Chicago Aldermen Delay Vote As Flap Over COVID-19 Relief Continues

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

Chicago Aldermen Delay Vote As Flap Over COVID-19 Relief Continues

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As Chicago aldermen continue to clash with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over how to spend COVID-19 relief money, Wednesday’s City Council meeting ended abruptly when two aldermen blocked a vote on an ordinance appropriating another round of federal pandemic aid.

The appropriation ordinance from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office would have carried over millions in unspent CARES ACT dollars, in addition to allocating federal grants to the city’s housing and public health departments.

But Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, and Ed Burke, 14th Ward, made sure it never made it to the floor for a vote. They used a parliamentary maneuver to table the item until the council’s next meeting, prompting the mayor’s aldermanic allies to recess until late Friday afternoon.

The continued friction comes after some aldermen and activists criticized Lightfoot last week for using federal COVID-19 relief money to cover overtime hours for cops, instead of spending it on housing relief, business support and vaccine outreach.

When the grants were up for debate in the Budget Committee last week, Burke took issue with the lack of data from the budget office to explain how the department managed to wrack up $281 million in salary and fringe benefits as part of the city’s coronavirus response.

He also took issue with the mayor calling the opposition from some in the council “dumb.”

Speaking after Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Lightfoot accused the two Southwest Side aldermen of thwarting aid for residents who are struggling to pay rent and businesses in need of support.

“Make no mistake. Come Friday, I’m very confident that we will get this done,” the mayor said in a post-meeting press conference.

Due to the early adjournment, not much work got done by aldermen Wednesday. Still, the City Council meeting stretched on for nearly four hours as aldermen commemorated the late Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis, celebrated Black History Month and poured accolades on Streets and Sanitation workers for their work clearing city streets during the recent snowstorm.

Only the Finance, Budget and Human Relations Committees were given the opportunity to report out ordinances to the full Council for final votes. The two police-misconduct related legal settlements totalling $575,000 advanced on divided roll call votes. A $3.5 million dollar contract with Rush University Medical Center for COVID-19 variant testing advanced unanimously, as did a long-term water supply agreement with Joliet.

Even though it was cut short, Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t without drama.

The mayor was once again caught on a hot mic. She was heard to say “you’ve got to be f*** kidding me,” as freshman Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward, made comments about Black History Month.

“Sorry to disappoint the Twitter trolls,” Lightfoot later said of the comment, explaining that her profanity had nothing to do with what the alderman was talking about. The last time the mayor was caught on a hot mic, she referred to a police union leader as a “clown” during the public comment portion of the meeting.

And before the meeting concluded, there was a last-minute question by Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, about plans for in-person meetings.

He said if schools are back to in-person learning and state lawmakers have been conducting business in person, then the City Council should, too – especially as the vaccine becomes more readily available. The mayor said aldermen could return to the chambers around April. Though City Council members have been given the opportunity to get vaccinated, many staffers in the City Clerk’s office would need to be inoculated in order to make it safe, the mayor explained.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.