After almost two intense months of sheltering in place, it seems like the country’s slowly getting back to normal—at least when it comes to political power plays.
In Washington, President Trump, Mitch McConnell, and other congressional Republicans inserted language giving massive tax breaks to the fabulously wealthy into the bill intended to help the most vulnerable survive the pandemic.
And on the local front, Mayor Lightfoot used the crisis to strong-arm the City Council into passing an ordinance giving her virtual control over millions of federal and state pandemic relief funds without council approval.
Now I’m not equating Lightfoot with Trump—good lord, even Mayor Rahm wasn’t that bad.
But I would say that both acts come straight from the Book of Rahm—chapter one, verse one—where our former mayor advises to never allow a good crisis to go to waste.
Though, at the moment, I can’t think of anything even remotely good about this pandemic.
The Trump/McConnell machinations give more money to the 1 percent, while the new Chicago ordinance gives more power to the mayor—something that neither party needs.
Let’s deal with the Chicago ordinance.
It stems from what many people call the Dave Glowacz executive order to give the mayor control over COVID-fighting funds.
Actually, I’m the only person who calls it that—just my way of tipping my hat to Mr. Glowacz, my old podcasting partner, who alerted the city to the mayor’s executive order in an article that recently ran right here in the Reader.
In that article, Glowacz quoted several old budget hands who gently suggested—clearly not wanting to infuriate the short-tempered mayor—that it might be more prudent (and legal) if she convinced the council to concede such authority to her. As opposed to, you know, ripping it out of their hands.
So last week Mayor Lightfoot proposed an ordinance to, among other things, give her the authority to enter into contracts of up to $1 million without council approval.
Immediately, her proposal was denounced as a power grab by the unlikely alliance of Aldermen Raymond Lopez and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa—the former being a conservative Democrat from the southwest side and the other a Democratic Socialist from Logan Square.
They used a parliamentary maneuver to prevent the council from voting on the ordinance at last Wednesday’s meeting.
And how did Mayor Lightfoot react? Man, I haven’t seen such a glorious mayoral eruption since Mayor Daley blew his stack at Alderman Robert Fioretti for—you know, I can’t remember why Daley got so angry at Fioretti.
I just know it’s so funny that every now and then I watch it on YouTube just for a good laugh. I know, I need a hobby.
Anyway, after Lopez and Ramirez-Rosa delayed the matter, Lightfoot let ’em have it, calling them “selfish and shameful . . . grandstanders” who, unlike the other, better-behaved aldermen, are putting “their own selfish interests ahead” of “helping our fellow Chicagoans who are literally sick and dying.” And so forth.
As time goes on, Mayor Lightfoot’s short temper is starting to remind me more and more of Mayor Daley’s. Though it’s true, she still has not threatened to stick a rifle up some reporter’s ass—as Daley did to Mick Dumke. Then again, she’s only been in office for about a year.
As I can see it, the most compelling argument for giving her the new authority is that in this crisis the city may have to make an emergency purchase upon which lives will hinge, and if she has to wait for the council to give her the go-ahead, people will die.
You hear that Lopez and Ramirez-Rosa? Those deaths will be on your hands!
I had this vision of the mayor on the phone negotiating with a shrewd and evil broker in something like face masks who’s giving her one hour to put down the cash. Otherwise, he’s selling his masks to Rockford.
In short, the council had to pass this emergency legislation so she has easy access to a stash of cash she can dip into anytime she wants.
And I thought that’s what the TIF program was for.
The other argument is that President Trump, Governor Pritzker, and Cook County president Preckwinkle have emergency powers in the pandemic—so she should get ’em too.
Well, at the risk of getting the mayor really mad at me, I’m not convinced. I mean, of all the problems Chicago faces, I’d say mayoral helplessness in the face of a too-powerful council would not make the top, oh, 10,000. Largely because it’s a problem that does not exist.
The vote went down at a virtual council meeting last Friday, and the mayor prevailed by a margin of 29-21—an astounding display of defiance. Apparently, Lightfoot has managed to rankle Democratic Socialists, progressives, several members of the Black caucus, and even Alderman Ed Burke, who probably will never forgive her for humiliating him after she took office.
Arguably, her finest moment as mayor.
I can’t be too outraged because at least she agreed to have her newfound spending authority terminate after June.
Also, it’s going to be a field day for Glowacz, Dumke, and all the other investigative journalists in town who will be filing FOIA requests from here to eternity trying to see which mayoral friend got what contract.
Think of it as Chicago’s very own journalistic payroll protection plan.
Lastly, it’s hard for me to get really worked up over a Daley-like power grab when we have a lunatic in the White House who recently recommended fighting the virus by ingesting disinfectant.
As you can see, we’re still a long way from normal. v