TBTNEWSSERVICE: Welcome Madame Mayor Lightfoot / Cracking Down on Human Trafficking / Local Profile: Walter Burnett, Jr.

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COVER STORY

Welcome Madame Mayor Lightfoot

On Monday morning, May 20, 2019, Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor. Alongside the new mayor was the City Council’s 50 aldermen — clapping, smiling, possibly seething a little — whose power she has vowed to diminish. Ms. Lightfoot, an outsider candidate who won nearly 75 percent of the vote to become mayor of the nation’s third-largest city, has made it her first major order of business to end what is known in Chicago as Aldermanic Prerogative.

That is an unwritten rule that gives aldermen unfettered zoning and permitting power in their own wards. It is also widely seen as an invitation to corruption. Many Chicagoans would like to do away with the practice, which is both unofficial and deeply ingrained in the city’s culture — as the Chicago Tribune put it recently, “the grease that oils the machine.”

Advocates of Aldermanic Prerogative, also known as “aldermanic privilege,” see it as a legitimate way for residents to have a real say in what happens in their own neighborhood through the decisive sway of their alderman on big things and little ones — a block party, a drive-through proposal, a new building. Detractors consider it a blatant, bizarre and laughable invitation for classic Chicago-style corruption and point to the latest investigation into the city’s longest-serving alderman as a case in point.

Alderman Ed Burke is accused of threatening to slow approval of remodeling plans for a Burger King restaurant in his ward unless it hired his law firm for tax work; he has denied wrongdoing. One thing seems sure: Chicago aldermen, long accustomed to the special say-so, are unlikely to cede their strongest powers without a lot more conversation. But in an interview last week Lightfoot said she wasn’t backing down. Here’s her plan, in her own words:

Aldermanic Prerogative isn’t required under city code. This is how it works. “Right now, if you want a project — a zoning project, a development project — to happen in a particular ward, you have to have a written letter from the alderman saying that he or she signs off. That’s just something that’s been created. It’s not required under the municipal code. That will disappear.”

Ms. Lightfoot’s first move happens on Inauguration Day. “We’re going to introduce an executive order that directs city agencies to identify the ways in which they have given deference to aldermen. And by deference, I mean giving them this unchecked veto right. And directing them that this will no longer be an acceptable policy or practice in my administration.”

She was elected to kill the relics of Chicago’s political machine. “The machine was built to last. The machine was built on compliance and rewarding those who were part of the machine and aldermanic prerogative is absolutely one of the tools that were used to keep people in line.” It has opened the door to corrupt practices. “What will disappear is their unchecked veto right. And if you look at the number of aldermen who have been prosecuted for corruption over the years, clearly one of the unifying threads is an abuse of Aldermanic Prerogative.”

Aldermanic prerogative has a troubled legacy in Chicago. “I think it’s been corrosive, I think it’s been abused and I think it has prevented us from taking on and tackling some big citywide urgencies like creating housing that’s affordable for people all over the city. So I don’t think it’s a legacy that suggests it’s something we should salvage, it’s something we should modify. It’s something that we have to get rid of.”

Some Chicagoans seem relieved that she’s taking it on. “I had a major C.E.O. say to me just the other day, ‘I’m so glad you’re taking on aldermanic prerogative. It’s ridiculous. It makes it very difficult for us to do business.’ Also just average citizens: They’ve paid their taxes, they work hard every day, they shouldn’t have to go and kiss a ring to get access to basic city services.”

But not the City Council. “There’s no question. This is a very deeply entrenched culture that’s built up over decades. It’s not going to disappear overnight. But what it depends on is complicity by the executive branch. And what our executive order will do is to end that role. There will certainly be instances where aldermen could get together and vote in a bloc and give deference to another alderman. But we’re going to work very hard to call those kinds of things out.”

The Inaugural ceremony brought thousands to Wintrust Arena to witness history in the making. Just before noon, Lightfoot was sworn in with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and daughter, Vivian, at her side. Thousands of members of the public attended the inaugural ceremony to participate and celebrate this momentous achievement in Chicago’s history. Lightfoot’s mom, Ann, also traveled along with Lori’s siblings, to be part of this historical moment.

“To those who are alone, we are with you. To those who need a home, we will shelter you. For those who have little, we will do much. We see you.” – Mayor Lighfoot

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Mayor Lightfoot delivering her exciting and direct speech during her inaugural ceremony – MG Media

“To those who are alone, we are with you. To those who need a home, we will shelter you. For those who have little, we will do much. We see you. We hear you. We are your neighbors. And—so help me—we will not pass you by,” said Mayor Lightfoot. She took the oath of office administered by the Honorable Susan E. Cox, Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois and long-time friend of the Mayor.

