Hear the one about the Chicago pol saying no to some extra cash? No joke, five in City Council reject salary boost

The five taking a pass on the raise are a mix of North, Northwest and Southwest Side Council members. all in their first or second term — Raymond Lopez (15th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Felix Cardona (31st), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Matt Martin (47th).

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Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.

Chicago City Council

Sun-Times file

Five alderpersons are rejecting a 5.5% cost-of-living raise they have coming to them next year, but the majority of the members of the City Council will see bumps in their salaries in a few months.

The five taking a pass on the raise are a mix of North, Northwest and Southwest Side Council members all in their first or second term.

Southwest Side Alderpersons Raymond Lopez (15th) and Silvana Tabares (23rd), Northwest Side Alderpersons Felix Cardona (31st) and Gilbert Villegas (36th) and North Side Ald. Matt Martin (47th) all turned in paperwork with the city to deny the pay raise, which will kick in Jan. 1.

Lopez, Cardona, and Martin will continue to make $122,304 in 2022 while Villegas will make $115,560 and Tabares’ salary will remain at $123,504.

City budget officials did not immediately respond to questions about why the salaries differ.

Martin, first elected to the North Side 47th Ward two years ago, said not taking the adjustment was a “personal decision.”

With the pandemic “presenting the sort of financial challenges that it has to so many folks within and outside of government, what is typically something that is a very minor issue, if not a non-issue, has additional significance.”

Ald. Matt Martin (47th) attends his first Chicago City Council meeting in 2019.

Ald. Matt Martin (47th) attends his first Chicago City Council meeting in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“When I look at my own situation and reflect on the many challenges that my ward and my city have faced, I feel that it’s the best personal decision for me to forgo this year’s cost-of-living adjustment,” Martin said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) initially seemed to be rejecting the $6,734 raise, but changed his mind. He’ll see his salary go from $123,504 to $130,238.

Cardenas said that was a “misunderstanding” brought on by someone on his staff preparing the wrong document and returning it to city officials.

“I am taking the raise,” Cardenas said. “It’s not about the money — [the consumer price index] takes care of that ... I am applying for a job that pays $30K less than what I would be making, so it isn’t about the money.”

Cardenas, who is running for a seat on the Cook County Board of Review, and 29 others will see their salaries bumped to $130,238.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) speaks during a City Council meeting in May.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) speaks during a City Council meeting in May.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

That includes Alderpersons Carrie Austin (34th) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), both of whom are under federal indictment but have entered not guilty pleas.

Thompson, a nephew of one former Chicago mayor and a grandson of another, was charged in April with making false statements and filing a false income-tax return.

The second most senior member of the Council, Austin is accused of taking bribes in the form of home improvements, including new kitchen cabinets and granite countertops, from a developer who sought her help in getting a project through City Hall.

The Far South Side alderperson is also accused of lying to FBI agents who sought to question her about the perks.

The third sitting alderman under federal indictment, Ald. Ed Burke (14th), will see a bump in his salary from $114,192 to $120,406, according to figures from the city. Burke, whose 52-year tenure makes him the longest serving alderperson, was charged with racketeering in a 59-page indictment in 2019, but has also pleaded not guilty.

Ald. Edward Burke in 2019

Ald. Edward Burke in 2019

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file

Thompson, Austin and Burke did not respond to requests for comment on the pay increase.

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), who apologized on the Council floor Tuesday for “offensive” texts he sent in 2019, will also make $130,238 in the new year, up from $123,504.

Also taking the increase is Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) who joined the Council in 2011 and didn’t take the raises during his first four years.

“I’ve made my sacrifices already, so I have no problem taking a raise now,” the Northwest Side alderman said. “I work very hard. I work 70 hours a week pretty regular, maybe in the winter it’s more like a 60-hour-a-week job, unless there’s no storms or something. ... I’m not going to say I’m the hardest-working alderman, but I bet anything I’m certainly one of the two or three hardest-working aldermen in the city.”

Sposato’s current salary puts him in a three-way tie for the fourth lowest on the Council along with Matt O’Shea (19th) and Tom Tunney (44th). After the pay increase sets in, all three will make $119,984.

Historically, few Council members reject pay raises.

In 2008, facing a $420 million deficit — and more than 1,000 layoffs — few aldermen chose to forgo a 6.2% raise, even when the city budget director personally asked them to do so.

“Kiss my royal,” was the response the late Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) gave the request when a reporter asked him about it. “Under no circumstances will I give up my pay raise.”

The pay raises were first linked to the inflation rate in 2006.

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