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Lightfoot Accuses Uber Of ‘Buying Off Black Ministers’ To Kill Fee Hike; Firm Says Mayor Is ‘Completely Factually Inaccurate’

“We’re going to keep seeing Uber throwing Hail Marys,” Lightfoot said, calling the ride hailing firms’ claims the taxes would hurt residents of the South and West sides disproportionately “complete nonsense.”

Heather Cherone/The Daily Line
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CHICAGO — The battle over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to triple taxes on some ride-hailing trips erupted Wednesday as Lightfoot accused Uber of “buying off black ministers” in an attempt to kill the plan set to generate $40 million for the city in 2020. But the mayor offered no proof to back up her accusation, which Uber said was “completely factually inaccurate.”

Related: Lightfoot proposes tripling taxes on ride-hailing trips as part of ‘holistic’ plan to reduce congestion — and fill budget gap

Lightfoot dismissed a counter proposal offered by Uber and Lyft Wednesday that officials from the ride-hailing giants said would generate $21 million more than the proposal formally introduced to the City Council by Lightfoot on Wednesday.

Asked about that proposal, which would hike taxes on trips that “start and end in a transit rich area,” Lightfoot was dismissive.

“Is this the one where they are paying off black ministers with $54 million?” Lightfoot said after being asked about Uber’s response.

Lightfoot said her team had examined the proposal and determined that it “doesn’t hold any water” and does nothing to address congestion Downtown, in the West Loop and on the North Side.

“We’re going to keep seeing Uber throwing Hail Marys,” Lightfoot said, calling the ride hailing firms’ claims the taxes would hurt residents of the South and West sides disproportionately “complete nonsense.”

Lightfoot said Uber “offered up black ministers $54 million, a one-time deal of they would convince the mayor to do away with any other kind of regulation.” Lightfoot said her team met with the ministers to explain her proposal and afterward the ministers realized that “frankly, they had been hoodwinked,” Lightfoot said.

Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said Lightfoot was “completely factually inaccurate.”

Several weeks ago, Uber circulated a counteroffer that the company said would have generated $54 million in new revenue for the city.

Josh Gold, a spokesman for Uber, said on Twitter that Lightfoot was confusing “the $54M in revenue that one of our proposals would have raised for her own budget.”

“The Mayor is entitled to her own opinion, but not her own facts,” Hartfield said.

Uber asked Lightfoot to “correct the record.”

Lightfoot said she met with ministers who told her “Uber promised us $54 million if you back off.”

Lightfoot promised reporters that her office would provide the names of the ministers to reporters, but late Wednesday a statement from the mayor’s office said the ministers would not be identified.

“The Mayor met with pastors on Thursday, November 7 at 4:30 p.m. Out of deference to them, we will not be releasing their names,” according to the statement.

Lightfoot spokesperson Anel Ruiz acknowledged in a statement that Uber had submitted a proposal to the mayor that would have generated $54 million.

“Chicagoans have been subjected to a misinformation campaign backed by individuals who have been enlisted to do the company’s bidding so Uber can increase its revenues and avoid further regulation by the city,” Ruiz said. “While the mayor has significant concerns around the ways Uber is engaging the community in pushing information, her priority has always been creating smart, data-driven policy, and she encourages a fair debate on the merits.” 

Thirty ministers held a news conference Nov. 5 to urge Lightfoot to drop her plan, saying it would hurt low-income Chicagoans who rely on ride-hailing services for daily needs such as grocery shopping and doctor visits.

The group also sent a letter to aldermen during the hearings on the 2020 budget, according to the Tribune.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) on Wednesday introduced a measure (O2019-8526) that would require all ride-hailing drivers to have an Illinois drivers’ license. Lightfoot said that she would review the measure.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) on Wednesday introduced a measure (O2019-8546) designed to deter people from posing as ride-hailing drivers in order to commit a crime, such as a robbery.

Violators would face fines of $10,000 and up to six months in jail.