Chicago mayor-elect taps university finance chief to lead transition fiscal task force

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CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot named DePaul University finance chief Jeffrey Bethke to lead a task force charged with working on budget and financial issues as part of her transition effort.

Lightfoot, who is in Springfield this week to meet with and formally address state lawmakers, announced key transition leadership positions last Friday. She rounded out the team on Wednesday with co-chair announcements and the establishment of a website where the team will take suggestions:

Bethke, who is an executive vice present and chief financial officer at DePaul, will lead a transition task force focusing on the city’s budget deficit and related financial issues.

Local market sources said he is one of several local public finance community members who have made calls looking for recommendations for the city’s future finance team. Current CFO Carole Brown has said she is ready to move on once Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who did not seek a third term, leaves office.

Bethke has worked in various financial roles at DePaul since 2008. He also serves as president of the Educational Advancement Fund Inc., a joint venture of DePaul, Columbia College of Chicago and Roosevelt University, which own and operate the 1,720-bed, 18-story University Center of Chicago downtown dormitory facility.

Before joining DePaul, Bethke was a management consultant and principal at Jeslen Corp. and previously worked for the Chicago Public Library system as director of procurement.

Bethke has ties to an adviser and contributor to Lightfoot — Mary Dempsey, who served as Chicago Public Library commissioner from 1994 to 2012. Lightfoot worked with Dempsey when former Mayor Richard M. Daley asked Dempsey to reform the city’s procurement department. Dempsey is president of DePaul College Prep and Bethke also sits on the board.

“These leaders demonstrate innovative thinking and problem-solving skills in their fields of expertise, and I am excited to work with them to build a stronger Chicago,” Lightfoot, who will be sworn in May 20, said in a statement on the latest announcements.

The transition team is charged with delivering a comprehensive report by May 20 that will serve as the road map for the first 100 days of the Lightfoot administration, the statement said.

Market participants from the buyside to sellside are eagerly awaiting Lightfoot’s fiscal picks to gauge the direction she intends to take the city in given she’s a political novice without a track record managing a major government.

When Lightfoot takes office, she must find money to cover a scheduled $280 million pension payment increase and an estimated $250 million 2020 budget gap. She inherits one junk-bond rating and another only one notch away. The city runs on a $10.7 billion budget this year.

Lightfoot has offered a range of ideas but lacks a plan — at least one that she has shared publicly — to address the fiscal reckoning.

“If action is not timely or the city backslides on its progress toward structural alignment on full actuarial pension funding, S&P Global Ratings could take a negative rating action” on its BBB-plus rating, analyst Carol Spain said in a recent report. Fitch Rating rates Chicago BBB-minus, Kroll Bond Rating Agency assigns its A rating, and Moody's Investors Service applies the junk rating at Ba1.

Transition members represent a broad cross-section of officials from the business, labor, arts, and legal communities with some prominent names and many familiar with how city hall works.

The transition co-chairs include Chicago United President Gloria Castillo; NanoGraf Corp. CEO Samir Mayekar; Field Foundation of Illinois President Angelique Power; PSP Partners Founder and Chair Penny Pritzker; Chicago Federation of Labor President Robert Reiter, Samuel K. Skinner, of counsel, Greenberg Traurig LLP; businessman Dr. Willie Wilson; and Leadership Greater Chicago CEO Maria Wynne.

Wilson was a candidate in the February mayoral contest and later endorsed Lightfoot over her rival — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — in the April 2 runoff. Skinner was a member of President George H.W. Bush’s cabinet. Pritzker served in the Obama cabinet and is the sister of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Lightfoot named as special advisers last week transition chief of staff Maurice Classen; intragovernmental affairs adviser Manuel Perez; senior advisers Ra Joy and Sarah Pang; and transition manager Lisa Schneider-Fabes.

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