Local Alds. Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) joined with a majority of their colleagues to pass a non-binding resolution urging the city to institute a small guaranteed income pilot using federal stimulus money at a March 24 City Council meeting.
They were in the minority on two other measures: opposing revised regulations on recycling centers and industrial operations to try to contain air pollution on the South and West sides, and in supporting a defeated motion celebrating India's democracy while expressing concern about the rise in violence against castes and religious minorities there.
Aldermen passed, 30-18, a non-binding resolution urging Mayor Lori Lightfoot to spend $50 million of the $1.9 billion the city is getting from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan on a pilot program that would give 5,000 families $500 a month in cash.
In council, opponents raised complaints from some because of the potential expense and from others it would potentially be paid out before reparations to descendants of enslaved people.
King, one of three aldermen who proposed the resolution, said the body needed to deal with the question of reparations but said the question posed by the resolution was not mutually exclusive of it: "I think we could talk about this while we talk about this very ordinance on guaranteed income."
"There are groups of people who need this income; this is actually an idea that Dr. King had and was thinking about during his Poor People's Campaign before his untimely death and is definitely what our city needs right now for our vulnerable families," she said.
"We'll soon have billions of dollars from this new stimulus package, and we should use it wisely. Propping up our economy and families, especially those who are suffering is a good use of those of those resources."
King compared the proposal to a "City of Chicago stimulus check" and noted that other cities that have experimented with guaranteed income pilot programs have seen increased employment while recipients have seen decreased decrease stressed, anxiety and income volatility."
Lightfoot said that Chicagoans "have been extraordinarily hard-hit" by COVID-19 and the associated recession. She said the government should recognize that and think about the ways in the long term that the city can give people the ability to take care of themselves, their families and their communities.
"I favor jobs," she said, though she said that she was not opposing the guaranteed income pilot outright. "I think in the long-term, building a stronger and inclusive economy that deals people in from all across the city is the best way that we can cure some of the economic woes that people are facing."
While the measure to increase regulations on polluters enjoyed the support of far Southeast Side Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), a member of the Progressive Reform Caucus whose ward contains the proposed site of a relocated industrial scrap shredder, others on the council's left wing — including King, Hairston and Taylor — opposed it. It nonetheless passed, 38-12.
Taylor, reached for comment, said the reform did not go far enough and did not satisfy pertinent community groups.
Lightfoot, however, praised the ordinance for requiring more intensive review before air-polluting businesses can build new facilities, saying after the meeting, "It will put our city on the right track to fully ensuring that our residents have clean air, no matter what ZIP code in which they reside." Businesses including manufacturers, recyclers and freight-handlers will have to undergo site-plan review, including air and transportation analysis, as well as a period of public comment.
Finally, after heightened emotions and a campaign to defeat it, the council rejected by an 18-26 vote a resolution calling on India's government to respect human rights, condemn religiously motivated violence and prosecute anyone actively inciting violence.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has experienced democratic backsliding and steadily diminished safeguards for the secular state and religious pluralism that has defined the republic since its establishment in 1947. Last year, his Citizenship Amendment Act went into effect, putting a pathway to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not for Muslims, the first time religion had been used to establish citizenship under the country's law.
"Sad," Hairston said of the council's failure to pass the resolution.
In council, King rejected the notion that aldermen would have been overstepping their bounds by considering the ordinance.
"I honestly don't think that we bring up most of the priorities that we should be talking about in the City Council. We should seek to do that," she said. "When I spoke with the consul general of India, he used that by saying, 'Well, what if we were to point out the things that were going on here, the high crimes, the shootings?' And I thought about it and said, 'Well, I would actually welcome that.' I think we need to recognize our issues, and that doesn't excuse other issues."
King referenced the close political partnership between former President Donald Trump and Modi, saying, "We know what hate that Trump spewed, so I don't think we can ignore what's going on in other countries."
At her press conference, Lightfoot said the city is concerned about the suppression of human rights and state-sponsored violence anywhere but observed "reluctance" on the City Council's part "to weigh into on an issue so far away that many didn't feel like they didn't have enough information about, particularly in light of the fact that there are so many pressing issues here in Chicago."
She said, as mayor, that she would not get ahead of President Joe Biden's foreign policy: "My expectation is that the federal administration is engaging across the globe on issues of human rights." She noted the situation in Myanmar, where the military has seized control of the government in a coup, and said she is horrified about the situation facing protesters there.
Unrelated to the council action, Illinois Attorney General and former Hyde Park-Kenwood state senator Kwame Raoul called for additional reforms to be included in search warrant policy reforms proposed for the Chicago Police Department. Lightfoot has proposed reforms in the aftermath of the wrong raid executed against Anjanette Young.
Raoul proposes "no-knock" warrants should either be banned or severely limited — Lightfoot's proposal would do the latter — and to use mental health professionals or social workers to assist police with the execution of search warrants.
“CPD’s proposed updates to its search warrant policy are an important step to begin ensuring that search warrant policies and practices protect the safety of all involved, but there continues to be need for improvement," he said in a statement. "Credible reform requires real community input. I urge CPD to use this public comment process as a genuine opportunity to listen to the voices most affected by wrong raids. I look forward to continuing to work with the public, CPD, and other law enforcement partners committed to improving policing throughout Illinois.”
Lightfoot said her administration will consider his proposals as well as the other ones received via a public comment period that recently ended.
Meanwhile, the Civilian Police Accountability Council and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, which formerly put forth competing visions of police accountability in Chicago, have joined forces in proposing the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance. Lightfoot said she has not seen it, but she said her administration is working on its own civilian oversight ordinance and is hopeful that council will vote on civilian oversight "in the near term."