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Mayor Lightfoot won't attend special City Council meeting aimed at pushing changes to vaccine mandate for city employees

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot won't attend a special City Council meeting that a group of 11 aldermen have organized in a bid to pressure her into amending her vaccination mandate for all city employees, calling the meeting a "stunt."

"They're going to do whatever they're going to do tomorrow, but 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. So I wish them well tomorrow, I will not be there," Lightfoot said Tuesday afternoon, after a press conference to mark the second anniversary of the pandemic.

A group of 11 aldermen have called for a special City Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a resolution challenging the mayor's vaccine mandate for all city workers. Right now, the mandate requires workers to report their vaccination status to a portal and be fully vaccinated.

The aldermen who arranged Wednesday's special City Council meeting want to include natural COVID immunity as a reporting option for city employees, along with testing.

The signers included Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), Ald. Ed Burke (14th), Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), Ald. Silvana Tabaraes (23rd), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Ald. Felix Cardona (31st), Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), and Ald. James Gardiner (45th).

"It's not a stunt," Lopez said. "It's a reaction to her own abrasive behavior and refusing to be collaborative."

However, Lightfoot accused the aldermen behind the special City Council meeting of failing to ask Health Committee chair Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) for a hearing to get the information they want.

In a letter to the mayor last week, the aldermen claimed "the city's pursuit of curbing the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the quality of life in our city."

Lightfoot on Tuesday called that claim "just foolish and false."

"To suggest that somehow we should not have done all the things that we've done over the course of the last two years to keep people safe is just silly, and really what's disappointing to me in the letter is the failure of those aldermen to avail themselves of the various opportunities for them to get basic information on the points that they've identified in the letter," she said.

She also sent her own letter to the aldermen, accusing them of spreading "misinformation and half-truths."

At her City Hall press conference, Lightfoot noted the top cause of death for police officers since the start of the pandemic has been COVID-19, and she wishes the aldermen who arranged Wednesday's meeting would use their elected position to encourage officers to get vaccinated.

The mayor also accused those aldermen of spreading misinformation about the vaccine mandate itself.

"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.

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."

This is happening the same week that city employees who are not in compliance with the vaccination mandate are supposed to start going on no-pay status.  

All city workers were supposed to be fully vaccinated by March 13, or placed on non-disciplinary no-pay status. Lightfoot said workers now have until April 13 to get their second COVID shot.

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