Prohibits privatization of water system and makes incremental progress on affordability
In May 2019, newly sworn in Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wasted no time in providing relief to people facing water shut offs for lack of funds to pay their bills.
Lightfoot, a Democrat, had previously said “when you cut somebody off from water, you’re effectively evicting them and putting them on the street. We will not do that in the city.”
On day one in office, Lightfoot directed the water commissioner to immediately end shut offs and she promised to work toward an affordability plan.
Fast forward to last week and the city council officially strengthened Lighfoot’s shut off directive by codifying it in law. Incremental progress was made on affordability but a comprehensive plan remains a work in progress.
The council also prohibited the city from allowing the system to be privatized, a slippery slope to loss of control and higher rates for something that is fundamental to human health.
Lightfoot’s drinking water action should not be minimized. She accomplished it by securing buy-in from the unwieldy 50 member city council in an era where the council is no longer subservient like it was to powerful former mayors like Richard Daley, the son, and Rahm Emanuel.
I posted Lighfoot’s no shut offs and privatization ban accomplishment on Twitter for the rest of the region to see what is possible when elected officials are willing to take a risk. I had barely hit send when I received a response from Monica Lewis-Patrick in Detroit.
“Congratulations Chicago on being the leadership we wish we had in Detroit,” said Lewis-Patrick, who leads the water-justice activist group We the People of Detroit.
You see, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan hasn't made ending shut offs a priority. Yes, there is a shut off moratorium in place in Detroit based on Covid protocols but it expires later this year.
But that’s like shooting a layup, it’s easy. And it also smacked of benign neglect as in, you have a right to water during this pandemic, but not beyond.
Detroit recently announced an affordability plan but no absolute end to shut offs.
I wanted to be optimistic that Detroit would follow Chicago’s lead without parsing the issue, but that didn’t happen. The Detroit plan reads like it was written by government bureaucrats and lawyers,
Thankfully Lightfoot, who called water shut offs “heartless,” led with doing the right thing and ended them unconditionally.
That didn’t happen in Detroit.
Chicago-based environmental journalist