Mayor Lightfoot ‘Concerned’ About Feasibility of Chicago Casino

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she will seek public input on possible locations for a Chicago casino in a survey her office plans to release Friday.

“This is going to be a robust survey that is really the first step in thinking about where a casino should be in Chicago,” Lightfoot said during an appearance Thursday on “Chicago Tonight.” “That’s part of what the feasibility study is going to study: where is the best location.”

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Last week, the mayor named five potential sites on the South and West sides for an outside group to study, but two aldermen have already nixed sites in their wards. Lightfoot said those sites aren’t the only possibilities – a casino could ultimately land elsewhere in the city. But she says a casino might not even be financially viable, with a structure that calls for a private operator to keep only a third of the revenue, with a third going to the city and a third to the state.

“But really, can we finance a casino based upon this tax structure that the General Assembly has put in place so far. We’re concerned about it. We think it takes too much money out of the pockets of a potential casino operator before the doors would even open. So that’s what we’re concerned about: Can we even finance this deal in the first instance,” she said.

The mayor, fresh off two legislative victories at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, took on a wide range of other subjects in her first extended, live interview with “Chicago Tonight.”

As a result of an ethics ordinance – one of two ordinances that passed unanimously on Wednesday – embattled Ald. Ed Burke will have to choose between his property tax appeals firm, Klafter and Burke, and remaining an alderman, or else face $5,000 daily fines.

“I have no idea whether or not (Burke will) comply willingly, but the rules are very clear, and we’ll enforce them,” Lightfoot said. “It is designed to go after people like Ed Burke and others who decide to put their own pecuniary interests ahead of the issues of the taxpayers.”

The ethics rules also increase fines on violators and expand the city inspector general’s powers to investigate City Council committees. 

An ordinance that gives low- and middle-income workers in Chicago more scheduling stability also passed by a 50-0 vote Wednesday. Starting next year, companies will have to set their employees’ schedules 10 days in advance or pay penalties to those employees. But the law also allows a worker and manager to opt out of the new requirements if they put the agreement in writing.

“We have ways that employees who feel like they’re being unfairly pressured (to opt out) or not being treated fairly can talk to us anonymously, so I feel confident that we’ve got a good set of protections. But that’s what the review period will be, to make sure there’s no gaming of the system,” Lightfoot said.

Along with Wednesday’s accomplishments came controversy. First, the mayor was caught on a hot mic referring to Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Patrick Murray as “that FOP clown.” She subsequently said it was not appropriate to make those comments out loud, but stopped short of a full apology. On Thursday, the head of the national FOP called on Lightfoot to apologize, telling the Chicago Sun-Times she should “conduct herself with more dignity and less immaturity.”

“The FOP and I have a long history, and I’ve committed to (FOP) President (Kevin) Graham that we’re going to work cooperatively together,” she said on “Chicago Tonight.”

The mayor also snapped at a public commenter who interrupted her Wednesday by telling him, tersely, not to “ever talk to me that way while I do the business of the people.”

“This man, and I emphasize man, said, ‘I need your full attention’ when I went for my notepad to write a note to myself,” Lightfoot said about the exchange. “I thought that was rude and frankly sexist. And I’m not going to let anyone talk to me that way. Women are denigrated all the time in the workplace.”

During her appearance on “Chicago Tonight,” Lightfoot also addressed the city’s high – but improving – violent crime stats, saying it’s “apples and oranges” to compare Chicago to New York, a city with a much lower homicide rate. She said New York doesn’t have the same history of segregation, racial issues and disinvestment that Chicago has.

Lightfoot has been on the job 65 days and says she’s enjoying it more than she thought she would, and attends Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Sky games with her family during her downtime.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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