Chicago CIty Hall negotiations over 2021 budget get ugly

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Politics has always been a give-and-take game: You give me something I need, I give you something you need, and somewhere in the midst of all the horse-trading and compromise, the public business gets done.

Here in Chicago, that style of backroom dealing has a long and storied history, for better and for worse. But the behind-the-scenes maneuvering designed to secure aldermanic support for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s upcoming budget brings hardheaded bargaining to a new and depressing level, even by Chicago standards.

According to reporting in both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, the mayor is taking a carrot-and-stick-on-steroids approach with aldermen to gain the 26 votes she needs to pass a $12.8 billion budget that includes a $94 million tax increase.

In a Nov. 11 conference call with the City Council’s Black Caucus, for instance, the mayor threatened to play hardball when choosing projects in her $3.7 billion capital plan. The message was, if you don’t support my budget, your ward won’t be prioritized. Or, to put it another way:

"Don’t come to me for shit for the next three years" if you don’t support the budget, several aldermen recalled her saying.

Lightfoot certainly wouldn’t be the first mayor in Chicago history to twist arms quite so forcefully. The Tribune correctly noted that "City Council members wondering whether a ‘no’ vote on a mayor’s budget could lead to some form of retribution is nothing new at City Hall, but some aldermen were surprised by the mayor making the threat so directly." As a self-styled reformer, this kind of my-way-or-the-highway brinkmanship isn’t a great look for Lightfoot, especially since she has been publicly quoted in the past as saying, "I’m not saying to somebody, ‘If I get your vote, I’ll give you this project’ or ‘You’ll get this money.’ That’s not the way I’m going to operate."

Lightfoot was elected to serve all of Chicago, not just the wards whose aldermen bow to her will. One alderman who asked not to be named put it this way to the Sun-Times: "We were all floored. It was like, wait a second. You’re supposed to represent the entire city. You’re telling us that you’re not going to represent certain areas because they don’t vote for you and or they don’t vote for your budget? That ain’t right."

No, it ain’t.

Similarly, Lightfoot has reached out to the Council’s Latino Caucus with promises to deliver on something their constituents have long wanted: the elimination of loopholes in the city’s Welcoming City ordinance. The ordinance currently prohibits Chicago police from questioning the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or other law-abiding citizens or assisting federal immigration officials. But carve-outs make exceptions for subjects of outstanding criminal warrants, people with felony convictions or people who have pending felony prosecutions. Aldermen representing Latino wards have wanted these carve-outs eliminated—but many see the mayor’s offer to nix them now as bait to win their budget support.

There’s no doubt this will be a tough vote for every member of the City Council. Lightfoot’s budget, in addition to the property tax hike, also calls for hundreds of layoffs and a bump-up in the city gas tax. But rather than threatening potential opponents into submission, the mayor would be wiser to demonstrate to aldermen that her plan is the best one to steer Chicago out of its current financial morass—and to persuade them that their constituents will benefit from it.

The mayor has earned a national reputation for calling out President Donald Trump over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis and other matters, rapping his administration for appearing to punish blue states when parceling out aid to the hardest-hit regions. Her recent actions toward dissenting aldermen mirror those of her presidential sparring partner more than she might care to admit.

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

November 18, 2020 at 11:13AM

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