Springfield has suddenly seen a bill that aims to overturn former mayor Lori Lightfoot’s appointment at the 11th hour of her right-hand Samir Mayekar as a McPier board member. It appears to be gaining momentum and may pass.
This measure, which is being pushed by supporters of the new mayor Brandon Johnson, and labor groups led by the Chicago Federation of Labor, would reverse Lightfoot’s decision to place her deputy for economic development in the board that oversees McCormick Place Convention Center and Navy Pier.
Mayekar’s appointment to the coveted seat on the board of directors angered members of Johnson’s transition team as well as current board members and union leaders. They believed that the incoming Mayor should have been given the chance to make the decision and would likely choose someone more friendly to the labor movement.
The General Assembly is wrapping up its session this weekend, and the legislative maneuver today to remove Mayekar as a board member appears set for approval.
According to sources who worked to fix the legislation to reverse Lightfoot’s nomination, organized labor strongly supports the bill. They were opposed to Mayekar being appointed.
The language is buried on page 134 in a 143 page Senate Bill on Elections filed by Rep. Katie Stuart. It would retroactively take away the mayor’s ability to make appointments to McPier Board in the final weeks of his or her office.
The amendment is scheduled for a hearing in a committee at 3:45 pm today. It could pass during the last days of the legislative sessions.
Mayekar didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry for comment.
The language says that “a mayor from a municipality of more than 500,000 residents shall not be able to make a appointment to (McPier’s) board in the last 45 of his/her term, retroactively to April 1, 2020.”
At least one House member, Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, a close friend of Lightfoot’s for the past four years, criticized the move.
“Mr. Mayekar was highly qualified for the role, and his appointment was fully compliant with state law. This attempt to retroactively undo a legally-made appointment sets a troubling precedence, and is similar to the obstructionist games MAGA Republicans have played in Washington around judicial nominations,” Cassidy stated in a Crain’s statement.
Bob Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor told Crain’s: “This is neither an initiative nor an ask of Mayor Johnson.”
“Lori Lightfoot is a great supporter of our convention and tourism industry as well as the people who work there. He said that this was a difference in policy on late-term appointment and did not reflect on their relationship.
Lightfoot appointed Mayekar as a member of the board on May 11, 2009. This measure allows for an exception to be made in the case of mayors who are re-elected.
Mayekar stated that his economic development expertise and his work as the leader of the Museum Campus, the Economic Recovery Task Force work made him an ideal candidate for the position.
He said: “Certainly, having a wealth of knowledge about the tourism conventions in Chicago as well as the MPEA landscape I believe this is an exciting opportunity where I can serve the needs of the city.”
McPier is an influential group of insiders, appointed by both the governor and mayor. The position, which is not paid, puts board members into contact with business leaders in all industries. It has also been viewed as an advantage for former governors and past mayors.
Sources close to Lightfoot claim that the mayor planned for years to appoint Mayekar as her main liaison with the business world, but only after he was no more a city official.
Mayekar was appointed at a critical time for the city, when the industry is still recovering from the COVID-19 epidemic and as it prepares to host the Democratic National Convention in 2024. McCormick Place will be the site of smaller gatherings between business and Democratic leaders. The United Center is the host for the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
The board is made up of 11 members. Five of them are appointed by each the mayor and governor of Chicago. The 10 appointees choose an 11th board member, who is then chaired by the 10 members. Recently, the state legislature expanded the board to 11 members from nine. This gave both the mayor and governor an additional position to fill.