Chicago aldermen urged to oppose Lightfoot budget; activists

Chicago aldermen were urged Wednesday to vote against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $11.65 billion budget because it breaks her campaign promise to re-open shuttered mental health clinics and tax wealthy corporations and non-profits to pay for it.

Lightfoot called the strident opposition an extension of both the 2019 mayoral campaign and the 11-day teachers strike — as well as a prelude to her 2023 re-election campaign.

United Working Families, which is marshaling opposition to her 2020 budget, is, she said, “closely aligned with” the Chicago Teachers Union.

“This is what they’ve been saying from the moment of my inauguration. … I would expect that they will have a continual drumbeat of complaints throughout my term … until they support and announce a candidate in opposition to me in the next election,” the mayor said Wednesday after a brief City Council meeting primarily held to tee up her budget for a final vote Tuesday.

“What we can do is make sure that … residents and voters actually get the facts” and not let them be “obscured by noise.”

But what about the sum and substance of the complaint: that she promised to re-open the six mental health clinics famously shuttered by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, then decided to keep them closed?

Instead, Lightfoot has earmarked $9.3 million to increase capacity at the five remaining city clinics and support “20 trauma-informed centers of care” in “areas of greatest need’ impacted by violence and poverty.

“It’s invalid, in part, because it’s untethered from the reality of the fiscal challenges that we have in our city,” the mayor said.

“It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and lob bombs. It’s much more difficult to govern — and particularly govern in a way that brings fairness and reality and fiscal prudence to a process.”

Lightfoot said the group is “entitled to their opinion,” but she plans to forge ahead with what’s “in the best interest of all residents and not just a certain constituency.”

That “certain constituency” includes the CTU, Grassroots Collaborative, United Working Families, ONE Northside, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Reimagine Chicago.

Their biggest beef was the still-shuttered mental health clinics and the mayor’s failure to bring back the employee head tax and charge universities and wealthy non-profits, which are exempt from paying property taxes, so-called “in-lieu-of fees.”

United Working Families held a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 urging aldermen to vote against ⁦Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2020⁩ budget.

United Working Families held a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday, urging aldermen to vote against ⁦Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2020⁩ budget.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

“These are the wrong choices. And now, it is time for City Council to make the right choice and vote `no’ on a budget that is bad for working people and black and brown Chicagoans,” said Emma Tai, executive director of the United Working Families.

Abbie Illenberger, deputy director of the Grassroots Collaborative, noted Lightfoot “stood with this coalition back in January” at a town hall meeting held by Reimagine Chicago.

“She signed a pledge card saying that she would follow through on the promises she made to us there that night. So this discussion with the mayor has been going on since January. And we will continue it until we win the changes that Chicagoans need,” Illenberger said.

“We expected a budget that would re-open the public mental health clinics. She promised that. We expected a budget that would ask corporations to pay their fair share and take the burden off of working families. So, this is not what we expected. But we are ready to continue fighting.”

Wednesday’s news conference was held by the same groups that joined forces with progressive aldermen on Sept. 10 to unveil a $4.5 billion wish-list of revenue-generating ideas that, they claimed, would level the playing field between Chicago’s haves and have-nots.

It included: a 3.5% city income tax on Chicagoans and suburbanites earning more than $100,000-a-year; a financial transaction tax; a 66% increase in Chicago’s hotel tax and a revived employee head tax at four times the rate it was when it was abolished.

Against that backdrop, Illenberger scoffed at Lightfoot’s claim that the group’s demands were “untethered from the reality of the fiscal challenges” Chicago faces.

“She left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. She is letting a (Lincoln Yards) TIF deal go through that takes $2 billion out of the city and the school budgets over the next 20 years. There were bold options … that she promised to Chicago that she did not pursue,” Illenberger said.

Tai had a warning for aldermen who dare oppose the group’s agenda.

“Ask Joe Moore. Ask Deb Mell. Ask Pat O’Connor,” she said, referring to three incumbent aldermen, all targeted for defeat by United Working Families. All lost.