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Austin wants Lightfoot to keep her as budget chair: ‘I’ll be loyal to her’

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) wants to remain as chairwoman of the Chicago City Council's Budget Committee. | File photo

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) on Wednesday made the case to remain as Budget Committee chairman in the new City Council, promising to be every bit as loyal to Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot as she was to Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.

“If she replaced me — I’m the second-highest alderman [in] seniority — and then put somebody with lesser seniority? I don’t think she would do that. I have successfully passed 11 budgets for both mayors,” said Austin, who supported Toni Preckwinkle in the April 2 mayoral runoff.

“If she allows me, I’ll be loyal to her — to a fault, because I believe that a mayor going into that fifth-floor seat has to be able to look back and know that they have someone that they can count on.”

Austin acknowledged she has not spoken with Lightfoot since calling to congratulate the mayor-elect on election night.

If the always-outspoken Austin is insulted by that, she gave no hint of it Wednesday.

“She’s doing things differently, so why would I be surprised? This is her way. … She’s changing things around. I’m fine with it,” the alderman said.

“I want to stay as Budget chairman. [But] I’m not after anything [else]. I’m not looking to put no feathers in my crown. I got enough of them there now because God has afforded me [25] years in the Council. So, I’m not looking to put any feathers in my crown. I wanna make sure that she’s got some in hers.”

With the retirement of Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd) and the defeat of Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s floor leader, Austin is now second in seniority behind 50-year Council veteran and deposed Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th).

On March 22, Austin was on the stage at the Harold Washington Cultural Center when U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush warned during a campaign rally for Preckwinkle that the “blood of the next young black man or black woman” killed by police would be on the hands of Lightfoot supporters if the former police board president was elected mayor.

Austin said Wednesday she does not believe Lightfoot holds that against her. “That would be thinking petty, and I know she’s not a petty person,” Austin said.

But just in case, Austin condemned Rush’s remarks in the strongest possible terms and said she “couldn’t get off the stage fast enough” when the hateful words came out of the congressman’s mouth.

“I didn’t like … one word that Bobby said. … Not at all. I thought it was despicable for him to say something like that. I tried to get off the stage. It was like, `Oh, no. I’m not gonna stand up here with somebody that makes a despicable statement like that because I don’t feel like that and you can’t speak for me,’” Austin said.

“I was more than uncomfortable with that. … I thought it was absolutely awful. Especially about a person that’s running for office just like Toni was running for office. How do you say something like that? That’s terrible. And to say he has a right to speak? No. Something like that — if that’s the way he felt — he should have kept it to his damn self.”

Three years ago, Austin had a highly-publicized run-in with Lightfoot that played out on the floor of the City Council.

It happened after Lightfoot condemned as a “sham” City Council hearings on Emanuel’s plan to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority.

“I am truly, truly insulted. I’m insulted because the people didn’t elect me to produce farces,” Austin said then.

“To say that what we’re doing now is a farce — she can go straight to Hades. And I ain’t talking about the country.”

Lightfoot responded to the tirade by saying she has “a great deal of respect” for Austin, appreciates the alderman’s “candor,” and welcomes “the opportunity to work with her.”

As for Lightfoot’s signature promise to end aldermanic prerogative, Austin said she’s fine with relinquishing control over driveway permits and some signs in her Far South Side ward.

“But when it comes to zoning, yes I do [have a problem relinquishing control] because I want my constituents to have a say-so of what is in my ward. My residents elected me to speak on their behalf,” she said.

“And I do have a problem with somebody doing a four-way stop sign, then the department says, `We’re gonna put it here anyway.’”

Now that Burke faces attempted extortion charges and interim Finance chairman O’Connor was defeated, aldermen are searching for a compromise choice whom Lightfoot also can trust.

The front-runners are Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Tom Tunney (44th), both of whom were early Lightfoot supporters.

On Wednesday, Austin declared Tunney “the better of the two.” He owns Ann Sather Restaurants and has called himself the business community’s voice in an anti-business climate.

“No. 1, he has the seniority,” Austin said. “No. 2, he’s more of an even-tempered individual that would be able to work collectively with the Council.”