Chicago mayor says Rahm Emanuel stuck her with $10B lead-pipe problem: reports

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A “time of reckoning” is at hand in Chicago for a $10 billion project to replace lead-based water service lines, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.

Without naming names, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her predecessor could have taken care of the problem while he was in office – but didn’t.

“For whatever reason, the prior administration did not address that,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times, apparently referring to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a two-term Chicago mayor who’d previously served in the Clinton administration.


The Lightfoot administration’s plan for tackling the problem will be unveiled soon, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Lead pipes have long been linked to health issues and increases in violence but Lightfoot and other city officials insist the city’s water remains safe to drink, the report said. The city has mitigated potential problems from the lead by adding chemicals that form a protective coating inside the pipes, the Tribune reported.

Emanuel declined to seek a third term as Chicago’s mayor in 2019 – clearing the way for Lightfoot to be elected in April of that year.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seen June 14, 2017. (Reuters)

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seen June 14, 2017. (Reuters)

The service lines in question, which pose a potential public health crisis for the nation’s third-largest city, serve some 360,000 Chicago homes, the Sun-Times reported.

While in office, Emanuel expressed hopes for replacing the lines, with the project funded through a doubling of water and sewer rates for city residents, according to the newspaper.

Now Lightfoot says Chicago can’t afford to “kick the can down the road” any longer.

“No, we do not have an extra $10 billion laying around,” said the mayor, who’s simultaneously dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as well as her city’s share of national protests, riots and looting following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis – plus all the unexpected medical costs, police overtime, court costs and vandalism repairs that entails.

The pandemic alone has cost the city about $700 million so far, according to the Sun-Times.

“So we’ve got to make sure we’re doing this in a smart way,” Lightfoot told the newspaper about the water-line project. “And obviously the replacement of lead service lines, given the proliferation of them in our city, is a multi-year process.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot succeeded Rahm Emanuel in the job in April 2019.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot succeeded Rahm Emanuel in the job in April 2019.

Emanuel declined to respond to Lightfoot’s comments, the newspaper reported – adding that he has been largely silent on any subject regarding his successor since she took office.


Chicago has more lead service lines – the pipes that run from street mains to homes – than any city in America, according to the newspaper.

City homeowners are already absorbing more than $1.3 billion in tax hikes for police, fire and teacher pensions, the report said, adding that the mayor wouldn’t say whether they’d be asked to pay for the water lines as well.

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