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Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin Resigns As Committee Chair, At Request Of Mayor Lori Lightfoot

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Facing federal bribery charges, longtime Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) has resigned as chair of the City Council Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity, saying she's stepping down at the request of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

"I have always attempted to be loyal to the mayors whom I served, as well as work to achieve resources for my community over the last 28 years as Alderman. I remain committed to work hard on behalf of my community and citizens across this city," Austin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

In accepting Austin's resignation as committee chair, Lightfoot said she is "grateful for her years of service and leadership as Chairman and her work in creating equitable opportunities for Chicago and national business leaders."

"Alderman Austin affirmed that she plans to remain active, engaged and a fighter for her community and the city she loves," Lightfoot said in a statement late Wednesday morning.

Austin's announcement came after she missed a meeting of the Contracting Committee on Tuesday, which was discussing a proposal from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to extend the city's construction set-aside program for companies owned by women and minorities until December 2027, and to ease the standards for qualifying for the program.

On Monday, Lightfoot stopped short of specifically calling for Austin to resign as the committee chair before Tuesday's meeting, but reiterated her previous stance that any alderman facing indictment would have a difficult time focusing on their jobs.

"I've been very clear from the beginning of my time as mayor, I think it's virtually impossible for an alderman to be able to fill the responsibilities to their ward and residents who are in need, particularly now, when they have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head, that is a federal indictment," Lightfoot said. "I think it's very difficult for her to be able to do her job, just as it is the others who are indicted. It's an extraordinary thing that we have three sitting aldermen indicted. That's not a good thing for our city."

Lightfoot's office did not have any immediate comment on Austin's resignation as committee chair.

Last month, Austin and her chief of staff, Chester Wilson Jr., were indicted on federal charges accusing them of taking bribes from a construction company seeking Austin's support for a development in her ward.

Austin is one of three sitting aldermen facing indictment. Ald. Edward Burke (14th) faces federal racketeering and bribery charges, and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) faces federal bank fraud charges. All three aldermen have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Austin has been alderman of the 34th Ward since 1994, after the death of her husband, former Ald. Lemuel Austin. She's the second-longest serving member of the City Council.

Despite resigning as chair of the Contracting Committee, Austin will keep her seat as alderman. It's not yet clear who will take her place chairing the Contracting Committee.

Lightfoot created the Contracting Committee and appointed Austin as its chair when the mayor took office in 2019 and replaced Austin as chair of the Budget Committee with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

The committee's vice chair, Ald. David Moore (17th), presided over Tuedsay's meeting to discuss – but not vote on – the mayor's minority contracting plan.

Lightfoot's proposal would extend the city's contract set-aside program for minority- and women-owned firms for another six years through the end of 2027, while easing eligibility requirements.

Her proposed changes would allow companies owned by women and minorities to qualify for the program until they reach 150% of the U.S. Small Business Administration's size standard, increase the time frame during which those firms' average gross receipts are calculated from five years to seven; and revise net worth calculations by excluding non-liquid assets such as real estate, retirement savings and the owner's interest in non-certified businesses.

Critics of the city's construction set-aside program have said companies owned by women and minorities are forced to "graduate" from the program too soon, leaving them unable to find work in the private sector for a couple years, until they qualify for the program again.

It's unclear when the Contracting Committee will meet again to vote on that ordinance.


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