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Mayor Lori Lightfoot Blasts 'Preening' Opponents Who Delayed City Council Vote On Emergency COVID-19 Spending Powers; 'The Ploy Of These Grandstanders Changes Nothing'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Accusing a handful of aldermen of "preening in front of the press" by using a parliamentary maneuver to delay a final vote on an ordinance to grant her emergency spending powers during the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Lori Lightfoot adjourned Wednesday's City Council meeting, and scheduled a new meeting for Friday to vote on the measure.

"They stuck out like a sore thumb, choosing to serve themselves instead of the residents who elected them; choosing to put their own selfish interests ahead of their city, and their communities. And it is selfish, and it's also shameful, and it is an utter contradiction to the spirit of public service that you see the vast majority of City Council members display," she said.

During Wednesday's virtual City Council meeting, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) led an effort to "defer and publish" an ordinance to expand the mayor's budgetary authority during the coronavirus pandemic. Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) also threw their support behind the delay.

Their maneuver meant a final vote on the emergency powers ordinance would be delayed until the next City Council meeting, so one of the mayor's allies, Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) moved to adjourn Wednesday's meeting, and bring aldermen back on Friday for a final vote on the measure.

After several minutes of confusion about how to vote, the Council voted 35-15 to suspend the rules to take up Mitchell's motion, and then voted 39-11 to adjourn and 49-1 to schedule the next meeting for 1 p.m. on Friday.

"It is a mistake from those that want to move forward the emergency powers ordinance to so quickly end the meeting and reconvene it in two days, because it underscores the fact that we can so easily meet virtually, and it underscores the arguments from the opponents of this power grab ordinance that ultimately it's unnecessary, because we can do exactly what we're doing now. We can convene meetings in short notice virtually and get the business done of the people," Ramirez-Rosa said.

The mayor rejected that argument, noting that the city is facing competition from across the globe when trying to acquire personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to protect healthcare workers, first responders, and others during the pandemic. Her aides have told aldermen that they've seen prices for some supplies increase in as little as 12 hours.

"If we wait, we lose. We can't afford to lose. Our residents' lives are on the line, and we've got to move quickly in this pandemic. Forty-eight hours, when we're seeing the level of competition and fighting for basic supplies, is an eternity," Lightfoot said after Wednesday's meeting.

Lightfoot said she was personally embarrassed that one of the aldermen behind the delay, Ramirez-Rosa, represents the ward where she lives.

"This is exactly what voters voted against just four months ago: the politics of elected officials putting their own selfish interests ahead of the people that they serve," she said. "What you saw today is exactly the kind of politics I have fought against in my campaign and I continue to fight against every single day that I'm here."

The ordinance would give the mayor's Chief Procurement Officer Shannon Andrews power to enter into contracts of up to $1 million for coronavirus-related needs without requiring City Council approval. Budget Director Susie Park would be empowered to move money within the city budget to pay for COVID-19 expenses without seeking authorization from the City Council. Park and Andrews would be required to provide weekly reports to the Budget Committee.

Lightfoot's original proposal for greater spending authority would not have included any spending limits on city contracts for the COVID-19 response, and would have waived required economic disclosure statements from vendors. Facing opposition from aldermen, the mayor agreed to the $1 million ceiling on contracts that don't require City Council approval, and to give vendors 60 days to submit economic disclosure statements.

In another concession to aldermen, the mayor agreed to have all of the emergency contracting and budget powers sunset by June 30. If the Chicago Department of Public Health were to determine before then that the COVID-19 threat has subsided enough to repeal the ordinance, the emergency powers would go away sooner.

Several aldermen have called the mayor's emergency powers ordinance an unnecessary power grab, noting that they can hold meetings with as little as 48 hours notice to vote on any new contracts or changes to the city budget.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who was among the aldermen voting against the bid to adjourn Wednesday's meeting, said during Tuesday's Budget Committee vote that he doesn't understand why aldermen would be willing to surrender their legislative authority when they can "meet at the drop of a hat."

"Quite a few of us have stated that we're willing to meet every week if we need to, because we're all home saving lives, in order to do what's necessary to stop the spread, and I don't see why we could not meet on a weekly basis," Beale said.

Lightfoot accused the aldermen who delayed the final vote on the emergency powers ordinance of "grandstanding" while the vast majority of the council supported allowing her administration "to act swiftly and boldly to help our fellow Chicagoans who are literally sick and dying, and do everything in our power to support our communities who are struggling."

"The ploy of these grandstanders changes nothing. It only needlessly delays the business of the city for two days, and underscores exactly why we need an emergency order in the first place," she said.

Asked if she'll work to address the opponents' concerns about the ordinance before Friday's final vote, Lightfoot said she and her budget team already talked to the aldermen several times.

"Some have no interest in doing anything other than trying to take advantage of the moment, because they like preening in front of the press. Others have had some legitimate concerns, which we have addressed, and we've tweaked the language," she said. "It's temporary, it's short-lived, it sunsets, but it's essential. So, most people, I think, understand that; but some it doesn't matter what we explain, because their goal is obstruct, obstruct, obstruct."

Budget Committee Chairwoman Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she's considering the creation of a working group of aldermen to coordinate with the mayor's office on COVID-19 response efforts, and allow them to voice their concerns about how money is being spent.

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