Chicago City Council upholds Lightfoot's lower ticketing threshold for speed cameras

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday dodged an embarrassing defeat that would have set the stage for her first veto, on the volatile issue of how fast motorists can drive before getting a speed camera ticket.

By a vote of 26 to 18, the City Council kept the speed-camera ticket threshold at 6 mph over the posted speed limit. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), among the mayor’s most outspoken critics, has waged a two-year battle to restore the threshold to 10 mph, where it was before Lightfoot lowered it in her 2021 budget.

Lightfoot was poised with her veto pen. But, she won’t have to use it. Her safety argument prevailed.

Prior to the final vote, Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st) punctuated the mayor’s argument. He read out loud the names and ages of some of the recent victims mowed down by speeders on the streets of Chicago.

"I can’t stand here in good conscience and cast a vote that leads to more names on that list," LaSpata said.


Newly-appointed Ald. Monique Scott (24th), sister of former Ald. Michael Scott Jr., added: "If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile. It’s a criminal act to speed. As a parent, as a pedestrian, I can’t support this."

License Committee Chair Emma Mitts (37th) said she was nailed by a speed camera on Chicago Avenue once while rushing to a council meeting and refused to pay the ticket until the fine doubled.

"That $200 made me get my senses together," Mitts said, arguing to retain the lower threshold.

"Slow down. That’s what I tell you. Slow it down. Let’s obey the law. Let’s not break the law." Let’s drive right."

Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said he voted to raise the ticketing threshold because he’s been "begging" without success for cameras at some of his ward’s most dangerous intersections.

Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez (15th) warned his colleagues not to "fall for" the mayor’s bogus safety argument.

"They’re not used for safety. They’re a cash cow of 164 cameras in very specific neighborhoods," Lopez said.

"It’s outrageous that … there are some neighborhoods with lots of schools and not a single camera and my community has a camera at every other school. People are paying a tax [in the form of fines] to benefit everyone else."

Lightfoot said she finds it "surreal that we’re even having this argument," considering the 174 traffic fatalities last year and the increased likelihood of a pedestrian being killed if struck at higher speeds.

"Increasing speeds encourages speeders to do more to destroy our residents," the mayor said.

Beale closed the debate by reminding his colleagues that "not one of the fatalities has been around a speed camera."

"My people can’t afford to keep paying these tickets. This is about relief. Don’t go for the okey-doke that this is about safety. This is about revenue, 1,000%," he said.

The alderpersons joining Beale in his rebellion included Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), the mayor’s handpicked chair of the City Council’s Budget Committee.

"I know how I want to be treated as an alderman. I want my position respected. I want my understanding of what my community wants and needs respected. And I want to collaborate with the [mayor’s] office versus always having to find out things at the last minute," Dowell said.

Dowell even suggested ways to replace revenue lost to a higher ticketing threshold.

They include: raising the maximum fine for being caught on camera speeding from $100 to $125; eliminating nonpolice positions vacant for years that the city has "no intention of filling"; sunsetting tax-increment-financing districts early; installing cameras in areas "underserved" by video enforcement; enforcing parking and traffic violations that are "underticketed"; and increasing permit fees for "high-impact events."

The move to raise the ticket threshold was stalled more than once by Lightfoot and her allies on the council.

Last month, Lightfoot used a disputed parliamentary maneuver to preserve the lower threshold and prevent Beale from spearheading a move to raise it. According to Beale, the "stalling tactic" bought her more time to "twist arms" in classic Chicago political style.

The lower threshold has generated an avalanche of tickets and $59 million in revenue for the city since being imposed in March 2021.

The day before the mayor’s forces exercised their right to defer consideration of the higher threshold until the July 20 council meeting, the Finance Committee voted 16-15 to raise the ticket threshold.

Lightfoot responded to that vote by calling out all 16 "yes" votes, challenging Chicagoans to "remember their names" when they go to the polls in February. Six members of Lightfoot’s hand-picked city council leadership team joined the rare rebellion, including Dowell and Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th).

Top mayoral aides have spent months arguing the lower ticketing threshold is about safety — not revenue.

Earlier this month, Lightfoot changed her tune. She repeated the revenue argument again this week.

"If that bill were to go into law—and I don’t anticipate that it will—it would create at least a $30 million deficit this year, which no one who is a supporter has said how they would replace that income. And then, $40 million next year," she said.

"I do not intend to go to the taxpayers of this city and ask them for more resources when the City Council may approve something that is absolutely antithetical to safety in our city and is as fiscally imprudent as this one is."