Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said Thursday there is “no muscling of anybody” involved in her request for corporate donations to help bankroll her abbreviated transition and May 20 inauguration, calling the controversy “much ado about nothing.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Lightfoot’s transition team, operating under the non-profit umbrella corporation known as “Better Together Chicago,” had asked Chicago’s movers-and-shakers to make five- and six-figure contributions in time to meet a May 1 deadline.
Lightfoot’s transition spokesperson refused to say how many corporations were being solicited or why some companies were being asked for $25,000 while others were asked to contribute $100,000.
The transition team also refused to disclose the overall fundraising goal and the precautions, if any, being taken to avoid potential conflicts with companies that hold city contracts or are regulated or taxed by the city.
On Thursday, Lightfoot shed no additional light on those questions.
But she made no apologies for a fundraising campaign she called “standard fare” and “consistent with my views around good government.”
All contributions will be “voluntarily disclosed by the committee,” the solicitation letter states.
“There’s no muscling of anybody. There are people across the city who enthusiastically reached out and asked how they could be supportive … of transition efforts and supportive of inaugural efforts. We are directing them in different ways they can be helpful,” she said.
“We’re doing everything we can to respond, but do it in a way that’s consistent with my views around good government. … This is very standard. We have a process by which we have to ask in a timeline. This is kind of much ado about nothing.”
On another subject, Lightfoot said she “finds it curious” that her former colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s office have asked to push back the deadline yet again — this time, until June 7 — to indict Ald. Edward Burke (14th), deposed chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
“Whatever is coming, let it come and come quickly. It’s not a good thing for the health and well-being of our city — and certainly the legitimacy of the government — to have these clouds hanging overhead and not knowing when the storm is gonna break,” Lightfoot said.
“I don’t know what the particulars are. I don’t know the nuances. I don’t know who the targets of the investigations are — obviously beyond Burke and [former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny] Solis. But, we can’t have people who have committed crimes functioning as elected officials and doing business with the city. That curtain needs to be drawn back. We need to see it — sooner rather than later. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.”
Lightfoot owes her meteoric rise to the events of Jan. 3.
That’s when Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Toni Preckwinkle.
Also during a wide-ranging interview Thursday, Lightfoot refused to disclose the size of the budget shortfall she is inheriting.
Lightfoot recently emerged from a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s financial team calling the shortfall “dire” and infinitely worse than she anticipated.
“There’ll be an appropriate time for us to talk about the particulars. But I want to talk about them in the public when we have specific solutions to some of these challenges that we’re facing. And now is not that time,” she said.
Already known is that the city faces a spike in pension payments — $277 million this year and $1 billion by 2023. Also, the corporate fund has a two-year gap of at least $613.9 million — and that’s even before the cost of police and fire contracts and retroactive pay raises for the rank-and-file are factored in.
How much worse could it possibly be?
“We all know that it’s tough. It’s just magnitudes of how tough,” Lightfoot said.
“But again, I don’t think it’s fair to residents and taxpayers to talk about this on the fly without having a very specific plan of action to address the challenges. And we’re working on that on a daily basis. I have a huge team that’s been working on these issues [from] day one. At the appropriate time, we’ll have more to say about it.”