A power struggle between Chicago aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot played out over Zoom on Tuesday, as the city’s budget committee discussed expanding emergency spending authority for the mayor and her administration.
The proposed ordinance would give Lightfoot and top city officials the ability to edit the city budget and award contracts up to $1 million in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic — without the usual City Council approval. It would be in effect until June 30, a deadline aldermen pushed for after seeing a first draft that didn’t have a sunset provision.
The measure passed by a vote of 23 to 10 and could be voted on by the entire City Council Wednesday.
Still, the changes were not enough for those 10 members of the committee, many of them also part of the City Council’s Black Caucus. Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, said it doesn’t make sense for aldermen to give up legislative authority now that they have the ability to meet virtually.
“We have the ability to meet at the drop of a hat,” Beale said. “We’re on Zoom right now. We can Zoom two, three times a week.”
Beale and others also raised concerns about the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on people of color. WBEZ had previously reported that 70% of people who died of coronavirus in Chicago were black, even though African Americans make up less than a third of the city’s population.
“When one part of the country or city catches a cold, we have the flu,” Beale said.
A few aldermen also argued that the City Council needs to have contracting oversight to ensure minority-owned businesses are part of the response effort for things like building the temporary hospital at McCormick Place.
But Lightfoot’s budget director, Susie Park, said the city needs the power to make decisions very quickly right now. Take for instance: purchasing masks and other protective equipment.
“The time to lock in the price and tell the vendor ‘go’ is very quick,” Park said. "Those prices do change, sometimes by the hour, definitely by the day.”
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.