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As new contract boss, Ald. Mitts vows to bury old boys’ network

Under Mayor Brandon Johnson’s “Unity Plan,” Alderman Emma Mitts (37th) has been appointed by Johnson as chairman of the Contract and Compliance Committee, and she has vowed to bury the old boys’ network that has prevented African Americans from getting their fair slice of the city’s contractual pie.

“I am excited about it because we have an opportunity to learn how the city government works and get a sense of the whole,” Mitts said. “I’m looking forward to getting equity for Blacks who are not receiving contracts. We are the lowest in terms of the contracts.

“I am going to work to see how these contracts are being distributed and the partners who are getting these contracts from the city and what they are doing to make it fair and equitable across the board,” she said.

Mitts was asked about the controversial CHA Section 3 program. Activists have accused the agency of not being in compliance with Section 3 of the Development Act of 1968 that had given mostly Black women contracts. Mitts said she will work with the administration to see which direction can be taken to restore that program, which provided contracts to low-income men and women seeking contracts with the CHA.

Blacks were getting a sliver of the CHA contracts until former Mayor Lightfoot took office. The mostly Black female contractors were locked out of the contractor business.

Mitts said she will do everything possible to get the program restored. “This program gave access to Blacks to be a part of it, and now that is not possible. We need to revisit it,” she said. Mitts said the program may have expired and if so she will fight to have it restored.

In office for 23 years, Mitts said she is looking forward to rectifying this inequity because she wants to see “all of Chicago move forward and not just some. I want to see everybody get into those trades. That has been a problem since the Washburne Trade School closed in 1993 when the program was desegregated.”

Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd), appointed chairman of the Finance Committee, said she is “honored and grateful” for the opportunity to serve as the first African American female to hold this position.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and the mayor. The most important job that we will have over the next four years is to find new revenue sources to support city government and to fund all of the priorities the mayor has outlined in his campaign,” she said.

Dowell was referring to Mayor Johnson’s pledge to provide youth employment, a viable safety plan that includes police and social service agencies, and reopening mental health facilities. It also includes increasing the supply of affordable housing in Chicago and other line items in Johnson’s transition report, according to Dowell.

“All of this will require financial support, so finding new revenue is critical,” she said. “Beyond that, we will be looking at Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policies and coming up with a policy that is transparent, one that will provide direction on how we use TIF funds in the city.”

She said it is important to support economic development in our neighborhoods and that it is another priority. Other priorities will be identified by the mayor and her colleagues.

Asked how she will change the policies of the past, where officials awarded TIF funds to major companies and other non-community projects, Dowell said, “There is no ordinance that directs the extent to which we can utilize TIF money. That comes out of the Department of Planning, the Department of Housing and other departments that utilize TIF. We need a policy that is clear to everyone where the rules are clear.”

Asked how she will find money to support the flood of migrants coming into Chicago, Dowell said, it is important to “find money not only for the migrants but for all of the other challenges we have in the city from homelessness to youth employment.

“We need to find new revenue sources for that and we need to collaborate with the state and federal governments whose financial support we need as well.”

“This is especially challenging because Mayor Johnson has said that he’s committed to not raising property taxes. We definitely need to find other ways to bring financial resources into the city’s coffers.”

Asked about the proposed HB0023 Bill, better known as the “LaSalle Street Tax,” introduced by Representative Mary Flowers (D-31st), that if passed would impose a rate of $1 on the Chicago Stock Exchange, Dowell said. “That is one of the ideas discussed in the campaign.

“Clearly, that has to be discussed with the mayor and the City Council. That would require a change in state legislation,” she explained.

The tax would impose $1 per transaction, ‘for all transactions for which the underlying asset is an agricultural product, a financial instruments contract, or an options contract,” according to Flowers’ bill.

Dowell has been an alderman since 2007. Prior to that, she was a deputy commissioner in the city’s Planning Department and ran several not-for-profit community organizations. She once worked at the School of Social Services Administration at the University of Chicago.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to be chair of the Finance Committee and am looking forward to the support of my colleagues when the City Council meets on May 24,” she said.

Dowell takes control of the Finance Committee, which is a position once held by former powerful Alderman Edward M. Burke (14th), who ended a 14-term tenure in the City Council. In January 2019, Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly using his office to steer business toward his law firm.

As part of Mayor Johnson’s “Unity Plan,” he also appointed Alderman Jason Ervin, (28th), a CPA, who is the former chair of the City Council Black Caucus, to head the Budget Committee. “If everything rules according to the schedule, I think it is a positive step. It’s something in my background. I think it will be a good fit for me.”

Ervin, appointed in 2010 by former Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace Alderman Ed H. Smith (28th), was referring to his former positions as vice chair of the Committee on Workforce & Audit and Chair of the Committee on Contracting Oversight & Equity. Ervin is a former city of Chicago manager.

He received his CPA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

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