The Chicago City Council closed the book on pandemic-ravaged 2020 with a flurry of business and a bit of virtual fireworks.
The fireworks came early, disrupting a festive mood that saw aldermen exchanging jokes about attending the Zoom meeting in their pajamas and bemoaning the fact that this was the first year anyone could remember without a City Council Christmas party.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot got into a shouting match with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) over a police raid — at the wrong address — that is almost certain to trigger a costly settlement down the road, in part because it involved an innocent woman being handcuffed while naked.
Sigcho-Lopez didn’t seem to care that the raid at the home of Anjanette Young had nothing to do with the three settlements tied to allegations of police wrongdoing that were up for a vote Wednesday.
He seized the opportunity to unload on Lightfoot for directing her Law Department to try to block WBBM-TV (Channel 2) from airing disturbing video of the incident taken by a police body camera.
“We have a systemic issue of police brutality. Ms. Young called out the police 43 times. Forty-three times to denounce that this was an illegal and wrong, mistaken raid at her house,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
Lightfoot ruled the alderman “out of order” for attempting to raise a “separate issue.”
Sigcho-Lopez countered he was “not out of order” and said he “had my five minutes coming.”
“I hold you accountable, Mayor, to have a hearing on the matter … because the public deserves an explanation for what happened and why the Law Department was trying to sue the plaintiff because she was trying to make this public, as was her right,” he said.
Lightfoot then accused Sigcho-Lopez of making “wildly inaccurate comments,” even though he did not “know the facts.”
“The images portrayed on that video were upsetting. No question whatsoever. But what I would ask you is to actually get the facts, sir. You have spent a significant amount of your time talking about issues for which you have no facts. And that is highly problematic. It is irresponsible. It undermines your fiduciary responsibility — not only to the Council, but to the larger city of Chicago,” she said.
That prompted Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) to chime in: “Personal attacks on members of this body are out of order.”
With that, the fireworks ended. Aldermen went on to approve the three settlements, including $300,000 to compensate a former 16-year special needs student Tased and wrestled down a flight of stairs by police officers at Marshall High School after refusing to put away her cellphone during a test.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) cast one of five “No” votes, arguing that Dnigma Howard “deserves more than we are asking her to settle for.”
That comment also got under the mayor’s skin.
“In many instances, the plaintiffs’ lawyers themselves come to the Law Department asking for settlements. So I don’t think it’s accurate or fair for comments to say that we are, in fact, forcing plaintiffs to settle. The courts are open. If plaintiffs do not want to settle, they should not,” the mayor said.
“A blanket condemnation of the Law Department … is irresponsible and, frankly based on my experience, wildly inaccurate.”
When the fireworks ended, the real work began. At the final meeting of the year, aldermen:
o Laid the groundwork to compete with Hammond for the right to sell Lake Michigan water to Joliet. If Chicago is chosen, the deal could bring $30 million in annual revenues. But it would require Joliet to build a 31-mile pipeline and bankroll other pumping station infrastructure improvements costing $592 million to $810 million.
o Granted final zoning approval for an Amazon warehouse at 24th and Halsted streets in Bridgeport, despite strenuous objections from community leaders who demanded a moratorium on logistics facilities that bring heavy truck traffic and air pollution; they want a more equitable distribution of those facilities, which are now concentrated in communities of color.
o Offered another life raft to Chicago restaurants fighting for survival during a second ban on indoor dining during the pandemic. Measures approved Wednesday extend expiring licenses until July 15; allow sidewalk cafes to continue operating until June 1; and extend through Dec. 31, 2021 an outdoor dining program allowing restaurants to set up tables, tents and cubicles on the street, sidewalks and adjacent parking lots.
o Threw a bone to the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the Chicago Cubs by deferring the team’s annual $250,000 payment to the fund used to improve the infrastructure around Wrigley Field. The team lost more than $100 million playing 60-game season without fans in the stands. The Ricketts family also lost a ton of money at its other properties in the area, including the Hotel Zachary, Wrigleyville restaurants and 11 rooftops.
o Extended Chicago’s construction set-aside programs for minorities and women through September 2021 to give a consultant time to complete the disparity study required to justify continuing and strengthening the program.
And in other action:
o Lightfoot proposed increased fines for air pollution caused by heavy industry, including General Iron, and industrial demolition, like the debacle at a former coal-fired power plant in Little Village.
o Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) and two other aldermen demanded City Council hearings on the explosion of carjackings in Chicago.