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Emergency Powers Given To Lightfoot To Fight Coronavirus, Though Critics Say It’s A ‘Power Grab’

The ordinance gives Mayor Lori Lightfoot unprecedented emergency powers, which she argues she needs to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions at a press conference on the updates about COVID-19 in Illinois on Friday, March 20, 2020 in Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been granted emergency powers she says will help Chicago combat the coronavirus — but which critics say are part of a “power grab.”

The ordinance passed 29-21.

The ordinance gives Lightfoot unprecedented emergency powers, including the ability to reallocate funds within the city’s 2020 budget; enter million-dollar contracts and lease and occupy property at no risk to the owners — all without City Council approval, the Daily Line reported.

Aldermen spoke out against it, saying City Council is able to meet and vote online and there is no reason to leave aldermen out of decision-making during the pandemic.

But Lightfoot said the emergency power ordinance was introduced due to the speed in which city government needs to respond to the coronavirus crisis, and that it would expire June 30 — at the latest.

The mayor said City Council takes at least two days to meet, while her administration has to make decisions within hours if it wants to compete with others for medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), speaking during Friday’s City Council meeting, said that is a lie.

“It’s been said that it’s needed in order to buy PPE expeditiously. Multiple municipal procurement experts, as well as the legal counsel of the City Council …, made it very clear that, that is simply false,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “The mayor has the power that she has right now to procure PPE. She’s been doing it.”

Ramirez-Rosa said he was also concerned there aren’t guarantees emergency dollars will be spent in communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.

Lightfoot dismissed Ramirez-Rosa’s comments during a press conference later in the day, saying she doesn’t “put much stock in anything” he says.

“What I know is that it’s important for us to maintain the dignity of ourselves as elected officials,” Lightfoot said. “Literally on today’s broadcast people were watching from all over the world, and I think they saw democracy in action, but I think they also saw some things that are regrettable.”

Two other critics, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), said major decisions about the city’s funds should not be made solely by the mayor.

Earlier in the week, a group of aldermen, including Ramirez-Rosa and Sigcho-Lopez, called Lightfoot’s ordinance a “power grab.” Lightfoot said those aldermen were “grandstanding” and slowing down city efforts to combat coronavirus.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said Friday he was originally a “vocal critic” of the ordinance but supported it after changes were made, like requiring the mayor’s office to provide weekly updates to City Council and ensuring the powers would end in June.

Reilly said the public will also hold Lightfoot accountable for decisions she makes during this time, and he noted much of the money spent by the city now can be reimbursed by federal funds.

“The vast majority of the funds we’re discussing here will be brought before the City Council to be appropriated,” Reilly said. “But I ultimately have faith in Mayor Lightfoot to be judicious in these special powers we give to her.

“We certainly are not being asked to sit in the trunk anymore. I looked at this as riding shotgun but allowing the administration the flexibility they need to be nimble, to negotiate contracts for PPE and for testing supplies.”

Lightfoot will hold a press conference at 4 p.m.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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