CHICAGO (CN) — After years of maneuvering, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is finally getting her casino.
The controversial proposal from Bally's Corporation to build a $1.7 billion casino-resort on the the Chicago River - and a temporary casino to be housed in the Medinah Temple, a Chicago historical landmark building - passed through a final City Council vote of 41-7 on Wednesday.
It's a vote Lightfoot has been working towards since 2019. Getting a casino in Chicago has been one of her top goals during her mayoral tenure, and closing the deal is a major political victory as the city prepares for its February 2023 mayoral election.
Most importantly for Lightfoot, Bally's agreement with the city includes a $40 million advance payment commitment. The money will help keep the police and fire pension funds afloat, allowing the mayor to possibly avoid a property tax hike in the 2023 budget just before the election. To that end, the approval process for the casino has moved at a breakneck pace since the beginning of May, when Lightfoot chose Bally's proposal from a pool of three finalist bids.
Wednesday's affirmative vote followed a 27-3 approval on Monday by the City Council's special casino committee - a panel whose chairs were hand-picked by Lightfoot.
The effort by Lightfoot and her allies to green-light the casino was buoyed by support from the city's influential hospitality workers' union, which is expecting the casino to provide about 3,000 permanent jobs for its members. But it was also fiercely criticized by Lightfoot's opponents in City Hall as an unprecedented effort to ram through a corporate development deal, one whose benefits to the city at large are still hypothetical.
The controversy came to a head on the council floor on Wednesday in a shouting match between Lightfoot and Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, one of her fiercest critics from the left.
"It is a shame what we continue to see from this administration, the lack of process on the casino... you are an incompetent mayor," Sigcho-Lopez told Lightfoot before Wednesday's vote.
Sigcho-Lopez also criticized the fact that the same law firm which advises Lightfoot on the Bally's deal - Taft Stettinius & Hollister - is the law firm of record for Bally's Quad Cities Casino in Rock Island, Illinois. He called this a conflict of interest meant to benefit Bally's, Taft and Lightfoot over the city as a whole.
Taft responded to the accusation by saying that the attorneys working for Lightfoot's office are not the same advising the Quad Cities Casino.
"In its representation of the city in its RFP [request for proposal] process, the attorneys working on the city team did not work on the Bally’s Quad Cities matter," A Taft representative said in an email. "Lawyers that worked on the Bally's Quad Cities transaction did not work on the city of Chicago transaction and were a part of the group that does not work on government engagements."
That is not how Sigcho-Lopez saw it, further accusing Lightfoot of putting her own campaign ambitions above the city's well-being.
“I think as legislators we have the responsibility to review this process - a failed process - in an administration that is more worried about campaign contributions than doing the right thing for the city of Chicago,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
"You are a liar sir, and you are out of order... I will not sit here silently while you besmirch my reputation and the people that work for me," Lightfoot responded, following several rounds of increasingly animated shouting between the two.
Sigcho-Lopez represents one of the city wards initially proposed as a casino site. A mixed-income, majority-Latino ward, it is also one of the areas in the city most affected by displacement and predatory development. Both are issues that hang over the casino deal. He was joined in his criticism - though not as pointedly - by several other aldermen, including Brendan Reilly and Brian Hopkins.