by James R. Scott, The Chicago Times

August 24, 2021

CHICAGO — Ald. Carrie Austin continues to chair the City Council’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity two months after being indicted on federal bribery charges. 

Lightfoot has demanded that Austin be removed as chairman before the newly formed committee votes on the mayor’s plan to extend Chicago’s construction “set-aside program”.

Austin is set to preside over her first committee meeting since she and her chief of staff were indicted.  There will be no vote on the six-year extension because it is only a subject matter hearing.

Aldermen will not vote on the mayor’s plan, which would: allow minority- and women-owned businesses to qualify for the program until they reach 150 percent of a size standard set by the U.S. Small Business Administration; use gross receipts averaged over a seven-year period, rather than five years; and narrow the factors used to calculate personal net worth by eliminating non-liquid assets that include real estate.

Lightfoot hinted strongly on Monday that by the time a vote is taken, a different alderman will be banging the gavel.

“I believe it is nearly impossible for an alderman to fulfill their responsibilities to their ward and residents in need, especially now that the sword of Damocles hangs over their heads.  And that is a federal indictment,” said Lightfoot.  Apparently Lightfoot doesn’t believe in the “presumption of innocence”.

Lightfoot established the Committee on Contracting and Oversight — and appointed Austin to chair it — as a consolation prize in order to secure the 26 votes she required for her Council reorganization in 2019.

Austin, who is known for her outspokenness, initially stated that she was not interested in a consolation prize.  But she accepted it and went on to become one of Lightfoot’s most dependable Council votes.

Austin has pleaded not guilty to charges of accepting bribes for home improvements, such as new kitchen cabinets and granite countertops, from a developer seeking her assistance in navigating a project through City Hall bureaucracy.  She is also accused of lying to FBI agents who interrogated her about the benefits.

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