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Report says Gov. Pritzker sought migrant tents before Mayor Johnson

Migrant tents outside of Englewood police station. (Photo by Marcus Robinson)

Before Mayor Brandon Johnson took office and unveiled plans to build winterized tents in Chicago, Governor JB Pritzker made plans to put similar state-sponsored facilities in the city, according to a recent report that suggests the governor misled the public into believing the mayor was the force behind the controversial idea.

The report in the Chicago Tribune paints Pritzker as a politician who publicly criticized Mayor Johnson’s idea of winterized tents, even though Pritzker’s administration privately made efforts to fund those tents while Mayor Lori Lightfoot was still in office.

It’s the latest development in Chicago’s migrant crisis that so far has cost the city over $255 million. Mayor Johnson’s administration, despite protests, is moving forward to building winterized tents in Brighton Park in the 12th Ward and Morgan Park in the 21st Ward.

While some Blacks support Mayor Johnson, many Blacks have heavily criticized him and his administration for putting migrants in underserved neighborhoods where there are concerns that thousands of migrants will drain communities of resources.

Pritzker is under growing pressure to address the migrant crisis ahead of the 2024 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

But while Mayor Johnson has been taking the heat, Governor Pritzker, who won re-election last year with the support of the Black vote, has been largely silent.

In February, Pritzker gave $20,000 in campaign donations to Alderman Ronnie Mosley (21st), but the governor remained silent as his former employee and ally drew backlash in his ward after Mosley last month flipped and voted to approve Mayor Johnson’s plan to put a winterized migrant tent at 115th and Halsted.

According to the report, Pritzker in September expressed “concerns” to City Hall about housing migrants in winterized tents, as opposed to police stations and city airports where thousands of them are currently living.

Recently Pritzker announced that his administration would spend $65 million to help Chicago set up a tent encampment less than two months after the governor tried to distance himself from Mayor Johnson and his tent plan for the migrants.

“If we have existing facilities, we ought to use all of those that are willing to do it,” Pritzker said, referring to vacant buildings in Chicago.

The report said documents show that on May 12, three days before Johnson took office, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) sought proposals from companies to assist the “migrant crisis by providing shelter, that it was looking for both indoor and outdoor (soft-sided) lodging options.”

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in the report that IEMA and Department of Human Services officials “have no knowledge or recollection of anyone in the administration suggesting the concept to Johnson’s team before the mayor introduced the tent proposal in early September.

The Tribune report cited documents that contradict Abudayyeh’s statement. The report said the documents show that state officials provided Johnson’s administration with details about GardaWorld’s tent proposal in August.

When asked by the Tribune about his administration’s plans for migrant shelters in Chicago, Pritzker acknowledged that the May bid solicitation was “a collaborative effort” between IEMA and the Illinois Department of Human Services, “as they prepared for every possible outcome.”

He told the Tribune that the possibility of housing migrants in tents rather than buildings had “always been on the table” in conversations with Johnson and Lightfoot.

According to the report, the state contract was Services, which signed the contract on July 26. Citing bid documents, the report said the contract aimed to “meet the needs for temporary housing … and to enable Illinois state and local governmental units to purchase a temporary housing solution.”

According to the report, GardaWorld won the contract over three bidders through a competitive process in which it received the highest ranking. But the report also said in early August, just over a week after the contract was signed and a month before Johnson went public with his migrant shelter plans, a state Human Services official contacted the mayor’s administration to provide details about GardaWorld’s tent proposal.

Chicago officials quietly signed a $29 million contract with GardaWorld on September 12, nearly two months after the state awarded a contract to the firm.

According to the report, the state-run shelter in Chicago that will be built by GardaWorld will cost $7.8 million per month for 1,400 migrants at a site without access to existing utilities.

The report said the tent would have heating and air conditioning. However, the report said contract documents show the structures will provide heat up to 70 degrees with an outdoor temperature of 40 degrees when the average high temperature for December in Chicago is just under 37 degrees, and it dips below 32 degrees for January, according to the National Weather Service.

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