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Aldermen challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot's vaccine mandate for city workers see latest bid fall short

Aldermen pushing back on Lightfoot's vaccine mandate can't get enough support to even hold meeting 02:04

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A group of 11 Chicago aldermen demanded a special City Council meeting to discuss another option for the mayor's vaccine mandate for city workers, but that meeting lasted less than three minutes, after they couldn't get enough of their colleagues to show up to establish a quorum.

As expected, Mayor Lori Lightfoot herself was a no-show for the meeting, after calling the effort a "stunt" and saying she would not cancel a previously planned trip out of town.

In her absence, critics of the mayor had wanted to use the meeting to push back against her requirement for all city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and include natural COVID immunity as a reporting option for city employees, along with testing.

But their bid to force a debate was short-circuited when only 17 aldermen showed up for the special City Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon. They needed 25 aldermen to attend to have the necessary quorum, so the meeting lasted just long enough for roll call before it was adjourned.

"I think it's sad," said Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), who was among the 11 aldermen who signed a letter calling for the special City Council meeting.

She was also among a group of 12 aldermen who last week sent the mayor a letter raising concerns about significant layoffs at the city's police and fire departments for failure to comply with the mandate.

"Many police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other city workers are in jeopardy of being disciplined and/or terminated for non-compliance of the city's vaccine mandate," the aldermen wrote. "This presents a clear and present danger to the safety, security, and services to the residents we represent."

Tabares called the mayor's vaccine mandate an initiative to defund the police, at a time when the department is already short-handed.

"There is an effort to push police officers out of the job from this administration," she said.

But Lightfoot has repeatedly accused the aldermen behind the bid to change the vaccine mandate of spreading misinformation about its impact.

"The fear-mongering that, 'Oh, there's going to be mass terminations of police officers.' Not true. Never was true. Not gonna happen. Certainly we're going to hold people accountable, and police officers have to abide by the same standards for employment as every other city employee, but this notion that somehow we're going to terminate masses of police officers, that we're going to compromise public safety, recall they rattled that saber last fall, and they were wrong then, and they're wrong now," Lightfoot said Tuesday at an unrelated press conference.

The mayor also dismissed the push for a special City Council meeting to discuss the aldermen's demands that the city's COVID-19 policies include a provision for "natural immunity" of city employees who have previously been infected as a "stunt." She argued it would be a better use of aldermen's time if they would use their elected position to encourage Chicago police officers to get vaccinated.

"I'm not going to continue to be involved in political charades and stunts, I'm just not. We have too many serious things that we have to address as a city, and as mayor, and frankly as City Council, and I think frankly people are sick and tired of the gamesmanship that is being played out, just because somebody wants to get the media's attention," Lightfoot said Tuesday afternoon at an unrelated press conference.

The aldermen who called for the meeting said there needs to be an open debate on their call for changes to the mayor's vaccine mandate, by adding "natural immunity" as an alternative to vaccination, along with COVID testing.

"We are asking for a third option to be included, and if that third option brings the other 3,300 employees into the fold, into the program, then it's well worth exploring. Her refusal to explore that or incorporate that is a failure on her part to do everything that we can do to get our employees to be on track together," said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), the mayor's most frequent and outspoken critic on the City Council.

Lopez said said it's the mayor who is playing political games, adding he wasn't surprised there was no quorum for Wednesday's meeting, "considering how hard the mayor and her team were working to get aldermen not to show up today."

"Clearly, that was her game, her stunt. Her trick for today was to avoid having a quorum and avoid having City Council take matters into their own hands to ensure that the full scope of science is included in our policymaking decisions," he said.

Lopez and other supporters of the resolution to include natural immunity in the city's COVID policies pointed to the CDC's recognition that natural immunity by those who've gotten covid provides some protection.

At last check of city data, more than 2,000 Chicago police officers have yet to comply with the city's vaccination mandate.

"Th is a very scary number," said Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), who is among those asking for more flexibility in the city's vaccine mandate.

The mayor has said any city employees who haven't met the March 13 deadline to get their first dose of the vaccine will be given one last chance to come into compliance before being placed on no-pay status if they fail to do so. It's unclear if that has started happening.

Lightfoot said, as of Tuesday, only 16 police officers are on no-pay status for failing to comply with the city's vaccine mandate.

"The vast majority of our police officers are fully vaccinated. That is a fact, and I fully expect that many more will get themselves fully vaccinated to comply with the arbitrator's decision that was rendered at the end of February. So there's a lot of fear and speculation, but what I have to do is deal with the facts and the data, and what past practices are. I do not believe that we will see any compromise in public safety," she said.

As for claims by Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara that the vast majority of requests for medical or religious exemptions sought by rank-and-file police officers are being denied by the city, Lightfoot said that was "just fundamentally false."

"Just because John Catanzara opens up his mouth, it doesn't mean that what comes out is actually the truth. And most often, it's not," she said.

Lightfoot said the city has made it clear for months how officers are to go about applying for a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine mandate, but Catanzara essentially encouraged officers to file a different form.

"John Catanzara decided that he knew better, and encouraged his FOP members to apply for something called conscientious objection, which is not something that's recognized in the law, and then not only did he encourage him to do that, he encouraged him to put their information on a different form that the FOP created; that, of course, didn't address all of the data points that were necessary," she said. "So as a consequence, every single one of them, thousands, got rejected."

Even then, Lightfoot said city officials gave officers a chance to fill out the proper forms, and hundreds of those requests are now being processed.

"And so that will take some time for them to work from work through that. But they're putting extra resources on it to do it," she said. "But the bottom line here is this. John Catanzara has systematically lied to his members over and over again, from the very start of this process. He has lied, and he has misled his members, to their detriment, to their detriment. And we have been swimming against that tide of misinformation put out by him; cynical, political, and not serving the best interests of his members. And we are working within that process that he has tried to foment from very beginning and failed every single time."

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