King, Hairston Oct. 27 (copy)

Alds. Sophia King (4th, speaking) and Leslie Hairston (5th, right) at City Hall, October 2021

Chicago alderpersons unanimously voted to ban investments in fossil fuel companies at the City Council's March 23 meeting, and, in a contested vote, they created a committee that will decide on which site of three will get the city's casino.

The whole council will then have an up-or-down vote on the casino location. The sites under consideration are in West Town, South Loop and next to Soldier Field.

The committee is composed of the alderpersons who chair and vice-chair the council's other committees, thereby including more than 30 alderpersons out of the 50-member council. Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) will serve on it, as they vice-chair the council's Education and Finance committees, respectively.

King and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) voted against creating the committee, however, with King saying on the council floor that it should include the alderpersons whose wards may get the casino and that the city should determine its location based on revenue and community impact.

Developers pitched sites to locate the casino to the city; King previously voiced vociferous opposition to putting the casino at the former Michael Reese Hospital site, which is now undergoing alternative redevelopment.

"I think as a city, we should be selecting the location," King said in an interview.

One of the sites, Hard Rock, would be at the proposed One Central mixed-use development to be over the railroad tracks west of Soldier Field in the 4th Ward. Another, Rush Street Gaming, would be at The 78, a vacant megasite in South Loop, in the 25th Ward, represented by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez. She said his exclusion from the committee when the casino may be located in his ward was a large reason for her opposition to it.

The mayor gets wide purview over committee chairs in Chicago; King and Hairston both backed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the 2019 mayoral election, not Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Taylor, a freshman alderwoman, is not a chair or vice chair of a committee and has long complained about her committee assignments: Contracting Oversight and Equity, Education and Child Development, Environmental Protection and Energy, Ethics and Government Oversight, and Transportation and Public Way.

"They don't want people who are going to challenge them," she said in an interview.

Taylor noted the casino's potential to bring a lot of money into the city's coffers and said, like King, that the committee deciding its location should have as many people on it. Just putting chairs and vice chairs on it is "cherry-picking," she said. More members would provide more input.

"Some of us are not the status quo," she said. "Let's not pretend that these people have been progressive their whole careers, either."

She also noted that alderpersons can come to any committee meeting they want to attend and ask questions, but they cannot vote unless they are committee members.

WTTW reports that city has codified Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin's rules that the Chicago's $9 billion investment portfolio cannot be invested in oil and gas firms, and that the treasurer has to list coal, oil and gas reserve owners that the city cannot invest in. She has already moved $70 million of the city's money away from fossil fuel companies.

"As somebody who's deeply concerned about the environment, I think this is a win-win," King said, suggesting that the divestment will allow for more equity in the redirected investments and an exit from a risky market.

Alderpersons also unanimously passed an ordinance that bans people charged with or convicted of treason and people convicted of hate crimes from doing business with the city.

Lightfoot's gang asset forfeiture proposal, which has been criticized by Hairston, King and Taylor, did not come up for a vote at Wednesday's meeting.  

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