Mayoral election fight spills into Chicago City Council meeting
CHICAGO - Mayoral politics spilled over onto the City Council floor Wednesday after members resoundingly rejected incumbent Lori Lightfoot’s attempts to appoint retiring Ald. James Cappleman (46th) as Education Committee chair, replacing former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).
The failed attempt to nominate Cappleman was a rebuke to mayoral challenger Sophia King (4th), the committee’s vice-chair, who is serving as acting chair.
But the vote against Lightfoot’s wishes may signal that some members are listening to the Better Government Association and former Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who have urged the Council to be more independent.
It comes after a resolution introduced last month by Ald. Matt Martin (47th) that called for promoting himself from vice chairman of the Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight to chairman, replacing the now-retired Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).
Wednesday’s 29-18 rejection of Cappleman’s nomination included "no" votes by two members Lightfoot appointed to the council: Monique Scott (24th), sister of the retiring Education Committee chair, and Nicole Lee (11th).
After that vote, King rose on the Council floor to let the mayor know she’s challenging it.
"Madame President, this is exactly what people don’t want in the city. You know, and I know, that I’ve been asking the CEO … of Chicago Public Schools to come in, to have quarterly meetings. That’s bringing in the light. That’s transparency," King said, referring to Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign slogan.
"You saw, with my colleagues today, they would like to have them come here. We give them millions of dollars every year. I didn’t want to turn this into politics. But that’s what it is right now. We really need to have a transparent government where we allow folks to understand and hear from one of the most important bodies in our city. And that’s Chicago Public Schools."
King said she "doesn’t understand why we have to make this political" by bypassing her in favor of Cappleman.
"I am the acting chair. I reached out to the CEO. He has not returned my call. I assume it’s under your orders. This is just not how government should —"
"Alderwoman King, don’t make that assumption. That is not appropriate. I have no knowledge of your contacts with the CEO. So … please don’t bring me into what is clearly a political issue for you," Lightfoot said.
King stood her ground.
"I reached out to your chief of staff. I reached out to you," she said, adding that those calls were not returned. "And quite frankly, if you would spend more time attacking problems instead of people, we’d be much better off."
Once again, Lightfoot interrupted King mid-sentence.
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"All right, all right. Alderman King, you are out of order, and I’m not gonna let you make a political speech on the floor because of your aspiration," Lightfoot said.
"If you have an issue, we should talk about it. But this is not the time or the place."
After the meeting, Lightfoot called the defeat temporary and a "reflection of the politics that we live in right now."
She argued Cappleman, a former teacher, is a "good, good man" with "tons of experience in education, a compassionate heart" and someone in whom she has "total confidence. … I am confident we will get him approved as education chair."
She denied alderpersons were blindsided by the failed appointment, and also claimed the Rules Committee had approved the Cappleman appointment — but no such vote was taken during Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting.
The mayor and King have a history of conflict — and some cooperation.
King spearheaded drives to rename Congress Parkway in honor of Ida B. Wells and Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Black man who was the city’s first non-native permanent settler.
Lightfoot tried to stop the Lake Shore Drive name change, saying, among other things, that it would inconvenience businesses and residents and confuse first responders.
King stood her ground, noting the same bogus arguments were made before Congress Parkway was renamed for Wells, after Italian Americans blocked plans to rename Balbo Drive for the crusading journalist and civil rights leader.
King and Lightfoot also clashed over the mayor’s decision to terminate the city’s 15-year-old redevelopment agreement with Mercy Hospital, paving the way for Trinity Health to sell the hospital to Insight Chicago.
At the time, Lightfoot called King an "interesting person" who was willing to let the Bronzeville hospital close to keep the redevelopment agreement in place.
The mayor said she was not about to let that happen.
"Mercy Hospital is in dire circumstances, and one thing that we know coming out of the pandemic is it is crucial that our safety-net hospitals are supported, that they remain open, that they provide services to people in communities most in need," Lightfoot said Wednesday. "Keeping that hospital open was a key priority for me. [I] make no apologies about it."
Early on, there was a rare moment of cooperation, when King was chief sponsor of the $15-an-hour minimum wage that Lightfoot supported.
More recently, though, King was among a handful of alderpersons accusing the mayor of keeping them in the dark on plans for staging a NASCAR race next July in and around Grant Park.
She also stood firm against any talk of putting a casino on the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital. That paved the way to turn the hospital site into a mixed-use development with the potential to generate $3.1 billion in tax revenue and create nearly 10,000 jobs.