Protesters filled the streets outside Chicago’s City Hall as aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot conducted another virtual meeting to grapple with major issues, including how to spend $1.1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money and how to help renters facing eviction.
But before taking up the items on the official agenda, aldermen passed a resolution to every year celebrate Juneteenth, marking the abolition of slavery in the U.S. Dozens of aldermen spoke passionately about the holiday.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward, spoke for exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, killing him last month. She called out other aldermen for making light of recent looting and unrest spurred by Floyd’s death. Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st Ward, recently appeared on TV with boxes of popcorn, a clear reference to the Chicago police officers caught on camera sleeping, drinking coffee and eating popcorn inside U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush’s office while businesses nearby were pillaged.
“I don’t think they would have liked it one bit if the looting was going on in their neighborhood, and we came and brought lawn chairs and popcorn to watch the destruction of the community,” she said.
Hairston said City Council needs to do much more to end structural racism in Chicago.
“It is time for this city council to wake up and stop being dismissive; stop sweeping under the rug people who are advancing progressive legislation; stop letting things linger in committee,” she said.
Still, an ordinance that would make Juneteenth an official city holiday is languishing in committee. Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward, introduced that ordinance last November and Hairston and 40 other aldermen signed on as co-sponsors.
Hadden said she still hopes to make June 19 a paid holiday for all city employees.
“All these private companies now are making Juneteenth a paid holiday,” Hadden said. “So I feel we might have a shot.”
City Council talked about Juneteenth for nearly an hour. There were several other important measures debated and approved Wednesday. Here’s what you missed:
Distribution of federal COVID-19 money approved
Aldermen approved a measure outlining how city officials plan to distribute $1.1 billion in federal stimulus money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
Nine aldermen voted no. Eleven aldermen had earlier sent a letter to the mayor on Tuesday asking for a formal commitment that none of the discretionary money be spent on policing.
“We have heard from tens of thousands of Chicagoans who want to divest from CPD and invest instead in critical social services,” the aldermen wrote. “This demand becomes even more important in the context of federal coronavirus relief funds — we want to ensure that dollars that could otherwise go to rental assistance do not instead go towards police pay or offsetting eligible costs incurred by [the Chicago Police Department.]”
Lightfoot’s Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen during a committee hearing that the police department was not in line for CARES Act money but that it was possible that police costs could be covered by $333 million available for “ongoing direct COVID-19 response.”
Temporary eviction protections advance
The mayor’s eviction protection ordinance passed despite opposition from several South Side and black aldermen who worried about the impact to small-scale landlords, with one or two rentals.
The ordinance implements a seven-day “cooling off” period and requires landlords to negotiate with tenants who have fallen behind on rent because of COVID-19. It would sunset in 60 days and is designed to protect Chicagoans once the state’s eviction moratorium lifts.
But while a dozen aldermen voted no on the ordinance, several others said it doesn’t go nearly far enough to protect renters.
A group of progressive aldermen, several who also align with the Democratic Socialists of America, are pushing a permanent eviction ordinance that would require landlords to provide “just cause” when evicting a tenant. During a committee hearing Tuesday, they expressed frustration that Lightfoot is pushing a different ordinance that only requires landlords to give 90 days notice, instead of 30 days when evicting renters.
“We have thousands of people that are terrified of an eviction,” Byron Sigcho Lopez, 25th Ward, said Tuesday. “We had a bill that we have been talking with the administration for months… This is a competing bill the administration is trying to put in front of us after we had months of conversations.”
Both permanent eviction ordinances still need to go through committee hearings and Council approval.
Post-pandemic drinking rules adjusted
Aldermen approved two ordinances making it easier for people to get their drink on in the new socially-distanced world. The first allows bars that don’t serve food to open their patios and serve patrons. The second gives bars and restaurants the ability to sell cocktails-to-go.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @beckyvevea.