CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood surrounded by firefighters at a solemn 9/11 remembrance Wednesday, an image in stark contrast to her reported private fight with them.
Lightfoot used the event as a backdrop to slam a Chicago Sun-Times report claiming that she went to the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 demanding cost-cutting, and the union said no.
"That reporting was wildly inaccurate and I’m personally offended that it came out on 9/11. This is a day of unity. This is a day that we should be standing together," Lightfoot said. "I’m disturbed at the inaccuracies in that reporting."
Mayor Lightfoot is in the process of negotiating contracts with unions representing Chicago's firefighters, police and teachers. Each powerful group is likely to secure pay raises as a condition of signing new deals.
Facing a staggering $838 million budget deficit, Lightfoot is looking for savings and efficiencies. This week the mayor said the city can’t afford police overtime expenses, which soared to $67.6 million the first six months of the year.
Lightfoot may also comb through the Chicago Fire Department’s budget, and costly minimum staffing requirements.
"I’m never going to negotiate a contract in the media. We have a good strong relationship with Local 1 and I have, feel personal respect for firefighters," Lightfoot said.
For years, Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation has talked about making city services more efficient.
"We’ve known for a long time that there is more efficiency that has to come out of the fire department. It needs to modernize," Msall said. "Chicago is in a very dangerous place. We are losing population. Our property values are flat or in some communities declined since 2008, and we can’t just go to the taxpayers and say we’re gonna raise taxes to close the budget deficit."
Mayor Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader Alderman Gilbert Villagas says the unions must partner with the city.
"Everything is on the table. Every collective bargaining agreement, any contract that out there, should be prepared to talk about everything," Alderman Gilbert Villegas
There's no comment from the firefighters' union, but former firefighter and Alderman Nick Sposato said minimum staffing requirements are essential. But he admitted there could be room for some cuts.