Preceding Mayor Lightfoot taking the oath, Clerk Anna Valencia, all fifty City Council members (including 12 new members), and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin were also sworn in. The presentation of colors was given by the Phoenix Military Academy JROTC. The Pledge of Allegiance was performed by 17-year old Arturo Ballesteros from Back of the Yards College Prep and the National Anthem was performed by Miguel Cervantes of Chicago’s Hamilton accompanied by the Chicago Sinfonietta.

Musical entertainment included Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, After School Matters Choir, Native Veterans Group of Trickster Art Gallery, Ribbon Town Drum from Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, Chicago Sinfonietta – Project Inclusion, Merit School of Music, Alfreda Burke & Rodrick Dixon accompanied by Fred Nelson IIILizz Wright accompanied by Kenny Banks and Bagpipes & Drums of the Emerald Society of the Chicago Police Department.

Faith leaders participating in the program included Rev. Dr. L. Bernard Jakes of West Point; Missionary Baptist Church, Imam Tariq I. El-Amin of Masjid Al-Taqwa; Rev. Dr. Beth Brown of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church; Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr. of Beth Shalom B’Nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation; and Father Thomas J. Hurley of Old Saint Patrick’s Church. Steppenwolf Ensemble Member Amy Morton served as the Master of Ceremonies.

Following the inaugural ceremony, Mayor Lightfoot greet members of the public at City Hall during a public open house from 2-4pm. Mayor Lightfoot is Chicago’s first black female, and first openly gay mayor. Lightfoot is the second woman to be elected to the post in Chicago’s history. The full text of the speech in its entirety can be viewed at www.bettertogetherchicago.com and www.chicago.gov/livestream.

NOTE: Last week, Mayor-elect Lightfoot announced her proposal for City Council committee leadership. “Chicagoans expect us to deliver on our commitment to end the old way of doing business in City Council, and this proposal will begin to chart that course,” said Mayor-elect Lightfoot. “We worked hard to ensure diversity in committee leadership, and to empower aldermen who will help achieve our mission of a more transparent and accountable City Council.” The proposal includes:

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) as chair of the Committee on Finance
Ald. Pat Dowell (3) as chair of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) as chair of the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development
Ald. Tom Tunney (44) as chair of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10) as chair of the Committee on Workforce Development
Ald. Howard Brookins (21) as chair of the Committee on Transportation and Public Way
Ald. Michelle Harris (8) as chair of the Committee on Committees and Rules
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27) as chair of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) as chair of the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs, and Recreation
Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24) as chair of the Committee on Education and Child Development
Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19) as the chair of Committee on Aviation
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) as the chair of the Committee on Public Safety
Ald. Harry Osterman (48) as the chair of the Committee on Housing and Real Estate
Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6) as the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Relations (formerly the Committee on Human Relations)
Ald. George Cárdenas (12) as chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy (formerly Committee on Health and Environmental Protection)
Ald. Emma Mitts (37) as chair of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection

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Mayor Lightfoot taking the “Oath of Office”

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Thousand showed up to witness history

The proposal includes several changes to the committee structure, including the creation of a new Committee on Ethics and Good Governance with Ald. Michele Smith (43) as chair; the creation of a Committee on Public Health and Human Relations and a Committee on Environment and Energy, which were previously one combined committee; and the creation of a Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity to focus on matters relating to minority and women-owned business contracting, with Ald. Carrie Austin as chair (34).

“These City Council committees are a reflection of my administration’s priorities, and I ask that aldermen rally around them and work with me to realize a vision of a safe, healthy and equitable city for all,” said Mayor-elect Lightfoot. “I am grateful to the aldermen who have agreed to stand up and lead the way forward with me.”

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) will serve as President Pro Tempore while Ald. Villegas (36) will serve as Floor Leader. Ald. Tunney (44) will serve as Vice Mayor. Ald. Villegas, who is the outgoing chair of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, will be the first Latino City Council floor leader in Chicago history. Mayor-elect Lightfoot has spoken to all the proposed chairs in recent days. Aldermen will vote on the proposed committee leadership structure at the May 29th City Council meeting.

On last Friday, more than 400 Chicagoans on ten committees contributed to the Transition Report that will help shape the incoming administration’s course. Lightfoot’s Transition Committees presented their 100+ page transition report at a breakfast meeting where committee members gathered together.

The report includes recommendations from 10 committees representing some of the most critical areas in city government: Good Governance, Art & Culture, Business, Economic & Neighborhood Development, Education
Environment, Health & Human Services, Housing, Public Safety & Accountability, Transportation & Infrastructure, and Youth.

