listen to the inspector general which is making a clear recommendation. Not only did she dismiss it, she doubled down and stated that she stands with her decision, despite the community’s … testimony of the harm that this venue is creating, despite the inspector general’s report and despite that there was no legislative action,” he said.

“Many of us hoped for Mayor Lightfoot to deliver on her promises for reform and to battle corruption. But we have seen in this decision and multiple decisions that Mayor Lightfoot has a lot more in common with Ald.n Solis than people are even aware of. The rhetoric and the narrative doesn’t match the actions of Mayor Lightfoot.”

The site that houses the Giant Penny Whistle, a tavern and music venue in Pilsen.

The site that houses the Giant Penny Whistle, a tavern and music venue in Pilsen.

Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Earlier this month, Lightfoot told the Sun-Times editorial board she finds it “unconscionable” that Solis was “walking around on a wire for years ... continuing to wheel and deal” and is deeply offended his deal with the feds will keep Solis out of prison.

A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot condemned the deferred prosecution agreement Solis has reached with the U.S. attorney’s office — at least, according to the legal team for indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th). Solis recorded dozens of conversations with Burke over two years to help the government build their corruption case.

Sigcho-Lopez was incredulous after reading Lightfoot’s remarks.

“Mayor Lightfoot, on the one hand, is condemning Ald. Solis for the corruption schemes. But on the other hand, she’s found a way to legalize it,” he said.

“It’s unheard of for an alderman to have to go to court to defend our community, to make sure that we uphold the law — something Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on but has done very little to uphold those promises.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the alderperson’s remarks.

Corporation counsel Mark Flessner agreed to settle the case in December 2020 — a week before being forced out for his role in trying to conceal video of the botched raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young — saying the controversy was the “result of an administrative error.”

The Law Department subsequently told the inspector general’s office the error involved the City Council’s failure to lift the tavern moratorium, as Solis’ former staff say they intended.

The Sun-Times has reported the search for Chicago’s next inspector general is down to two finalists, including former deputy IG for public safety Deborah Witzburg.

Sigcho-Lopez urged Lightfoot to choose Witzburg over the other finalist, an out-of-town candidate who would need months to learn the ropes of Chicago politics. But he’s concerned Lightfoot’s public and behind-the-scenes feud with the fiercely independent Ferguson — and the mayor’s own openly-stated determination to find a new watchdog who, as she put it, “understands the importance of staying in their lane” — rules out Ferguson’s former second-in-command.

“Looking to somehow take away the best candidate or the candidate most qualified will send a very troublesome message to the public,” the alderman said.

“We need to look for someone with experience, someone with a track record and someone who has done this job in Chicago, being one of the most corrupt cities across the country.”

At one point in the search, Sigcho-Lopez said he heard Lightfoot “was not willing to even give Deborah Witzburg an interview.” Witzburg has refused to discuss the search. Sources said she has, in fact, been interviewed by the mayor.

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