Lightfoot flops on proposal that has drawn a lawsuit to block $900 million in TIF Funds
By Erick Johnson
Most of Chicago’s Black aldermen voted in favor of the controversial $6 billion Lincoln Yards project last week during a City Council meeting that was viewed as the first flop for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
When the final vote was taken, 32 aldermen voted for the project while 13 voted against. Of those who voted in favor of the Lincoln Yards project, 11 were Black aldermen. Had they voted against the proposal, the Lincoln Yards project would have passed.
But it was business as usual for a City Council that traditionally has been accused of being a rubber stamp to the mayor’s proposals.
They gave the green light to what would dramatically transform two North Side neighborhoods with restaurants, shops and sleek housing developments. But community activists are outraged, and concerned that the project will also ignite protests and concerns that the TIF system disproportionally serves more affluent areas than Chicago neighborhoods occupied by Black and Hispanic residents.
The City Council approval means that Lincoln Yards would get up to $900 million in TIF subsidies.
The project will be located on 55 acres that would span along the North Branch of the Chicago River. The project would boost Lincoln Park and Bucktown, two North Side neighborhoods that are among the trendiest communities in the city.
Planned by Sterling Bay, the $6 billion project will include shops, restaurants, hotels and a string of skyscrapers, some as tall as 650 feet. There will also be 6,000 residential units, as well as 600 affordable housing units.
The Black aldermen who voted in favor of the project are Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward); Gregory Mitchell (7th Ward); Anthony Beale (9th Ward); Derrick Curtis (18th Ward); Howard Brookins (21st Ward); Michael Scott (25th Ward); Walter Burnett (27th Ward); Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward); and Carrie Austin (34th Ward). Alderman Emma Mitts was absent and did not vote. No vote was given by Willie Cochran (20th), whose seat remains vacant until alderman-elect Jeanette Taylor takes office May 20.
Many of the Black aldermen who voted in favor of the Lincoln Yards TIF fund were given $20,000 political donations by Mayor Emanuel for their re-election campaigns.
The vote was viewed as Mayor-elect Lightfoot’s first flop as the city’s first Black female mayor.
During her mayoral campaign Lightfoot and her opponent Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, asked incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel to delay the vote until the new mayor takes office on May 20. Emanuel agreed but eventually pushed forward for the vote to take place on April 10 during his final term in office.
The night before the City Council vote, Lightfoot sent out a press advisory to the Tribune and Sun Times (none was sent to the Crusader). She backpedaled on her initial opposition against the project saying, “There are likely sufficient votes to advance these proposals. I am not yet the mayor, and I recognize that the current administration and City Council must decide whether to carry this vote forward according to the interests of the constituents.”
Lightfoot ran a campaign as a reformer who would clean up City Hall and shrink the economic gap between Chicago’s affluent and poor neighborhoods. She swept the election by winning all 50 wards, including the city’s 18 predominately Black wards.
During Lightfoot’s runoff race to win City Hall, the Lincoln Yards proposal was growing into a heated political topic as it gained approval through various committees. But the City Council vote loomed large and was the most important and final vote that would make the Lincoln Yards project a reality.
Justifying her reversed stance on the project, Lightfoot said the project’s two developers-Sterling Bay and Related Midwest-had agreed to meet higher minority hiring standards than the city currently requires—30 percent minority-owned businesses and 10 percent women-owned businesses as opposed to 26 percent and 6 percent, respectively. But with Chicago’s poor history in minority contracting fraud and no system of oversight established for the project, activists remain skeptical.
On Wednesday, April 17, Raise Your Hand and the Grassroots Collaborative filed a lawsuit against the city to block the $900 million in TIF funds that will be used for projects in and around Lincoln Yards. “The lawsuit challenges the City’s racially and ethnically discriminatory administration of the TIF system which has disproportionally benefitted areas in majority-white tracts to the detriment of areas in majority-African American and majority Hispanic census tracts,” the groups said in a news release.
CORRECTION: On April 20, the Crusader incorrectly reported that Ald. Jason Ervin voted in favor of the Lincoln Yards project at the April 10 City Council meeting. Ald. Ervin voted against the proposal. The Crusader regrets the error.