In less than seven weeks, the committee members engaged with thousands of people in communities across the city, proposed and debated policy recommendations and contributed to the final report. “I’m incredibly impressed by the level of community engagement and spirited discussions that the Transition Committees engaged in,” said Mayor-elect Lightfoot. “These recommendations are the starting point for an ongoing and inclusive conversation about how to meet the true needs of Chicago residents.”

The Transition co-chairs centered their work around the values outlined by the Mayor-elect, which include transparency, diversity, and inclusion, equity, accountability, and transformation. “How can we ensure we live the values the Mayor-elect charged us within six short weeks of transition? The real answer – we can only begin the journey. And that is what we did, launching a radically inclusive process that engaged thousands of people to inform the City on what needs to happen next,” said Angelique Power, one of the eight Transition co-chairs.

“We are honored to share the bold ideas across sectors and proud of the work to date. Most importantly, we will be excited to see many of these ideas transform into practical policy solutions making life better for Chicagoans, no matter their race, no matter their address.” The full Report of the Transition Committees is available to the public on www.bettertogetherchicago.com in English and Spanish and will be available in public libraries across the city. For additional questions, contact Anel Ruiz at 312-401-8007 or press@bettertogetherchicago.com. – MG Media / Mitch Smith / Julie Bosman

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The hottest tech and innovation gathering will hit Chicago on Friday, July 12 – MG Media

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POLITICAL TRAFFIC

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An exclusive “Fireside Chat with Chicago Mayor-elect Lori E. Lightfoot” presented by Melanin Empowered, which was a celebration of women with Kimberly McCullough-Starks, 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, Star Jones Lugo, Lori E. Lightfoot, 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris, 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King, and 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin – Delores Walton

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TOP NEWS ALERT

Illinois Housing Development Authority Announces $8.1 million in Community Stabilization Grants: The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) Board of Directors awarded funds to 62 municipalities, counties and land banks across Illinois to help spur community redevelopment through the elimination of blighted and abandoned properties. Awarded under the APP program, eligible uses for the funds include maintaining weeds and grass, trimming trees and bushes, installing fences to protect the public and repairing or demolishing the abandoned property.

Foreclosed, blighted and abandoned properties have sociological and economic effects leading to depressed home values and crime. Per the latest American Community Survey, Illinois is home to over 515,000 vacant housing units. The cost to eliminate these properties is burdensome to the local government, many of which lack the means to do anything about them. “A study conducted in Cleveland found that for every $1 spent on demolition, there was a return of over $13 in value for nearby properties,” said IHDA executive director Audra Hamernik. “It is imperative we give communities the tools they need to eliminate blight which can provide significant economic, social and safety benefits to the surrounding neighborhood.”

Established by the Illinois General Assembly through the Save Our Neighborhoods Act (P.A. 96-1419), the APP program is funded through a filing fee paid by banks and other lending institutions on a sliding scale based on how many foreclosures they file each year. Through the APP program, the IHDA has provided over $25 million to local units of government for the maintenance and/or demolition of over 4,000 properties within their jurisdictions. The IHDA Board approved the following grantees, accessed on www.ihda.org. Since its creation in 1967, IHDA has allocated $18 billion and financed approximately 255,000 affordable housing units for residents of Illinois. – MG Media

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It’s Time to Rebuild Black Chicago!

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BUSINESS CONNECTION

On Tuesday, May 21, two remarkable guests will be on The Art of Business on WVON 1690 AM, airing every Tuesday. The opportunity to have real serious discussions about the accumulation of wealth, power and influence has been needed in the black community. The Art of Business has become that platform. Created and executive produced by Carl West, who’s also the host, has welcomed CEO’s, presidents, upper to middle management and entrepreneurs to not only share their stories to greatness but give real-time accounts of how aspiring individuals can make change happen professionally in their lives. Political operatives are also invited to talk about how they help support business growth. You can listen live on iHeart Media. Sponsors include TBTNews, Kimbark Beverages, Omar, Inc. and NextLevel Health. This production is being powered by MG Media.

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Listen to new radio show on WVON on Tuesday May 21 from 9 pm – 12 midnight – MG Media

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WEEKLY FEATURE

Speaker Madigan Cracking Down on Human Trafficking

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is leading a major crackdown on criminals who exploit women and children, introducing tough financial penalties and new resources for law enforcement.

“Exploitation of women and children thrives in silence, which is why it’s critical that we speak up for those in need,” Madigan said. “This bill offers survivors the time they need to come forward and make their voices heard; it gives our police officers the tools they need to bring predators to jus, and it ensures those who exploit others pay the price.”

