Lightfoot Mum On Lincoln Yards Next Steps

Lori Lightfoot Studio March 2019
Lori Lightfoot visits WBEZ's Morning Shift in March 2019. Manuel Martinez
Lori Lightfoot Studio March 2019
Lori Lightfoot visits WBEZ's Morning Shift in March 2019. Manuel Martinez

Lightfoot Mum On Lincoln Yards Next Steps

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Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said she’s still looking for answers Tuesday on the proposed Lincoln Yards megadevelopment, and declined to give her blessing for the City Council to sign off on the controversial project.

A deal on Lincoln Yards, which includes nearly $1 billion in public financing, could get final approval Wednesday morning, following a dramatic delay on a planned vote Monday. That was after Lightfoot called for a delay on the vote late Sunday night, and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel acquiesced.

Ald. Pat O’Connor, the interim chair of the panel that must approve the taxpayer subsidies, said Monday he’d defer to the mayor-elect on whether to forge ahead with a vote this week. Speaking on WBEZ’s The Morning Shift Tuesday morning, Lightfoot said she was still reviewing the deal.

“Look, I’m not gonna commit that I’m gonna ever get comfortable with a vote going forward tomorrow,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said her team has gone through the hundreds of pages outlining the deal, including the financial implications for the city, and has a list of questions, particularly about affordable housing and ensuring minority- and women-owned businesses will benefit from the project.

She said she’d make a public announcement on the Lincoln Yards vote later on Tuesday. Regardless of its outcome, Lightfoot suggested she could still exert influence on the project after she takes office May 20.

“You always have the power of the purse,” Lightfoot said. “You get people’s attention when you … have the ability to affect whether or not, financially, a deal is gonna go through. And that tool remains under the terms of the current contracts.”

Planning for the former industrial riverfront area between Lincoln Park and Bucktown now owned by developer Sterling Bay has been going on for over a year. But the final financial details have been getting more public in recent weeks.

Chicago aldermen are also poised to vote on another megadevelopment just south of downtown known as The 78. Combined, the two megadevelopments would dedicate nearly $2 billion in future property tax revenue to the projects.

Here are other edited highlights from Lightfoot’s conversation with Jenn White on The Morning Shift.

On Lincoln Yards and The 78

Lori Lightfoot: We have a little more due diligence to do which we will do over the course of the day, and we’ll be making some statements later this afternoon. We have a number of questions, and I’m hoping that we’ll have an opportunity to get those questions answered today, and we’ll be in a better position to evaluate whether this should go forward tomorrow or not.

I’m not going to commit that I’m ever going to get comfortable with the vote going forward tomorrow, but there are a number of open issues about how the deal is structured, what the affordable housing issues are … I’m very focused on MBE-WBE [minority and women-owned business development] issues which are not fully fleshed out.

On Springfield’s proposal for an elected school board

Lightfoot: When you think about having 21 people on a board, that strikes me as an unwieldy number. I would look for something significantly smaller than that. The bill also doesn’t answer some key questions that are really going to be essential to making sure that we are replacing the current system with something that actually can function and is going to be an effective voice for parents and other stakeholders. For example, how will people be elected? What are we going to do about campaign finance? We don’t want to turn school board elections into multimillion dollar exercises that are going to exclude parents. So this is one where the devil absolutely is in the details, and the proposal passed out of the House sponsored by Rep. Martwick doesn’t go nearly far enough in addressing any of those particulars. I don’t support that bill.

On signing an executive order to end aldermanic prerogative

Lightfoot: I’m not naive in thinking that by the mere stroke of a pen, one can end a practice that has been an entrenched part of doing business in the city of Chicago as long as people can remember. But, you’ve gotta start somewhere … the piece of it that is important is it really depends upon complicity and compliance of the executive branch. So, I’m going to end that symbiotic relationship. But there are other steps that we’ll take to make sure that it doesn’t continue to be this unilateral check on virtually everything — and I wouldn’t say check, I’d say stranglehold — on virtually everything that happens in a ward. Obviously aldermen have to play an important role in representing their constituents. They must have notice and an opportunity to be heard, but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t give this undue influence and power that is absolutely corruptive.

On her first 100 days

Lightfoot: My 100 days started April 3. So, obviously there are a lot of initiatives that we will only be able to do once we are actually officially sworn in, but the hard work of transforming the city, making sure we understand what the problems are, what the issues, what the opportunities are, we’ve already begun that work. Obviously public safety is a big part of it, the schools are another. Making sure that we have a real plan to tackle the significant challenges regarding our municipal finance intentions, that work has already begun.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Libby Berry and Alex Keefe. Click play to hear the full conversation.