Lightfoot’s $12.5 million gas, transit card giveaway poised for final City Council vote

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to use a $12.5 million gas and mass transit card giveaway to see and raise mayoral challenger Willie Wilson is poised for City Council approval Wednesday.


It takes only two alderpersons to delay consideration of any matter until the next council meeting. They don’t even need to give a reason.

This time, there have been plenty of reasons given during a virtual avalanche of criticism. Which is why mayoral allies are anticipating the parliamentary maneuver known as “defer and publish.”

But Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st) told the Sun-Times anybody who stalls the mayor’s “Chicago Moves” plan to dole out 50,000 gas cards worth $150 each and 100,000 Ventra cards worth $50 is playing with fire.

“They risk a backlash because we know it’s extremely popular. We know that it is needed. And people are hurting,” Brookins said.

“To rip away a chance to get a significant benefit would not endear them to the public.”

With summer driving season fast approaching, Brookins said motorists are already calling ward offices to say they want the cards.

“Even with the latest round of gas giveaways by Dr. Wilson, they still remain insanely popular. And I don’t see that going away soon. I saw a guy saying he waited in line to be the first person in line and he was so thankful because now, he can buy his prescription medication,” Brookins said.

Alderpersons from across the city have accused Lightfoot of playing politics with city funds; she has said she will pay for the plan by “sweeping aging revenue accounts.”

With the mayoral election now just 10 months away, they claim Lightfoot is trying to boost her dismal public approval ratings by one-upping mayoral challenger Willie Wilson.

A millionaire businessman with decades of philanthropy under his belt, Wilson has so far used $2.2 million of his personal fortune to bankroll three gas giveaways.

Lightfoot, by contrast, is playing a political game of poker with house money. And her name is prominently displayed on a mock-up of the gas card.

A mock-up of one of the tens of thousands of gas cards that would be distributed through a lottery system if Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Chicago Moves” plan is approved by the City Council.

A mock-up of one of the tens of thousands of gas cards that would be distributed through a lottery system if Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Chicago Moves” plan is approved by the City Council.

“I’ve heard from some constituents who have said they feel like this is the mayor trying to prove that she has the biggest gas hose,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said on the day Lightfoot’s plan squeaked through the Budget Committee on a 15-12 vote.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), a former mayoral ally turned outspoken critic, has argued the upper income limit of $93,000 for a family of four was a “pretty good chunk of change” for those families to still qualify for a card allowing them to “fill up twice and it’s over.” She says the money would be better spent on mental health, homelessness and eliminating food deserts.

Adding violence prevention to that list, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has said she, too, “can’t support this when there are so many more needs in this city.”

Opposition to the plan forced Lightfoot to make several tweaks just to get it through committee.

The income ceiling for eligibility was lowered, and three-fourths of the $7.5 million in gas cards will be reserved for South and West Side neighborhoods defined by the city as “high-mobility hardship community areas.” The rest will be distributed through citywide lotteries “in equal portions to each ward,” officials said.

Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) has led the charge for the mayor’s giveaway after Lightfoot heeded his call to earmark most of the money for “transportation challenged” communities like his own.

“We need to help those that need help the most,” he said. “If we help people get to work, that’s one less person trying to rob somebody.”

On the other hand, Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) was not appeased by Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett’s claim that one-third of all Chicago households would be eligible.

“If everyone can’t get a piece of the pie, no one should,” Curtis said.

Last week, Lightfoot had an answer for those who believe she’s trying to one-up Wilson and curry favor with voters as she gears up for what’s expected to be an uphill battle for a second term.

“I would just point them to the $6 per gallon for regular that people are experiencing all over the city. The fact of the matter is gas prices have skyrocketed. And for working families in particular — working individuals — I’ve heard it everywhere I go that people are really trying to ration their budgets because they can’t afford to fill up their gas tanks,” the mayor said.

Pressed on whether the city can afford a $12.5 million giveaway, Lightfoot has said: “We wouldn’t do anything that we didn’t think we could pay for. This is coming out of our corporate dollars and we believe that this is the right thing to do given that gas prices have skyrocketed. They haven’t come down yet. And as we know, every summer, the prices go up even more. So that’s why we’re rolling this out in increments over the course of the summer to continue to give people relief.”

The gas cards and Ventra cards will go to winners of rolling lotteries that start in May and continue in four more monthly waves through the summer.

Gas card lottery entrants must be motorists living in Chicago, 18 years or older, with a valid city sticker and a maximum household income of 100% of the area median income. That puts the revised income limit at $93,200 for a family of four. Ventra lottery entrants do not have to be motorists or have a city sticker.

Applications must be submitted by the first day of each month for lotteries conducted the second week of each month.

The gas cards will be valid for one year and may be spent only on gas, and only at 417 “active filling stations” within the city limits. Nine stations have been excluded from the program because they are “not in good standing with the city,” officials said.

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