• Alex Nitkin
    DEC 02, 2021

    Carrie Austin announces 2023 retirement, calling herself ‘the sacrifice’ of remap

    Ald. Carrie Austin (34) speaks during a City Council meeting on Oct. 27, 2021. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

    Ald. Carrie Austin (34), the City Council’s second-most senior aldermen and one of three sitting council members under federal indictment, will not run for reelection in 2023, she told The Daily Line on Wednesday. If she finishes her current term, she will have served 29 years in the body.

    Austin made the news minutes after the City Council Committee on Committees and Rules unveiled a proposed new ward map that would move her 34th Ward from the Far South Side to the downtown and its surroundings.

    “I am going to retire,” Austin said. “It wasn’t because of anything else — I was always going to retire. That was already my plan.” 

    The news was first reported by Block Club Chicago.

    Austin’s 34th Ward lost more population than any other ward since 2010, pushing mapmakers to relocate her ward to swallow up exploding populations near downtown. She called herself “the sacrifice” given by South Side aldermen, adding that she supports the map as drafted.

    “We were all in detriment, because everybody needed” to expand the size of their wards to make up for population losses, she said. “So I just felt like if I did what would be good for the African American community on the Far South Side, then that would help everybody else. Because if I took, then that would take away from all of the others.” 

    She also downplayed the impending disappearance of her ward, saying "only the number" is set to change — most of her existing ward will be contained within the new 21st Ward, which represented the area before the 34th Ward was moved from the city's Northwest Side to its Far South Side in the 1960s.

    Austin said she has considered retirement before, but she first wanted to see through a years-long campaign promise to open a new firehouse in West Pullman. The $30 million, 27,000-square-foot facility opened at 1024 W. 119th St. this spring.

    “My kids wanted me to retire last election, but I just had a heart for what we were doing.” Austin said. “And now that I got my fire station, I can retire.”

    The 34th Ward was represented by Austin's husband, Lemuel Austin, until he died of a sudden heart attack in 1991 at the age of 48. But Daley appointed Carrie Austin, who had been serving as 34th Ward Democratic Organization Secretary, to fill the seat in 1994.

    CloutFile: Ald. Carrie Austin (34)

    During her nearly three decades in the City Council, Austin has proven herself a consistent ally of all three mayors she has served under. In 2007, her loyalty earned her a chairmanship of the powerful Committee on Government and Budget Operations, a title she held for 12 years. Her ward also boasted one of the highest voter turnouts in the city, and as 34th Ward Democratic Committeeman, her campaign office became a regular stop for those seeking higher office.

    Austin’s political fortunes turned in 2019, when she went all-in on Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral candidacy and new Mayor Lori Lightfoot stripped her of her longtime chairmanship of the powerful budget committee, replacing her in the post with Ald. Pat Dowell (3). As a consolation prize, Lightfoot created a new committee — the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity — and handed Austin the gavel. Austin pledged her loyalty to the new mayor, and for the most part she has remained a solid vote for the mayor’s agenda. But Austin has broken with the administration on some high-profile votes, like in October 2019, when she cast a tie-breaking vote to pass a proposal out of committee to delay cannabis legalization in Chicago by six months. (Austin said she did so out of loyalty to the Aldermanic Black Caucus.) The ordinance, which Lightfoot opposed, was voted down by the full City Council.

    On June 19, 2019, federal agents raided Austin’s office hours after she stood at Lightfoot’s side at a news conference promoting a summer youth program. Chicago’s political world braced for an indictment, but none immediately came. Still, Austin continued to be hounded by a string of bad headlines throughout 2019.

    Related: FBI agents raid Ald. Carrie Austin’s ward office

    In July, an city audit found Austin overspent her budget allotment by more than $350,000 during her last year as chair of the budget committee. Weeks later, WBEZ published an investigation on the more than half-dozen family members Austin helped muscle into city jobs during her public service tenure. And in the fall, WBEZ and the Sun-Times both reported on a Cook County land deal that benefitted Chester Wilson, Austin’s top aide. The gush of negative attention prompted Austin to call the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman demanding to know why she was being “persecuted.”

    Austin suffered another embarrassment in 2020, when Preston Brown, Jr knocked her off the ballot in the race for 34th Ward Democratic Committeeperson. Brown ran unopposed, ousting Austin from the prestigious party post. And in January 2021, the Chicago Board of Ethics fined Austin’s campaign committee $145,000 for an improper donation, the largest fine in the ethics board’s history.

    In July 2021, Austin and Wilson were indicted on charges that they accepted bribes in the form of home renovations and appliances in return for steering public funds to a townhome development in the 34th Ward. Both pleaded not guilty.

    Related: Austin steered TIF, menu funds to developer in return for bribes: indictment

    About six weeks after her indictment, Austin stepped down as chair of the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity at Lightfoot's request. The City Council picked Ald. Jason Ervin (28) to take over the committee as her successor.

    Related: Austin surrenders committee gavel as aldermen mull sharpening minority hiring program

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