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As Ald. Beale criticizes Lightfoot’s $16B budget, Latino aldermen demand more representation

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward), a critic of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, attacked her $16 billion budget after she unveiled it this week, but the latest criticism of the mayor from Latino aldermen may get more attention.

Anthony Beale

Fresh off their victory in getting a Latino to head the Chicago Public Schools, members of Chicago’s Latino Caucus now have their sights on getting more representation in Lightfoot’s 2022 budget.

It’s the latest move that signals the continued momentum of re-energized Latino aldermen whose growing voice and political demands at City Hall are challenging the status quo, three months before the city redraws the map of its 50 wards.

With a dose of validation as the largest minority group in the city from the recent U.S. Census report, Latinos are poised to gain more wards amid concerns that they may come at the expense of Black wards.

Lightfoot’s 2022 budget boosts police spending to $1.9 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2021.

Lightfoot outlined her full plan for spending nearly $2 billion in federal funds from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan toward filling the city’s budget hole over the next three years. Last month, Lightfoot projected a $733 million deficit in the 2022 budget.

Lightfoot’s budget also includes $126 million aimed at helping families through programs such as a monthly cash assistance program for low-income households. Among other initiatives are $103 million for health spending, including in-home services to new moms and victims of gender-based violence; $85 million for various violence prevention programs; $9 million on environmental spending; $65 million for youth programs; and $32 million aimed to help the homeless.

The mayor also said the American Rescue Plan money will also go toward supporting tourism, small business support, the arts and community development, among other areas.

She said she made structural changes to cut costs through so-called zero-base budgeting and by eliminating vacant positions. She said those moves came after her predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left her with an $838 million deficit for 2020.

Lightfoot also announced a plan to create a $5 million “microgrant fund,” where each alderman would have $100,000 for “ward-specific investments.”

Prior to Lightfoot’s announcement of the 2022 budget, members of the Council’s Latino Caucus at a news conference said there weren’t enough Hispanics involved in drafting the mayor’s spending plan to make sure the interests of the growing community get fair treatment.

Latino Caucus Chairman Alderman Gilbert Villegas said caucus members would need to decide whether they can back the budget despite inadequate Hispanic representation among city government decision-makers.

“After two years (of the Lightfoot administration), this is where we’re at,” Villegas said. “So that will be a discussion I’ll be having with the members, whether they think our community is in the budget. The mayor has said the budget is a moral document, and I think morally we have to do the right thing to make sure we’re representing our community.”

Those comments came after the Latino Caucus last week celebrated Lightfoot’s appointment of Pedro Martinez as the first Latino to head Chicago Public Schools after Janice Jackson stepped down last June.

Latino aldermen sent a letter to Lightfoot in June, urging her to pick a Latino to head the nation’s third-largest school district. In December, Chicago will re-draw its 50 wards to reflect the latest Census that shows Latinos as the largest minority group in Chicago that continues to grow in size but lack sufficient representation on the City Council.

Black aldermen appear largely in support of Lightfoot’s proposed budget. However, Alderman Anthony Beale, (9th Ward), called Lightfoot’s budget proposal a “campaign speech full of holes and innuendoes.”

“Nothing was said about how we’re going to attack the crime, carjackings, how we’re going to put people back to work where businesses have left this city,” Beale said. “All the things that are really plaguing us on a daily basis, I didn’t hear anything to that.”

Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Chairman of Budget and Government Relations, disagreed, saying in a statement, “The City’s economic development strategy recognizes the importance of investing in specific areas, communities, and programs to uplift those who have been disenfranchised for decades. Constituent engagement, community-based development, and transparency have long been part of my focus to ensure that the interests of Chicago residents are well-represented, especially in the process of budget planning.”

Late Tuesday, September 21, Lightfoot in an emailed press release to the Crusader said that since 2019, the city has tripled its investments in violence prevention programs.

She said the 2022 budget represents a $35 million increase over two years from $15million to $50million, putting Chicago’s anti-violence investment on par with New York City and Los Angeles, proportionate to our population. The current proposal increases violence prevention and intervention investments by $85 million in conjunction with other investments important to community safety.

“Chicago’s 2022 ‘Recovery Budget’ will allow us to not only fulfill the obligation we have to our residents but future generations—and that is to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our city for the better,” said Lightfoot.

“With $1.9 billion in key and enhanced investments, we will develop Chicago into a safer, stronger and more prosperous place in which people can safely raise a family, build a business, and make a better life for themselves. As much as these investments are a commitment to our city’s immediate and most urgent needs, they are also bridges to the brighter future that is just over the horizon.”

Lightfoot also pledged that her budget and federal relief dollars will create more than 40,000 jobs, help clean thousands of vacant lots, plant 75,000 trees and help spur more affordable housing. She said about $3.4 million will go toward the elected police oversight board passed by aldermen and Lightfoot after a contentious debate.

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