A special meeting of the full City Council Friday morning quickly devolved into a fighting match that pitted Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her supporters against a group of aldermen who characterized the mayor as a “dictator.”
“This is not a dictatorship,” said Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, of Pullman, when he requested an opportunity to explain the items before the City Council.
The meeting was called not by the mayor, but by a group of four aldermen who said Chicago is in a “state of emergency” this summer.
Relying on a rarely-used rule in the council’s rule book, Aldermen Raymond Lopez, Beale, Anthony Napolitano and Leslie Hairston earlier this week filed the necessary paperwork with the city clerk to hold the meeting.
Usually, the City Council is on break for the month of August, and it was unclear if the sponsors of the meeting would have enough support to garner a quorum or the council’s 50 aldermen. When WBEZ reached out to several council members Thursday, many had said they were doubtful there’d be enough of them present to hold the meeting. But 47 signed on to the virtual meeting, despite making prior plans. One alderman was in the middle of a press conference, another had a golf outing and another was headed to a fishing trip.
“We are here because we have not had a public discussion on what the plan is for the city of Chicago,” Lopez explained to his colleagues. “This is not personal against anyone in this room, but it is personal for everyone who calls themselves a Chicagoan trying to save their city.”
Between violent clashes with protesters and police and repeated incidents of looting downtown and along neighborhood shopping corridors, aldermen say they’re being bombarded with demands for action.
Lopez said constituents are demanding to know how the city is spending its $1.7 billion police budget and the proper venue is the City Council — not the street where protesters are put in danger by violent “agitators.”
Three items were up for consideration: a resolution calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to officially declare a state of emergency and deploy the Illinois National Guard to help police the streets of Chicago; a resolution demanding the council’s budget committee hold monthly subject matter hearings on public safety; and a call for regular reports from Cook County’s public safety officials explaining how they’re dealing with this surge of summer violence.
“There seems to be no end to the violence in this city of Chicago,” Beale said, adding that police officers are already working 12-hour days with vacation days canceled. “Calling for a state of emergency is just asking for the National Guard to come in and assist our business districts in certain areas that are important to the community, to free up the resources that are so badly needed in our communities.”
But despite getting the meeting called, the aldermen’s agenda proposals got nowhere.
The first two items failed to garner enough support for immediate consideration and were sent directly to committee. The mayor adjourned the meeting before aldermen could even consider the third item. As the city clerk was reading the roll to adjourn the meeting, Beal and Lopez could be heard in the background saying there was one more item under consideration. The feed cut out as Beal was making a plea to the mayor.
Echoing a common sentiment felt among aldermen, Andre Vazquez, 40th Ward, said he felt the city’s public safety plan isn’t being shared with the Council. “We need as much information as we can, and I am just really tired of getting in from press conferences.”
At a post-meeting availability for the press, the mayor defended her decision to adjourn, saying, “A motion to adjourn is germane at any point.”
The mayor added that the proper venue for these resolutions is the committee process — not a full City Council meeting. Lightfoot denied the characterization that she’s alienating aldermen and acting unilaterally on public safety issues.
“My administration has been more open, has reached out to aldermen more often, we do more briefings and we continue to do that,” the mayor said.
Claudia Morell covers City Hall for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.