CHICAGO (CBS) — Whether it was a case of frayed nerves during the COVID-19 pandemic, or a sign of growing animosity between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and some aldermen, tempers flared at the end of Friday’s City Council meeting while handling what are normally humdrum tasks.
“Literally on today’s broadcast, people were watching all over the world, and I think they saw democracy in action, but I think they also saw some things that are regrettable,” Lightfoot said after the 3-hour meeting via video conference.
As the mayor was preparing to set the date and time of the next meeting, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), one of her most outspoken critics, invoked an obscure council rule that allows them to interrupt the meeting to defend themselves against personal attacks.
“My reputation, as well as the reputation and character of several members of this body have been impugned,” Lopez said.
However, when Lightfoot asked how he had been maligned during the meeting, Lopez claimed the rules don’t require the personal attack to have happened in the chamber. The mayor overruled him, and when he appealed to the rest of the council, aldermen voted 35-13 in favor of the mayor’s ruling.
“He has not identified any way in which, during the course of this proceeding, his or anyone else’s integrity was impugned,” Lightfoot said.
At a post-council press conference earlier this week, after a group of aldermen delayed a final vote on an ordinance to grant her emergency spending powers during the pandemic, Lightfoot accused opponents of grandstanding and “preening in front of the press.” That ordinance was approved by a 29-21 vote on Friday.
The debate over that ordinance was relatively tame compared to the chaos that erupted when it came time to schedule the next meeting. Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) moved to hold the next meeting on May 6, rather than May 20, prompting an unusually lengthy debate over what is normally a routine matter.
Some aldermen have said they should meet at least twice a week until the COVID-19 crisis passes, and several who had voted against the mayor’s emergency powers ordinance had argued the council could meet with as little as 48 hours notice to exercise its financial oversight.
“I’d like to know which members of this council don’t think we should move the meetings up sooner so that we could solve problems for our city,” Vasquez said.
At one point, amid confusion during a series of procedural votes, an alderwoman could be heard saying “this is a total s***show,” apparently unaware her phone wasn’t muted.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) later called for better decorum from her colleagues, and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) agreed that things had gotten “out of control.”
“This has to stop. We’re all trying to do our best. We’re aware of the fact that we’re in tough times right now, but please, please stop the nonsense,” Sposato said.
Lopez, who had been admonished by the mayor two days earlier for voting “hell no” on an item, demanded the mayor likewise chastise the outburst of profanity at Friday’s meeting. At first, Lightfoot declined, but several minutes later, when Lopez brought it up again, the mayor noted “Our town and our city is watching. There are children that are watching.”
“I would expect the members of this body to conduct themselves in an appropriate professional manner. While we may not all agree on every issue – and that’s the heart of democracy, is robust debate – we can do so without impugning the integrity of individuals, without impugning the integrity of the process, and without impugning the integrity of the body,” she added.
Ultimately, the council voted to schedule the next meeting for 10 a.m. on May 20.
Asked afterward why the City Council shouldn’t meet more often during the pandemic, Lightfoot said, “the longstanding tradition of the City Council is that it meets once per month with rare exception.”
“The members voted, and the members voted to meet for the next City Council meeting on May 20th,” she added.
As for the messy end to the meeting, the mayor said holding virtual meetings “has its moments,” and said it’s understandable that aldermen can at times get excited about wanting to speak out, and end up interrupting each other, because they can’t all see each other at the same time on video conference.
“What I know is that it’s important for us to maintain the dignity of ourselves as elected officials. Literally on today’s broadcast, people were watching all over the world, and I think they saw democracy in action, but I think they also saw some things that are regrettable,” she said.
Asked if she’s worried about her relationship with aldermen, or that a growing coalition within the council might band together to block her initiatives after the pandemic is over, Lightfoot hedged, noting she got more than enough votes to pass her emergency powers ordinance.
“What I’m focused on is the fact that today we got another 800 infections, and importantly 36 deaths, and so what the 29 voted for was to make sure that we continue doing everything we can to keep our residents safe in this time of pandemic, and to continue to have a sense of urgency around the measures that are needed to do just that,” she said.