Lightfoot acknowledges differences with Pritzker during pandemic

“We haven’t always agreed on every issue. But we try to do that privately,” the mayor said Wednesday. “...I hope that what we’ve done is strengthen each other.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in 2019; Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, in 2019.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Amr Alfiky/AP file; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Wednesday that she and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have disagreed while waging war against coronavirus, but they’ve tried to keep those differences in house.

While Lightfoot was on a brief spring break trip with her daughter, Pritzker was pressuring the mayor behind the scenes to call off the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which the mayor did after cutting her vacation short.

When Pritzker closed schools across the state the first time around, he did it hours after Lightfoot vowed to keep Chicago Public Schools open.

When the decision was announced, Lightfoot did not join the governor. She told aldermen during a conference call that she was worried about security, but would have to live with Pritzker’s ruling and that the order was likely to drag on for longer than the April 7 deadline the governor set.

She was right. The governor ended up canceling in-classroom learning for the remainder of the school year, once again disappointing the mayor of a city where remote learning is more difficult because of the digital divide.

Lightfoot talked about none of those specific disagreements during a question and answer session Wednesday that followed her virtual speech to the Economic Club of Chicago.

But she acknowledged that it hasn’t always been smooth between them.

“We haven’t always agreed on every issue. But we try to do that privately,” she said.

“But I hope that what we’ve done is strengthen each other and our respective teams, pushed each other and really used each other as a sounding board on really important issues — not just for the city of Chicago but in the entire state.”

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

Lightfoot acknowledged that she and the governor “didn’t really know each other well before either of us got elected.”

“His jurisdiction is much broader obviously. And Illinois is an incredibly diverse state … So he’s got a lot of different points of reference that he’s got to reconcile on a daily basis. But I appreciate his partnership and I certainly appreciate his leadership,” the mayor said.

Long before the pandemic, there were clashes behind the scenes between two of Illinois’ most powerful Democrats.

Lightfoot floated a plan for a state takeover of Chicago’s four city employee pension funds only to be shot down cold by the governor.

“To be clear, the state is at just above junk status in its credit rating. So there are not liabilities that can be adopted by the state that would not drive us into junk status. So, that is not something that we can do,” Pritzker said last summer, with Lightfoot standing awkwardly at his side during a news conference highlighting passage of the $45 billion capital bill.

Fast forward to the fall, when political insiders said Pritzker was “completely blindsided” by Lightfoot’s new proposal for a publicly-owned, city and state Chicago casino and first read details of the mayor’s plan in the Chicago Sun-Times.

At the time, Lightfoot took umbrage at suggestions that she had somehow violated political protocol by briefing state lawmakers from Chicago about her veto session requests before sharing them with the governor.

“There’s no error. We’ve constantly brought the governor and his team along on the journey regarding casinos. I’ve spoken directly with the governor about what options are on the table,” Lightfoot said then.

The mayor’s plan went nowhere — again.

Last week, Lightfoot told Democratic lawmakers she has three items on her Springfield agenda: a legislative fix to make a Chicago casino financially viable; renewed authorization for a soon-to-expire, $5-month-tax on telephone bills; and no cuts to the city’s share of the state sales tax.

She acknowledged that Pritzker’s $6.2 billion budget gap has forced Chicago to play defense in Springfield.

More clashes between the mayor and the governor are inevitable with the city and state both facing huge deficits.

But state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, placed his bet on a tax-and-fee fix that would make a Chicago casino financially viable.

“It appears that the governor wants it now. It appears that the Republican leader wants it. So it seems like it’s a done deal now. I think COVID really helped her,” Ford told the Sun-Times.

“Not only does the city need it. The state needs it also. It really helps with capital projects in the state as well. So she’s in a good spot. Even if they don’t want to vote for it for her, it’s something that everybody needs.”

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