Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot claims Uber is offering African American pastors a $54 million reward if they succeed in getting her to nix her proposed ride-hailing fee hike.
On Wednesday, the mayor was asked what she thinks of an alternative proposal to her so-called “congestion surcharge,” which would raise fees on certain downtown ride-hailing trips.
She shot back, "Is this the one where they are paying off black ministers with $54 million?"
A reporter explained that Uber contends its competing fee proposal would mean an even bigger windfall for the city.
"We have actually looked at the numbers and I don't think it holds any water,” Lightfoot told reporters. “And tellingly what it doesn't do is address congestion. "We are going to keep seeing Uber throwing lots of Hail Marys because what they don't want is to be regulated by the city of Chicago."
How did the mayor even know about the supposed pay-offs? The pastors told her, Lightfoot said.
Uber spokesperson Kelley Quinn called the mayor’s statement “not accurate,” adding that the $54 million number is how much money the company’s plan would raise compared to the administration’s projected $40 million.
“After months of conversations with the Mayor’s office, we are making public our plan to raise the money the City needs in a way that is more equitable and doesn’t increase fees on South and West side residents by nearly 80%,” Quinn wrote in a statement.
The dust-up between the mayor and Uber was the exclamation point on a day filled with new proposals and budget revisions at City Hall. Here's what you missed.
Banning the “aldermanic consultant”
Chicago aldermen could soon be prohibited from doing lobbying on the side under sweeping ethics changes introduced Wednesday.
The ordinance from sponsors Matt O'Shea, 19th Ward, and Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, would ban the city's 50 aldermen from lobbying or indirectly making money off lobbying any government body, including the state, county and sister agencies like the city’s school and park districts.
The restrictions come as public officials across Illinois face scrutiny for their lobbying side jobs. Democrat Luis Arroyo recently resigned his state House seat after being chaged with bribery connected to his role as a lobbyist. And federal investigators have launched a sprawling probe into electric utility ComEd’s Illinois lobbying activities.
At City Hall, WBEZ recently reported Ald. Gilbert Villegas, Jr., the mayor's floor leader, co-owns a lobbying firm that worked in Springfield on behalf of ComEd before it parted ways with the utility as the federal probe intensified.
But Villegas is now taking the side of the reformers. He's listed as a co-sponsor.
"I've already divested from my firm," Villegas said of his company, Stratagem Consulting Group LLC, though state records still listed him as a manager late Wednesday. Villegas said he never lobbied for ComEd, though he did profit from the deal.
The proposed ethics ordinance would ban aldermen from making money off such an arrangement.
Guidelines for policing legalized weed
Adults will soon be able to smoke marijuana recreationally in Illinois, so the city is amending its possession laws to fall under compliance with the state.
An ordinance was introduced setting guidelines for the Chicago Police Department in how it handles marijuana violations. It allows for the legal use and possession of no more than 30 grams (or about an ounce) of marijuana, as long as the individual isn’t driving or in a smoke-free area as defined under state law.
It would also lower the fines for people unlawfully possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis. The fine for the first offense would be $50 dollars, and a second offense within 30 days would cost $100. The current fines are five times as much.
Minimum wage kerfuffle
Wednesday’s meeting also saw Lightfoot and the City Council’s Progressive Caucus butting heads over how to increase the city’s minimum wage.
The mayor introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2021, sooner than the rest of Illinois. It would also bring youth workers and employees at city agencies into line with the higher wage.
But her proposal still has key carve-outs that aren’t sitting well with progressive aldermen.
The biggest sticking point is whether to keep what’s known as the subminimum wage for tipped workers, like restaurant servers. The Progressive Caucus’s ordinance would eliminate it. Lightfoot’s plan would keep the subminimum wage, but increase it from $6.40 to $8.40 an hour.
The dueling plans sparked a lively debate after Matt Jones, a server at a high-end downtown restaurant, spoke in support of keeping the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
“I worked hard to get to this restaurant to get to this level as a server for that to be taken away from me to make the field level or whatever… I find to be egregious and unfair,” Jones said.
His comments prompted Progressive Caucus Chair Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th Ward, to clarify that no one is trying to take tips away.
“You would still be making $15 an hour with tips on top of that,” she said.
Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, a restaurant owner and Lightfoot supporter, stood out of his chair to clarify why some servers, like Jones, don’t want to see the subminimum wage eliminated.
“The unintended consequences is to destroy the tipped server and for you to go to a flat rate with benefits,” Tunney said, noting that under the system proposed by progressive aldermen, a restaurant owner could impose a service charge, reducing how much a customer might tip.
The mayor banged her gavel several times to try to wrap up the discussion, which will likely continue given that both ordinances are still winding their way through the legislative process.
Wait, how much will my property taxes go up?
When Lightfoot presented her 2020 spending plan, aldermen cheered the fact that they weren’t being asked to pass a massive property tax increase.
But make no mistake: Property taxes will be going up. City officials estimate the average $250,000 home will see a $46 increase in their bill in 2020.
Lightfoot’s office released some more details on that this week, as it looked like her legislative agenda in Springfield might not bring her some much-needed revenue right away.
The mayor is requesting aldermen approve an $18 million increase in the city’s tax levy to support Sunday hours at the public libraries. Additionally, a vote taken under the previous mayor to increase property taxes to fund city infrastructure improvements will take effect in 2020.
Claudia Morell and Becky Vevea cover city politics for WBEZ.