Lightfoot optimistic for return to normalcy next summer, early fall

An optimistic Mayor Lori Lightfoot says downtown Chicago could return to normal next summer. But she warns of big obstacles ahead.

Mayor Lightfoot on Monday defended her plan to "balance" the city budget by returning to a controversial practice of borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The mayor said Chicago’s huge-but-ailing travel- and tourism-related businesses are showing some signs of new life.

“I think there's less planes flying, but the ones that are flying are full. And both O’Hare and Midway seem to be seeing an uptick in traffic. And people are driving. I mean, we've been really heavily advertising, you know, car trips to Chicago,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor hopes downtown, where about 70% of Chicago’s economic activity takes place and where government collects billions of dollars in taxes, can fully re-open by next summer. The key would be a vaccine for COVID-19.

“And then it's gonna take us months to get it mass-manufactured and then distributed out to folks. So, realistically, sometime next summer, early fall,” she said.

Pandemic-related shutdowns clobbered city finances. The City Council on Monday began public hearings on Lightfoot's proposed 2021 budget. It reinstates a controversial form of borrowing called "Scoop & Toss," one reason Chicago now has a junk-status credit rating. Some aldermen already vow opposition.

“Here’s the difference between me and past mayors. I don't buy votes,” Lightfoot said. “I’ve already heard, ‘hey, what am I getting for my vote?’ To me, that is the wrong way to govern.”

One potentially very expensive item for taxpayers would be back pay for police officers. They have had no raise since their union contract expired more than three years ago.

“I imagine it will go to arbitration, but all the more reason why we need to get as much done now at the bargaining table, so that the issues that go to arbitration are significantly narrowed,” Lightfoot said. “We’re open.. 2-3 times a week, we should be working hard.”

The union president, who vows never to accept the mayor's demand for big changes in police disciplinary procedures covered by the contract's Article Six, wants to separate that issue from his demand for a pay raise of up to 17 percent.

“The financial package has to come first. I'm not going to -- we're not even going to entertain the 43-some edits now that they want to do to Article Six now,” said FOP President John Catanzara Jr.

Negotiators for the city and the police union return to bargaining Tuesday, while the City Council continues its budget hearings.