Mayor Lightfoot claims Uber trying to pay off Chicago ministers to defeat rideshare regulation plan

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot lobbed serious allegations at Uber Wednesday, claiming the company is trying to pay off black ministers in an attempt to defeat her plan to regulate rideshare services.

Lightfoot said the plan would reduce congestion downtown and raise revenues for the city's budget. Some ministers have claimed it would hurt the city's South and West sides.

Mayor Lightfoot made the stunning statement when answering reporters' questions about Uber's counterproposal Wednesday. Ministers who have been critical of the mayor's rideshare proposal deny any offer was made to them from Uber.

To help fill the huge city budget hole, the mayor proposed raising taxes on single rideshare rides in congested areas during peak weekday times. Uber has an alternative proposal that Lightfoot quickly shot down, then shot back with a stunning accusation.

"They offered up black ministers $54 million in a one-time deal if they would convince the mayor to do away with any kind of regulation," Lightfoot said. "As we walked these ministers through the realities of what is actually at stake they realized they, quite frankly, they've been hoodwinked."

When pressed for proof that Uber payed off ministers, Lightfoot repeated her statement.

"I've had a number of ministers who met with us and said Uber promised us 54 million to back off and I'm happy to provide names," she said.

Ministers who ABC7 Eyewitness News spoke to, including Reverend Ira Acree, a strong supporter of the mayor, were stunned she would make such a statement.

"I really don't know what the mayor is talking about, I'm taken aback by it," Acree said. "I'm oblivious to any type of payment to black ministries."

Uber denies the mayor's claims. A written statement from Uber spokesperson Kelley Quinn said, "The Mayor is entitled to her own opinion, but not her own facts. Weeks ago, we shared a proposal that would have raised $54 million for the city-she is confusing the facts."

Uber said its counter rideshare tax proposal would be fairer to residents in low income areas, where taxis tend not to go.

"They keep throwing all kinds of things against the wall, claiming that somehow this mayor is going to be against black and brown communities," Acree said.

Lightfoot said she would give ABC7 Eyewitness News the names of the ministers who told her about the attempted payoff, but her office has not sent them as of 6 p.m. Reverend Walter Turner, a critic of Lightfoot's rideshare tax proposal, said he is offended by her statement. Turner said Uber has not offered him anything.

The mayor's office released a statement Wednesday night, saying:

"Uber has put forward a proposal that would generate $54 million, which would only increase their profits and do nothing to solve our congestion issues. 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. 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. What we want residents to know is that under the Mayor's plan, we're not only seeking to cut down on excessive traffic congestion downtown, but we are also providing cheaper alternatives for those in the communities by incentivizing shared rides and other eco-friendly mobility alternatives."
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