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Chicago City Council

Alderpersons attend a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Pat Nabong

How Thursday’s Chicago City Council was a big moment for progressives

It was a big moment for grassroots organizing at Chicago City Hall Thursday.

A slew of long-sought proposals supported by progressive alderpersons and championed for years by community organizers were introduced or advanced at the four-plus hour meeting.

“When you do take time to kind of reflect and think about how far we’ve come and where we’re at now, it definitely is a momentous moment,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, and Mayor Brandon Johnson’s floor leader.

Proposals that hit City Hall Thursday run the gamut from efforts to fund homeless prevention to increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers to a working group to explore the so-called Treatment Not Trauma mental health initiative.

These initiatives, some facing serious and significant opposition, have a long road ahead. Still veteran and freshman alderpersons alike in the progressive caucus are celebrating with cautious optimism.

“The past eight years have sort of put me in a fight or flight mode, and I’ve just been fighting the whole time. And so my cortisol levels are all messed up,” Ramirez-Rosa joked. “But we can’t rest on our laurels … we have a lot more work to do.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, 33rd Ward, is in her second term in office and said while it is a moment to celebrate, she and the progressive caucus — which is well shy of the city council majority vote needed to pass legislation on their own — have their work cut out for them to see their and the mayor’s priorities through the finish line.

“It does feel like a really important moment and then at the same time, I am very aware of all the work that it is going to take not only to figure out how to build it, but also how to make sure that we’re convincing all of our colleagues that this is the route to take,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, attends a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Pat Nabong

Bring Chicago Home

Organizers in black shirts with the yellow slogan “Bring Chicago Home” across the chest have long shown up in droves to City Council meetings, led by multiple mayors at this point, to advocate for their proposal.

If passed, the ordinance introduced Thursday would prompt a citywide referendum next March asking voters whether the city should increase the transfer tax when properties valued over $1 million are sold, and decrease for lesser valued properties. If voters gave it the go-ahead, the revenue would create a dedicated stream to fund homeless prevention services.

Under the proposal, the tax rate for the proportion of property valued at:

  • Under $1 million would decrease to 0.6%, or $3 for every $500 of the transfer price. This is a 20% decrease from the current tax rate of .75%.

  • Between $1 to $1.5 million would increase the tax rate by 2 1⁄2 times the current rate to 2%, or $10 for every $500 of the transfer price.

  • Over $1.5 million would increase the tax rate by 4 times the current rate to 3%, or $15 for every $500 of the transfer price.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially supported the effort, but changed course along the way of her term. At multiple junctures, she used her mayoral power to block the proposal from even having a committee hearing — one of the first steps for legislation’s passage.

The tiered proposal still has a long way to go with business groups, like the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, calling it harmful. If the council proposal passes, progressives would have to convince a majority of Chicago voters to pass it, and would then have to go back to council to pass the actual policy themselves.

Johnson’s Wednesday budget forecast also estimated the real estate transfer tax would end the year about 37% under budget, or $82.1 million, because of a slow down in the real estate market.

Still, Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward, is counting the fact it has finally been introduced as an initial win.

“It says that democracy is working,” Hadden said.

South Shore Housing Preservation Ordinance

Three years ago organizers successfully passed an ordinance to protect Woodlawn residents who feared displacement from gentrification due to the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

Now, a more sweeping ordinance has been introduced to implement protections for South Shore residents who live in a zip code that has had the most evictions in Cook County since 2019.

“Due to the Obama Presidential Center being built, gentrification is already rearing its ugly head,” said organizer Linda Tinsley. “We must prepare decent, affordable housing.”

The proposal, sponsored by 5th Ward Ald. Desmon Yancy, would reserve vacant city lots for the development of affordable housing, provide property tax relief grants, pilot an office to advocate on tenants’ behalf and more.

The ordinance would establish several funds that would require millions in appropriations, but Yancy said he hopes to pass the ordinance as soon as possible.

“We’ve got an administration who understands the need to preserve housing and preserve communities. We’ve got a progressive Council, which is more progressive than it has been in the past,” Yancy said. “And so when I think about the timing, I think the timing is perfect.”

In a statement, an Obama Foundation spokesperson said longtime residents should have tools and policies in place to remain in the area, but also suggested homeowners should be able to benefit from any gains that happen with the creation of the center.

“At the same time, we want to see property owners whose homes have been in their families sometimes for generations be able to realize gains on these assets that are often a family’s greatest path to wealth creation,” the spokesperson said.

One Fair Wage

An ordinance to eliminate the so-called “subminimum wage” for tipped workers — one of Johnson’s campaign promises — is once again moving forward in the legislative process.

The proposal known as “One Fair Wage” and sponsored by Ald. Jessie Fuentes, 26th Ward, was officially sent to the Committee on Workforce Development Thursday after a procedural maneuver in July was used to delay the legislation.

Currently, tipped workers, like restaurant servers, earn between $9 to $9.48 per hour (depending on the size of their employer) compared to their non-tipped counterparts who make $15 to $15.80 an hour. Employers are supposed to make up the difference if a tipped worker’s wages don’t meet the minimum.

Under Fuentes’ ordinance, employers would have two years to phase-in paying their tipped employees the full minimum wage.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has argued the proposal would cause restaurants to raise prices and reduce their staff in order to shoulder the increased payroll costs. The association instead called for fines to be imposed on restaurants that aren’t complying with the current law.

Peace Book Ordinance

At budget town halls for years now, members of the organization Good Kids Mad City have made their case for the so-called “Peace Book Ordinance” that has thus far failed to make it through the legislative process.

Re-introduced Thursday, the ordinance would create a “book” of online resources to engage kids in their communities. In its place, former mayor Lightfoot created “My Chi. My Future.” which lists jobs and activities for young people, but has dissatisfied peace book proponents who say it doesn’t go far enough.

The ordinance would also create a commission of violence interrupters, mediators and more who would coordinate peacekeeping actions on a block-by-block basis in each Chicago ward.

Rodriguez-Sanchez championed a previous version of the proposal under Lightfoot but was unsuccessful.

“In terms of Good Kids Mad City … they have been working on this for a very long time and they know that every step might advance the fight but it hasn’t actually worked like that, because when it was introduced last time, it actually didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “So we have some work to do to prove to them that we are their partners and that we are going to fight for this to happen.”

WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel and Tessa Weinberg cover Chicago city government and politics.

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