Lori Lightfoot lays out plan to limit aldermanic prerogative

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is seeking to do away with some aspects of aldermanic prerogative - and the abuse and even criminal charges that have come from it in the past.

During a series of four separate, hour-long meetings Tuesday, Lightfoot's staff gave aldermen her vision for reform, which includes taking away their power to approve or veto permit and licensing issues. She plans to issue an executive order on day one.

"There is no cookie cutter solution to answering the issues in every neighborhood, and to try to use this to force alderman to give up their duty to be advocates for their community is not only distressing, but it's wrong," said Alderman Ray Lopez, 15th Ward.

Aldermen would still retain control over zoning issues.

"I think the mayor is doing a good thing in trying to shake things up, I think the voters have voted for that. I think the devil's in the details," said Alderman-elect Michael Rodriguez, 22nd Ward.

"We understand the direction in which she is trying to go, but at the same time, I think that at this particular time an executive order to accomplish this, I think it's kind of overreaching," said Alderman Anthony Beale, 9th Ward.

The reform push was sparked in part by the FBI raid of Alderman Ed Burke's office, and his subsequent indictment for allegedly pressuring a business owner to hire his law firm in exchange for a building permit.

"Ultimately rather than an alderman just picking up the phone and saying, 'stop that permit,' it means the alderman more than likely is going to have a set of criteria that says, if you want to stop that permit you need to choose one of these reasons and explain why under one of these reasons that permit it should be stopped," said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward.

The meetings, held in Lightfoot's transition office, did not go into all the specifics, but raised some concerns about the continued possibility for abuse, particularly for affordable housing.

"Aldermen who push back against affordable housing for a variety of interests - some of them dubious - are going to succeed in segregating affordability out of their wards," said Alderman-elect Daniel LaSpata, 1st Ward.

Lightfoot's plan would allow alderman to continue to control zoning permits in their wards, but they would no longer have veto power over permits and licenses for things like block parties or other simple projects.

"When it comes to parade matters, when it comes to block parties, to say that you'll be consulted and we'll let you know if your concerns match our criteria, our universal city-wide criteria, is completely unacceptable," Alderman Lopez said.

While there is some dissent, at least one alderman doesn't think Lightfoot's plan is tough enough.

"Aldermen right now, there are 50 czars, and that doesn't exist in other cities across this country," said Alderman James Cappleman, 46th Ward. "We have to change that."

ABC7 has reached out to Lightfoot's office for official comment. While the details of her executive order won't be officially released until she takes office on Monday, she is clearly going to follow through on her mandate for change.
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