Chicagoans were engrossed Wednesday in the news of the early release of convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from prison. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot said of all the things the city needs to focus on, “dealing with Rod Blagojevich doesn’t even make a list.”
“Every week, every month there are men and women who return from incarceration,” Lightfoot said. “None of those people are going to get the kind of attention that you’re apparently going to pay to Rod Blagojevich, and that’s a shame.”
Lightfoot said the former governor used his office in a “shameful” way and has not shown “one ounce of contrition” for his crimes, which included shaking down the head of a children’s hospital and trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by former President Barack Obama.
Despite all the hoopla at the Ravenswood Manor bungalow where the former inmate now resides once again, Chicago’s local government kept on governing as the City Council met for their regular monthly meeting. They approved a set of changes put forward by Lightfoot to a program launched by her predecessor known as the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. It aims to get more capital investment to neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides.
Here’s what else happened at City Hall on Wednesday.
Push to extend bottled water tax
People who have escaped the city’s bottled water tax by ordering online may have to start paying up. Lightfoot is proposing changes to the law’s language to close a legal loophole that allows for tax-free purchases when ordered from outside Chicago city limits.
The measure introduced Wednesday would extend the $0.05 per-bottle tax to online retailers, like Amazon, or other retailers who ship bottled water to people in Chicago. The ordinance would close a similar loophole that allowed people to escape the city’s sliding scale tax on alcoholic beverages if they were shipped from outside the city.
Aldermen celebrate Black History Month
Most members of Chicago’s black caucus came to City Hall Wednesday dressed in traditional African clothing to celebrate their ancestry. The first order of business was a resolution honoring journalist and author Nikole Hannah-Jones and her work shining a light on injustices faced by African Americans, including The 1619 Project for The New York Times.
Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward and chairman of the black caucus, thanked Hannah-Jones for educating the public about the history and legacy of slavery.
“I never knew what it was like to pick cotton,” Ervin said. “We don’t know and understand the toil that our people went through to get to where we are today.”
Then Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward, stood and explained to Ervin and the rest of the council that she picked cotton as a young girl in the south.
“If you want to, call it slavery. I call it surviving,” Mitts said. “I call it what we had to do when you didn’t have anything else to do.”
Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward, was the lone white aldermen to speak in support of the resolution honoring Hannah-Jones and urged his colleagues to do more.
“It’s not enough for us, as white people, to apologize,” Cappleman said. “We have to make amends. If we don’t, it will haunt us, and it will haunt the next generation and the next generation.”
More than $12 million in legal settlements approved
Every month, aldermen are asked by city lawyers to approve payouts in legal cases involving the City of Chicago. Lightfoot more than doubled the settlement line item in her 2020 spending plan to $153 million.
The largest of the settlements approved Wednesday will go to Terrance Etheredge, who was paralyzed after being shot in the back during a foot chase with Chicago police officers. The $10.7 million payout is one of the largest in the past year.
Also by a vote of 37 to 13, aldermen approved a $1.2 million settlement held in committee in December. The money will go to the family of Heriberto Godinez, who died in police custody in July 2015. The incident was caught on camera, but then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did not bring charges against the officers involved.
Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, called Godinez a gang banger who terrorized Brighton Park. But Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward and chairman of the finance committee, said if the case went to trial, the city would likely spend far more than the proposed settlement.
“Nobody likes to write these checks,” Ald.Ervin said of the settlements. “If you want to roll the dice, put your money on the table. But we cannot take that position when dealing with taxpayers’ money.”
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.