Facing an intense battle to win a second term as Chicago mayor, Lori Lightfoot is shedding support from the members of the City Council she relied on to advance her agenda – spotlighting criticism that her abrasive approach has alienated not only those on the other side of the ideological spectrum but also her allies.
Two members of Lightfoot’s City Council leadership team threw their backing to Lightfoot’s opponents last week, complicating her path to reelection, just days after the City Council rebuffed her effort to fast track the deal she brokered with beleaguered utility giant Commonwealth Edison.
It is nearly unprecedented for City Council committee chairs to urge the defeat of the mayor that hand-picked them for their high-profile positions, which comes with power at City Hall and an annual budget of nearly $200,000.
Lightfoot is “proud of her work in and around the 3rd Ward, and looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Ald. Dowell and the rest of the City Council in a new term,” according to a statement released by her campaign.
Of the 15 City Council members who currently lead a committee, just five have endorsed Lightfoot’s reelection: Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward); Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward); Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward); Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward.) In all, eight of the 50 members of the Chicago City Council are backing Lightfoot.
Six committee chairs have not endorsed anyone for mayor, and four chairs have endorsed someone other than Lightfoot.
Retiring Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) endorsed Paul Vallas, saying the former Chicago Public Schools CEO would work “hand in hand with the next City Council and our partners in Springfield and Washington, D.C. to reestablish Chicago as a world-class city.”
Although Lightfoot picked Tunney to lead the City Council’s Zoning Committee, and relied on him to convince a majority of the City Council to ratify her choice of Bally’s to build a casino in River North, Tunney strongly considered launching his own bid for the office on City Hall’s fifth floor.
When Tunney made his endorsement public, Lightfoot was fielding questions from the news media after Wednesday's City Council meeting at City Hall. Standing behind a podium with the city's seal on it, Lightfoot launched a blistering attack against Vallas that did not mention Tunney.
Three alderpeople are backing Vallas, including Tunney along with Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), who had planned to back Tunney before he dropped out of the race, and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), the only member of the City Council who was not a member of the Democratic Party when elected in 2019.
While Tunney’s decision not to back Lightfoot for mayor should have come as no surprise, the decision by 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, another of Lightfoot’s powerful and hand-picked committee chairs, to back Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for mayor sent shock waves through City Hall.
Dowell, a moderate who is running unopposed for another term representing Bronzeville, said she backed Johnson because he would invest in Chicago’s youth. Dowell is chair of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations committee, and has overseen the approval of Lightfoot’s four budgets.
“I am supporting Brandon Johnson because he is someone who doesn’t just talk the talk,” Dowell said. “He is someone that you can have a dialogue with. It is not one way or the highway. It is about sitting down with other leaders and common people in this city and trying to get things right.”
Dowell acknowledged that she could face retribution for her choice.
“I’m not scared,” Dowell said. “It ain’t no time to play.”
That is an acknowledgment that Dowell’s endorsement of Johnson is a bet that Lightfoot will become the second woman elected as Chicago mayor not to win a second term.
Dowell was one of 16 members of the City Council’s Finance Committee on June 21 to vote to roll back a law hitting drivers who zip past Chicago parks and schools monitored by speed cameras traveling between 6 mph and 9 mph above the limit with $35 tickets.
Before the final vote on the measure, Lightfoot called Dowell out by name, urging Chicagoans to “to remember these names” of City Council members she said voted to “jeopardize public safety.”
Dowell still voted to roll back the fines.
In December, Dowell was the only City Council member to vote against using property tax revenue generated downtown to help fund the $3.6 billion extension of the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to the city’s southern border near 130th Street. Dowell said it was wrong to take revenue generated by 3rd Ward residents to improve the city’s Far South Side.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas, who represents the 36th Ward and is the chair of the Economic Development Committee, and Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, who represents the 10th Ward and is the chair of the Workforce Development Committee, have both endorsed U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.
Sadlowski Garza led the fight against Lightfoot’s effort to hold a special City Council meeting to speed up consideration of the ComEd deal, saying the rush reminded her of the process that led to the approval of the much-loathed parking meter deal.
“I think we deserve more time to hash through this, whatever, 80 pages of documents,” Sadlowski Garza said. “This is a huge deal. What is the rush?”
Lightfoot clashed with several alderpeople during Wednesday’s meeting, including 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein, who pleaded for more police patrols. Instead, Lightfoot encouraged Silverstein, who is facing a tough reelection campaign, to get to know her ward’s police commanders, a sharp public rebuke for an alderperson who has been in office eight years longer than the mayor.
Like Tunney, Sadlowski Garza is also retiring. After serving as Lightfoot’s first floor leader, Villegas lost a bid to represent Illinois’ 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dowell initially ran to replace former Secretary of State Jesse White, only to drop out and run to replace former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush in the 1st District.
Lightfoot endorsed neither Villegas nor Dowell in those races.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) is running against Lightfoot for mayor, despite being tapped by her to lead the City Council’s Health and Human Relations Committee.
None of the people that Lightfoot has appointed to the City Council have endorsed the mayor’s reelection.
Lightfoot tapped Ald. Nicole Lee (11th Ward) to replace convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson; Ald. Monique Scott (24th Ward) to replace her brother, former Ald. Michael Scott, Jr.; Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd Ward) to replace former Ald. Michele Smith; and Ald. Anabel Abarca (12th Ward) to replace former Ald. George Cardenas.
That gave each of those candidates, who were little known before Lightfoot’s selection, a leg up race to win a full, four-year term on the City Council. But none of them has returned the endorsement.
“The aldermen have to figure out how they can win,” Lightfoot said, adding that she appointed people to the City Council she wanted to serve with in a second term as mayor.
Lightfoot said she speaks with all four of her appointees often, and was confident that all four would be successful.
“It does me no good if they don’t win,” Lightfoot said.