Chicago mayor accuses Uber of trying to pay off black ministers to stop ride hail tax

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the company offered ministers money to convince her to stop a plan that increases flat fees on services like Uber.
Image:
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announces his retirement after more than three years leading the department on Nov. 7, 2019, in Chicago.Teresa Crawford / AP

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By Doha Madani

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused Uber of "paying off" local ministers in an effort to stop her plan to raise taxes on ride hail programs.

Lightfoot made the remarks to the press following a city council meeting Wednesday after being asked about Uber's proposed alternatives to her plan.

“Is this the one where they’re paying off black ministers with $54 million?" Lighftoot said. "That one or is this a new one?”

Uber has denied the claims.

In an effort to generate $40 million for the city of Chicago, Lightfoot's plan would implement a $3 flat fee on ride hails in downtown between 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to NBC Chicago.

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The first-term mayor told the press that an alternative plan from Uber fails to address congestion and that the company has thrown "lots of Hail Marys because what they don’t want is to actually be regulated by the city of Chicago."

"They offered up black ministers $54 million, a one time offer, if they would convince the mayor to do away with any other kind of regulation," Lightfoot said. "And as we walked these ministers through the realities of what’s actually at stake here, they realized that frankly they’d been hoodwinked."

Josh Gold, who works for Uber's public affairs department, vehemently denied the accusation as "categorically false" on Twitter. Gold said Lightfoot was getting the $54 million figure from a plan the company had proposed that would have prospectively raised money her budget.

"We worked on that idea over the course of months of mtgs w/city - it's more progressive and would raise more funding for city," Gold wrote.

Uber has urged Chicago residents to resist Lightfoot's proposed flat fee, according to NBC Chicago. The company emailed customers asking that they "Lobby Or Tweet" city hall in opposition to the tax hikes that would raise fares.

In a statement to NBC Chicago, Uber again denied the mayor's claims.

"After months of conversations with the Mayor’s office, we are making public our plan to raise the money the City needs in a way that is more equitable and doesn’t increase fees on South and West side residents by nearly 80%," the company said.

Lightfoot said Wednesday that the company's plan failed to address congestion and that she doesn't believe the number promised by Uber "holds any water."

"There’s no question whatsoever, when you look at the explosion of new cars that are in the downtown area that’s driven in large part, if not exclusively, by ride share," Lightfoot said.

CORRECTION (Nov. 13, 2019, 11:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the last name of the Uber public affairs employee. He is Josh Gold, not Goldman.