City Council delays migrant funding vote, with Mayor Johnson presiding over 1st meeting

Chicago migrants seen sleeping on floors of CPD stations in recent weeks

Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Chicago migrant funding vote delayed
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson presided over his first City Council meeting, which did not address the migrant crisis, as expected.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Brandon Johnson presided over his first City Council meeting Wednesday, as the challenge of taking care of migrants arriving from Texas continues.

But, one of the most-anticipated votes at Wednesday's meeting, a proposal to allocate $51 million in surplus money to fund the migrant crisis, never happened.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke after his first Council meeting.

Three aldermen, including the 15th Ward's Ray Lopez, used a procedural maneuver shelve it.

"To say that you need $51 million more just to get us to the end of July is an outrageous ask when you won't tell us how you're going to spend that money, least of all how you spent the previous money and what you're going to do come Aug. 1 when this money runs out when we still have no solution in sight," Lopez said.

Even as hundreds of migrants continue to sleep on police station floors all across the city, the idea of allocating city funds to pay to house and support an ever-increasing number of arrivals is a controversial one.

Natasha Dunn was among a large number of opponents who attended and spoke at the meeting.

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"They're putting migrants against us. We feel there is this tug of war, and there shouldn't be because if there's money for everyone it shouldn't be a problem for us to also get $50 million towards the needs that have been pressing in our community," said Dunn, with the Black Community Collaborative.

In an effort to address the housing crisis not just for migrants but for the city's homeless population, Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez and his staff unveiled a three-phase initiative that would address the immediate emergency with an eye toward achieving permanent housing for all, specifically pinpointing Daley College as a potential temporary shelter site.

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"Daley College has four buildings that are currently not in use. They are not in use, and they won't affect the programming that currently exists at Daley College. If we were able to open them immediately, they would be able to house 600 people," said Lucia Calderon, chief of staff for Sigcho-Lopez.

"It is a tough time in the city of Chicago. We ask also our colleagues work with us to make sure we do this in a way that is responsible, fiscally responsible," Sigcho-Lopez said.

As for the funding question, Sigcho Lopez said it will be placed on the agenda during next week's meeting.

Johnson said he's working on a long-term plan.

"Yes, I have a lot of work to do, but people of Chicago should know that their mayor is working harder than any mayor in this country," the new mayor said.

The Council did quickly get to work approving the mayor's handpicked committee assignments.

New Chicago Mayor Johnson saw his committee heads approved in his first Council meeting.

Johnson took it all in with a selfie before banging the gavel to call his first City Council meeting to order.

Johnson was easily able to pass what he calls the Unity Council Organizational plan, which are committee leadership roles given to many of his allies.

"This plan will empower the most diverse group of Council chairs in the history of the city of Chicago," Johnson said.

Third ward Ald. Pat Dowell becomes the first woman and Black alderman to become finance committee chairman. She replaces Ald. Scott Waguespack, who congratulated her, but was one of nine alderman to vote against the new committee structure.

They said the mayor's plan is not about unity or independence because it left them out of the decision-making process.

"We've been trying to vote for independence for a long time; the council had an opportunity to show some independence, and they decided to cut deals and do business as usual. I'm not interested in business as usual," 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale said.

Beale surprised his colleagues by announcing on the Council floor he is resigning from the Zoning Committee.

In his first post-City Council press conference, Johnson denied cutting deals behind closed doors. He called 41 aldermen voting for it a big win.

"I don't know what a brother got to do to get a high five around here; we made history today. Everybody had a chance to weigh in on this," Johnson said.

While Johnson pledges unity among Council members, his new Public Safety Committee Chair Brian Hopkins passed around a civility pledge for aldermen to sign in order to usher in a much different era than the past four years.

"It's already working. Two of my colleagues said they disagreed about something; it started getting a little heated. One said one signed a civility pledge. Let's take a step back," Hopkins said. "It's already working."