A recent study by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Janes Addams College of Social Work found that while human trafficking is one of the most underreported crimes, more cases were reported in Illinois than many other states. In 2017, 193 Illinois cases of sex trafficking and labor exploitation were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the 11th highest reporting rate in all 50 states.

Madigan’s Senate Bill 1890 makes sweeping changes to crack down on human traffickers and those who benefit from exploitation. Madigan’s bill subjects disreputable businesses that benefit from human trafficking, sex trade activities or involuntary servitude to new fines of up to $100,000. In addition to financial penalties, Madigan’s bill gives law enforcement more time to bring these criminals to justice, extending the criminal statute of limitations from three years to 25 years.

Additionally, the measure gives survivors more time to seek civil penalties against their abusers by extending the civil statute of limitations from ten years to 25 years. Finally, the legislation would ensure all law enforcement officers receive training in identifying and investigating human trafficking, which is currently offered to new recruits but not required for current officers.

“Everyone who wants a better culture for women and families has an obligation to work to bring survivors of human trafficking out of the shadows”

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“Speaker Madigan’s bill gives a voice to survivors of labor and sexual exploitation, and helps to empower those who are fighting on behalf of those still held in unjust servitude,” said Carrie Ward, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We’re proud to stand with Speaker Madigan on behalf of vulnerable women and children. His effort not only strengthens our law, but will raise awareness in the fight against human trafficking.”

Dana Pfeiffer, survivor and founder, Grounds of Grace: “As allies of the survivors of human trafficking, we are proud to stand with Speaker Madigan in demanding laws that recognize the seriousness of these crimes. The perpetrators of human trafficking try to silence their victims, so it’s only right that Illinois not only strengthen the penalties on this crime but also ensure survivors are heard.”

Ines Kutlesa, Chief Executive Officer, Guardian Angel Community Services: “Everyone who wants a better culture for women and families has an obligation to work to bring survivors of human trafficking out of the shadows and bring perpetrators to justice. Speaker Madigan’s legislation will help to make Illinois into a leader in the effort to end human trafficking, and ensure everyone receives the basic human dignity they deserve.”

Kimberly Drew, legislative advocacy director, Heartland Alliance: “Ensuring communities are equipped to identify and responsibly respond to survivors of human trafficking and address exploitative practices is critical. In standing with survivors to demand stronger protections, Speaker Madigan and the supporters of this legislation are showing real commitment to the fight to end human trafficking.” – Jon Maxson

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Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr.

POLITICAL PROFILE

Walter Burnett, Jr. has served as the alderman for Chicago’s 27th ward since his first election in 1995. The 27th ward includes the West Loop, Greektown, East Garfield Park, Near North Side, Old Town, West Humboldt Park, West Town, Goose Island and the Illinois Medical District.

Burnett, Jr. was born August 16, 1963 at Cook County Hospital in the Illinois Medical District. Burnett had an 11-year career working for the Cook County government, where he had a variety of jobs including working as special assistant to Jesse White who was then Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Burnett later worked on White’s campaign for Illinois Secretary of State.

In 2018, J.B. Pritzker appointed Burnett to the gubernatorial transition’s Restorative Justice and Safe Communities Committee. Alderman Burnett is married to Darlena Williams-Burnett. Williams-Burnett challenged incumbent Congressman Danny K. Davis in the February, 2010 Democratic primary and lost.

During Walter’s 2019 reelection, the Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Here are a few of Burnett’s responses:

S.T: Top priorities – What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Burnett Jr.: Continued economic development, integration economically & ethnically, improving schools, enhanced safety measures.

S.T: Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why? A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, a commuter tax, a property tax increase, a municipal sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax increase, video gambling.
Burnett Jr.: I am open to the idea of a casino and legalizing marijuana. Still evaluating the pros and cons of the LaSalle Street tax. Open to commuter tax, not in favor of property tax increase, no to a municipal sales tax. Favor a real estate transfer tax for properties over a million dollars. I am open to video gambling.

S.T: Tax-increment financing districts are a primary economic development tool for Chicago. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth of property values are set aside for 23 years to be used to support public projects and private development. What changes do you favor, if any, in Chicago’s TIF program?
Burnett Jr.: I favor allowing TIFS to be exhausted, except for the ones intended for the development of public housing.

S.T: Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid?
Burnett Jr.: I would say a hybrid school board makes sense and offers input.

S.T: Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain?
Burnett Jr.: I take a little inspiration from several, but not one in particular.

NOTE: Democratic ward bosses Friday chose Alderman Burnett’s son as the newest State Representative from the city’s West Side. Jawaharial “Omar” Williams, 44, a laborer in the city’s Department of Water Management, was selected over seven other candidates vying to occupy the Illinois House 10th District made vacant by newly elected City Treasurer Melissa Conyers-Ervin.

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