Lightfoot Defends Emergency Powers as Progressive Caucus Pushes Back


Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended her push for emergency powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in an interview with WTTW News on Tuesday afternoon to tout her newest effort to get Chicagoans to stay home and stop the spread of the virus.

A majority of the 18-member Progressive Reform Caucus called on Lightfoot to adopt a more “collaborative approach” in a statement released Tuesday.

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“It has been illustrated that including our voices, during the unilateral decision-making during this crisis, could have changed the narrative for the better,” according to the statement. “Decisions have not been made with adequate participation by the City Council. Nor is there a plan to address the very communities that have been disproportionately impacted — predominantly the African-American community.”

However, caucus Chair Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th Ward) and former caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) did not sign on to the statement. Both voted to grant the mayor the emergency powers she requested.

Waguespack is chair of the powerful Finance Committee and Sadlowski-Garza is chair of the Workforce Development Committee. Both are close allies of the mayor.

Lightfoot said she had briefed aldermen more than two dozen times since the start of the pandemic, and did not understand why aldermen were critical of her approach.

“In this pandemic, nobody should need a golden ticket to act,” Lightfoot said. 

The 29-21 vote Friday to approve the emergency powers ordinance is the closest in recent City Council history, as tensions between aldermen and the mayor continue to rise during the pandemic that forced the meeting to take place virtually.

The measure gives Lightfoot’s administration the authority to approve emergency contracts of up to $1 million to respond to the pandemic and to spend federal and state relief grants to respond to the pandemic, and move funds within city departments if she deems it necessary.

“In many instances, we can’t wait six hours,” Lightfoot said, adding that she used the expanded authority to purchase 1 million cloth masks. Each alderman will get 5,000 masks to hand out to residents of their wards facing the greatest risks from the virus.

Although Lightfoot was elected to chart a more progressive course for Chicago, progressive aldermen have proved to be the source of the most concentrated opposition to her initiatives and policy proposals.

The Progressive Caucus statement said the emergency powers ordinance “most certainly lacked a progressive voice as a super majority of the progressive caucus and a majority of Black and Latino caucuses did not support it.”

“Simply put, we need more voices in the process that impact the entire city but especially the marginalized,” according to the statement from the Progressive Caucus. “Decisions must be inclusive and that means understanding, in real time, exactly what is occurring and what we are doing in black and brown communities while major economic shifts are underway.”

Lightfoot also blocked an effort by Progressive Caucus member Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) to schedule the next City Council meeting for May 6, which would allow the City Council to meet twice a month, rather than once a month. The City Council is not scheduled to meet again until May 20.

“Simply put, we need more voices in the process that impact the entire city but especially the marginalized,” according to the statement from the Progressive Caucus. “Decisions must be inclusive and that means understanding, in real time, exactly what is occurring and what we are doing in black and brown communities while major economic shifts are underway.”

Also during her interview with WTTW News, Lightoot touted her effort to offer what she called “virtual field trips” to allow Chicagoans sticking close to home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus to get beyond the locked doors of Chicago’s most loved — and missed — institutions.

The first episode in the “Stay Home. Hit Play.” series, set to air weekly on WTTW starting Friday, features Lightfoot touring the Shedd Aquarium with CEO Bridget Coughlin and meeting perhaps the biggest star to emerge during the pandemic: rockhopper penguin Wellington. 

“There are only so many shows you can binge watch,” Lightfoot said, after taping the second episode of the show at the Field Museum.

Lightfoot said she and the crew worked to maintain social distancing, wearing masks between tapings and working to stay at least 6 feet apart.

Lightfoot is also set to tour the Lincoln Park Zoo, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Museum of Science and Industry, the National Museum of Mexican Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The series is backed financially by Citadel, the financial firm of major Chicago museum philanthropist Ken Griffin.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]


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