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Black aldermen took political donations from firm that wants citywide ordinance to boot cars on private lots

Half of Chicago’s 18-member Black Caucus took campaign donations from a firm that wants the city to pass a proposed citywide ordinance that would allow vehicles to be booted in private parking lots, even in poor, predominately Black wards.

Campaign records with the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), Howard Brookins, Jr. (21st), Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th), Jason Ervin (28th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Carrie Austin (34th) and Emma Mitts (37th) took donations from Innovation Parking Solutions in recent years.

At least four of them support an ordinance to greenlight the firm to boot cars in private parking lots in every ward in Chicago, including Black wards. Six of them were among 12 members of the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection who voted in favor of advancing the ordinance to the City Council, where it would be voted on after the city’s municipal election in February, as the mayor and all 50 aldermen seek to protect their re-election campaigns. They include a handful of Black aldermen, many of whom took several hundred dollars from Innovative Parking Solutions just to support a firm that’s fueling concerns of engaging in predatory booting practices.

If passed, the ordinance would affect 11 Black wards where the practice is banned, thanks to their aldermen who did not go along with the city’s other 35 Council members who in the past had opted to have ordinances passed to allow booting on private parking lots in their wards. Aldermen who did not want the practice to occur in their wards could opt out by not proposing an ordinance that would allow booting on private lots in their wards.

Currently, seven Black wards are among the 35 Chicago wards that allow the practice. But the latest ordinance calls for a citywide practice that would allow Innovative Parking Solutions to slap the yellow devices on the wheels of cars anywhere in all of Chicago’s 50 wards, even if the aldermen who represent those wards are against it.

That means Chicago’s Black wards, where most of the city’s poorest residents live. They would be vulnerable to a firm that has been accused of predatory behavior, as the firm seeks City Council support for more opportunities to boot the cars of drivers just minutes after they park in lots of stores and businesses that are reserved for paying customers.

The firm argues that booting in private lots is more efficient and cheaper than towing. It would cost drivers $170 to remove the boot, compared to towing costs of $216, plus a daily storage fee of $45 for passenger vehicles. If drivers return to their car while the boot is being applied to the wheel, workers must stop the process and not charge a fee.

innovative parking

Many Black aldermen who support the proposed ordinance took political donations from Innovative Parking Solutions over the years. Emma Mitts received the most money with four separate donations totaling $2,500. Chicago Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin had the second highest with $1,000, which he received on May 13 of this year The firm gave $500 to Hairston, Sawyer, Brookins, Austin and Coleman, who voted against the ordinance at committee meeting in September. Innovative Parking Solutions gave Taliaferro just $300 in campaign donations on September 22, campaign records show.

Except for Coleman’s 16th Ward, all of the aldermen who took campaign cash from the firm allow the firm to boot vehicles parked in private lots in their wards. The practice also goes on in Alderman Anthony Beale’s 9th Ward. Beale, who did not take campaign cash from Innovative Parking Solutions, had an ordinance passed in July, allowing vehicles parked in private lots of businesses—that drivers aren’t shopping at or supporting—booted.

The practice was once allowed in Sophia King’s 4th Ward, but in January 2020, she repealed the ordinance that her predecessor Will Burns had passed in 2015.

But there’s concern that booting in private lots in all 50 Chicago wards would lead to predatory behavior and a money bonanza for Innovative Parking Solutions. The firm, which unlike many towing companies, could easily boot more cars at a given time. Many residents in Black wards are struggling with inflation at the pump and stores. Critics like Alderman Maria Hadden (49th) are concerned that a new citywide ordinance would lead to abusive booting practices that some would call predatory.

The proposed ordinance is sponsored by Aldermen Ray Lopez (15th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th), who introduced the proposal in March after he spoke with former Alderman Joe Moore, who was hired by Innovative Parking Solutions to lobby his former colleagues on behalf of the firm.

Last month, at its October 26 meeting, the City Council delayed voting after Aldermen Reboyras and Mitts prepared to call for a vote on the proposed ordinance.

Minutes before the meeting began, Reboyras called off the vote, saying he was short of the required 26 votes to pass the proposed ordinance. He blamed the 2023 mayoral and aldermanic elections for giving aldermen seeking re-election cold feet.

But the names of the Black aldermen who support the ordinance were revealed at a September 15 meeting of the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection, which voted 12-6 to advance the proposed ordinance to the City Council.

Among the aldermen who supported the booting ordinance were Sawyer, Ervin, Mitts and Taliaferro. While Coleman voted no, Alderman Monique Scott (24th), who was appointed by Mayor Lightfoot last June, voted in favor of the ordinance. If all the Black aldermen on the committee had voted against the ordinance, it would not have passed and advanced to the City Council for a final vote. In addition to Coleman, Alderman Greg Mitchell (7th) and David Moore (17th) also voted against the ordinance at the committee meeting.

All of them are up for re-election next February. Sawyer is running for mayor to unseat incumbent Lori Lightfoot.

At that meeting, Ald. Ervin explained why he voted for the ordinance. “When I looked at what’s going on with Madison and Pulaski—my parking lot there—it was a night and day difference after the booting [ordinance] went into effect at the particular location.”

Alderman Taliaferro, whose ward already allows booting on private lots, said one lot that was once a magnet for drug dealing and prostitution in his ward is now quiet. “Since private booting came in, I’ve had zero police calls to that lot,” Taliaferro said.

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