Takeaways From Lightfoot's First Chicago City Council Meeting | WBEZ
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Takeaways From Lightfoot's First Chicago City Council Meeting

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot snagged a major victory Wednesday, elevating her City Council allies to key leadership roles and putting her political rival in his place.

In all, Lightfoot’s first time presiding over a full City Council meeting was a marked break from the past. She successfully engineered a major shake-up of committee chairmanships, installing long-time council outsiders into some of its most powerful positions.

Here are some key takeaways from Wednesday’s meeting.

Less circus, more business

Wednesday's meeting was a no-nonsense event — a stark contrast from how the City Council usually conducts its monthly business. There wasn’t an endless parade of ceremonial resolutions, where a police officer, student or some neighborhood leader is showered with accolades.

It took Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward, several tries to get a moment to acknowledge students who traveled from his Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side.

When Ald. Michelle Smith asked to speak in support of a symbolic resolution affirming the city’s support for abortion, Lightfoot only reluctantly yielded the floor. She then quashed the discussion from going any further, saying, “Any other comment on the motion can be addressed at the committee meeting.”

And Lightfoot had little patience for 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke’s attempt to derail a vote on her committee chairmanships. She told Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, that he was “out of order” when he told the mayor her leadership picks were drafted in a “silo” without input from aldermen.

Waguespack takes Finance Committee

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, , made a name for himself by fighting the establishment.

The Progressive Reform Caucus chairman now also holds one of the city’s most powerful jobs: Chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee.

Waguespack couldn’t be more different than his predecessor, Ald. Ed Burke. The Southwest Side aldermen is an unabashedly old-school politician, the longest-serving member in City Council history. Burke also now faces a federal corruption charge for allegedly abusing his aldermanic power to try and win clients for his private law firm.

Waguespack won't inherit the $2.3 million budget his predecessor controlled, but he still holds the city’s purse strings. Every bond offer, tax increase and city subsidy will now go through Waguespack’s committee.

Tunney controls Zoning

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, takes over the second-most powerful committee: Zoning.

Former Zoning Chair and now disgraced ex-Ald. Danny Solis used the seat to raise massive amounts of campaign money from developers.

This puts Tunney, from Wrigleyville, in a unique position to control future development in Chicago, from setting new affordable housing standards to designating where skyscrapers can be built.

It also puts the Ricketts family, owner of the Cubs, in a unique position as they continue to expand the historic ballpark. The Ricketts spent tens of thousands of dollars in negative ads this past cycle to kick Tunney off the City Council - to no avail.

Dowell snags Budget chairmanship

And 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell of the South Loop controls how city money is allocated as the new Chairman of Budget Committee. Like Finance, the Budget Committee for decades had been under the thumb of another influential alderman, Carrie Austin, 34th Ward.

Austin, who campaigned for Cook County Board President Toni Periwinkle in the mayor’s race, had lobbied to keep her chairmanship.

Lightfoot slashed the bloated Finance and Budget committee budgets and added several new committees, including one on Ethics and Good Governance, chaired by Smith.

Staying left

Lightfoot gave no indication that she’s moving away from the progressive rhetoric that got her elected.

A new so-called “fair workweek” ordinance was filed at Wednesday’s meeting. It requires employers to give hourly workers at least two weeks notice of their schedules, with penalties for businesses that fail to comply. It’s aimed at giving more stability to hourly workers. It’s backed by the Chicago Federation of Labor and opposed by the city’s business community.

“My north star is very clear,” Lightfoot said, “and I am still the kid who grew up in a low-income family that struggled every single day to make ends meet.”

“Of course that animates and guides me in thinking about policy.”

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