Several Black aldermen whose wards will be affected by next year’s historic NASCAR race through downtown Chicago said Mayor Lori Lightfoot never included them in talks before she made the announcement on Tuesday, July 19.
The NASCAR race will use Chicago’s most iconic roadways, including South DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. The 12-turn, 2.2-mile showcase will be the first street course race in NASCAR’s 75-year history.
Mayor Lightfoot made the announcement at Cityfront Plaza. The mayor said the event will boost tourism in Chicago and will be a win for the city’s restaurants and hotels.
Lightfoot said there will be three years of NASCAR races along the lake in downtown Chicago, with the first set for July 2, 2023 — if she wins a second term.
“I’m excited and proud to announce to you today that, on July 2, 2023, the NASCAR Cup Series will be coming to downtown Chicago and racing here.
“You look at this crowd and you know why we need to bring NASCAR to Chicago. This is the tip of the iceberg. The excitement is now gonna be off the charts. People are really going to be looking forward to July of 2023 when the cars hit the streets here,” Lightfoot said.
Driver Bubba Wallace, whose 3XI Racing car is co-owned by Michael Jordan and driver Denny Hamlin, said “Being in this city. Bringing NASCAR to this demographic. We talk about how representation matters. Exposing this sport to this area downtown with so much to do while the race is going on is super important.”
During a panel discussion with NASCAR officials, Lightfoot said the “excitement among all of us — and particularly me — about the possibilities was just off the charts” when she started negotiations with NASCAR more than a year ago.
“This is a huge, huge sports town. That goes without saying. And the opportunity to bring something so unique as NASCAR to the city of Chicago, and I think it’s gonna be one of the most iconic racecourses, maybe ever. And introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is about in the city of Chicago, we couldn’t pass up that opportunity,” the mayor said.
But Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) were among several City Council members who said the mayor did not include them during her talks with NASCAR officials.
Dowell said she was kept in the dark and is concerned her South Loop and Bronzeville constituents in her ward would be inconvenienced by the race.
“This is another example of the lack of collaboration with aldermen,” Dowell told the Sun Times. “I was invited to attend the announcement, but I refused to go because I knew nothing. I had no details.”
Dowell reportedly declined the mayor’s invitation to Tuesday’s NASCAR announcement.
Most of the impact is going to be on the event days of Friday and Saturday, she was told.
Dowell said officials “had no details on the traffic impact for my constituents who live south of Roosevelt Road or people who want to access Grant Park. … How many days is it gonna be for set-up and for breaking down the track? How long are people gonna be inconvenienced? That was not made clear to me.
“How much is this gonna cost for us to bring NASCAR here? How much money are we gonna receive from having this event here? The purchase of goods and services by NASCAR while they’re here in Chicago, what is the economic benefit and the benefit to minority businesses? None of those questions have come up. Yes, we’ll showcase Chicago. Yes, we’ll showcase our beautiful lakefront. But there’s got to be something more in it for us. … I’m not convinced yet.”
King in a text message to the Sun Times said “Apparently, they have been in talks with the administration for almost a year and were instructed not to talk to us.”
“It’s not transparent and undermines process and the community. It unnecessarily puts the community at odds with the event before it even gets off the ground.”
Downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) accused Mayor Lightfoot’s administration of intentionally excluding members of the City Council whose wards will be impacted by the NASCAR race.
With the mayoral elections less than eight months away, Lightfoot is under pressure to win over white voters who are unhappy about the possibility of losing the Chicago Bears, and crime impacting the high-profile Mag Mile and the Loop. In the Black community, the mayor has a fractured relationship with the Chicago Black Caucus and has been accused of giving preferential treatment to the downtown area when it comes to addressing the city’s widespread crime problem.
Mayor Lightfoot is also facing criticism after appointing former Alderman Michael Scott Jr. to the Chicago Board of Education, less than one month after appointing his sister, Monique Scott to succeed him as Alderman. Scott abruptly resigned to take a job at Cinespace Film Studios. Scott, whose late father, Michael Scott Sr., was president of the Chicago Board of Education, will replace Dwayne Truss, whose term ended last month.
Truss reportedly had been asked to continue to serve on the board, then was notified July 14 that he would not be reappointed. He questioned the timing of the move, noting that it comes after he called for more transparency around the construction of a new, $120 million high school on the former site of a public housing project. Activists have protested the proposal because it involves building the school on land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority.
Lightfoot did not mention Truss in a released statement. She said, “Selecting a member for the Chicago Board of Education is a decision that will impact thousands of students and must be made carefully. Their collective years of experience and dedication will be a great asset to our board and will benefit our students and teachers for years to come.”
Despite the concerns, the CHA on Tuesday approved the lease of public housing land to Chicago Public Schools as a step towards creating the new high school.
The Chicago Housing Authority’s board of commissioners unanimously voted to pursue a controversial deal with CPS at 24th and State streets. The location is the former site of the Harold L. Ickes Homes projects, which the CHA began shutting down after 2007 as it promised tenants new public housing.
CHA can now submit applications to the federal government to lease the land for school construction and receive from CPS a couple of vacant parcels across the street. The resolution calls for “resident and community engagement” before those steps are taken.