Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $1.25 billion bond plan delayed in City Council

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $1.25 billion bond deal and other high-stakes City Council proposals scheduled for final votes Wednesday instead got delayed, but could resurface Friday.

Aldermen “deferred and published” three major measures, using the council tactic to stall consideration. The moves prevented votes on Johnson’s $70 million funding plan for migrants and his bond plan to spur investments in housing, job growth and cultural projects, as well as an order to give council members the power to overrule the mayor’s recent decision to end the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system.

The moves pointed to strong opposition and tight margins on the votes, a sign of the City Council’s growing independence and divides. All three items could come back up for a vote at yet another full City Council meeting scheduled for Friday.

“It’s just a simple parliamentary tactic that is used to ensure that we have a full robust debate coming Friday,” Johnson said after the meeting, referring to the three delays his allies made.

The meeting began with the rare site of aldermen preemptively blocking votes on ordinances they support. First, Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, moved to delay a vote on the mayor’s bond plan. Then, Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, moved to delay the Johnson migrant funding plan.

Though aldermen had expected both proposals to be deferred and published by opponents, the motions by Dowell and Ervin effectively squashed the possibility of later debate on the issues. Both items are scheduled for votes Friday.

The $70 million package is Johnson’s latest request to fund the effort to care for the 39,400 asylum-seekers who have come to Chicago since August 2022. The mayor’s team balked in February at putting up that money, to be taken from previous city surpluses, as county and state leaders pledged $250 million.

However, Johnson recently reversed course as it became clear the $150 million budgeted by the city for the migrant mission in his 2024 budget will not last the year. The mayor’s push ahead of the critical vote has even featured some muscle from his ally Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, who said she called aldermen over the weekend to lobby them to vote yes.

The delay between the state and county’s February announcement of additional funds and the city’s current push occurred, Johnson said, because the city needed additional commitments that have now been made on how the money would be used.

But Johnson continued Wednesday to point to the financial stress put on the city by the federal government’s failure to help meaningfully fund the migrant response.

“We have what we have. We don’t have an inordinate amount of reserves,” he said. “This has been a strain on Chicago.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s ambitious bond plan had already faced delays in the Finance Committee on Monday, where a push by opponents led Dowell, the committee chair, to adjourn the meeting. Ald. Bill Conway, 34th, had called for the total bond amount to be lowered from $1.25 billion to $350 million and for the threshold at which bond-backed projects would require council approval to be dropped from $5 million to $1 million.

However, the plan passed in the committee with a 20-9 vote amid a similar effort Wednesday. After the vote, Dowell rejected opponents’ criticism, praising accountability-focused amendments already made to the plan.

“I believe it will pass City Council and I think this compromise provides the City Council more oversight and transparency,” Dowell said.

As part of the plan, the city would pay off $2.4 billion in accumulated debt through 2061 by using property tax revenues that would become available thanks to expiring tax increment financing, or TIF, districts. The raised money would help Chicago stave off “significant shrinkage” in the city’s available pool of cash, Johnson told reporters in February.

The major vote delays kept coming later in the meeting. Two allies of the mayor, Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, and Ald. Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez, 33rd, prevented a vote on an order to take control of the controversial ShotSpotter gunshot detection system out of Johnson’s hands.

Moore said the delay was “no surprise” and said he had filed to bring the order up for a vote at the next council meeting, though he was not sure if the vote would occur Friday or later based on when the request was submitted.

The Tribune reported Tuesday that the overwhelming majority of aldermen leading high-shooting wards want the ShotSpotter system to remain. Many said the mayor’s administration had not reached out to discuss the order — a major rebuke to Johnson’s campaign-promised move to cancel the city’s ShotSpotter contract.

Moore remained confident Wednesday afternoon that the order has the support to eventually pass. A member of Johnson’s team finally reached out to discuss the order Tuesday night, he said.

“It wasn’t nothing to move me,” he said. “It was a conversion that should have been had long before.”

Johnson argued later that as a resident of one of the highest-shooting wards in Chicago, he knows what communities facing gun violence need and stands by his cancellation of the expensive ShotSpotter contract. Moore’s order will not legally function, he added.

“I made my decision,” he said. “This effort that’s that’s being led, I do appreciate the the spirit of it, but it does not have the legal standing.”

Amid the stalled votes, the council approved three legal settlements between Chicago and people suing the city, totaling around $500,000. However, Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, delayed a vote on another $750,000 settlement for a man who claimed police brutality during May 2020 George Floyd protests left him with a torn ACL and broken tibial plateau.

Moore delayed an approval on Johnson’s appointee for chief information officer, Nick Lucius. Aldermen approved the mayor’s appointments of Clinée Hedspeth as Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events commissioner and Michael Eaddy as a member of the Chicago Transit Board.

The council unanimously approved Marlene Hopkins as the Department of Buildings commissioner. Hopkins had been serving as interim commissioner.

She was one of three city bureaucrats found negligent in an inspector general report as part of an investigation into the April 2020 implosion of the old Crawford coal-fired plant smokestack. The mismanaged implosion caused a massive dust cloud to envelope the Little Village neighborhood.

Several aldermen said Hopkins had been unfairly blamed for the botched implosion or earned trust since, though most did not acknowledge her role in it, instead praising her work before taking a vote that ended with a standing ovation.