The run-up to a new city franchise agreement with Commonwealth Edison was an obscure but important negotiation, and then along came Mayor Lori Lighfoot. With just a few words about ComEd’s suspicious lobbying activity, she cranked up the heat. 

Lightfoot told WLS-AM 890 radio host Bill Cameron on Tuesday that she intends to hold a hearing about ComEd’s role in the growing federal public corruption investigation, with the fate of the utility’s franchise agreement hanging in the balance.

“We’re going to call them for some kind of hearing and make them answer some questions in the public about the broader framing of what they were doing, how they were using their shareholders’ dollars, and give us assurances that we can be comfortable doing business with them,” Lightfoot said, according to reports.

ComEd has billions on the line with that city contract, so Lightfoot’s comments surely got the utility’s attention. And a must-see hearing could educate the city government and Chicago residents and possibly do some good. But it also could turn into a meaningless and even counterproductive circus.

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David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative journalism and policy advocacy.

Greising’s career started at the City News Bureau of Chicago, with stops at the Chicago Sun-Times, Business Week magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. He was a co-founder of the Chicago News Cooperative and worked briefly as a consultant to World Business Chicago. Today, Greising writes on government issues in regular columns for the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business.

Under Greising’s leadership, the BGA has played a key role in uncovering public corruption amidst the wide-ranging federal probe, starting with an in-depth report about Ald. Ed Burke’s conflicts of interest before the federal charges against Burke. The BGA also has exposed waste and fraud at O’Hare and the proliferation of corruption and poverty into Dolton, Lyons and other Chicago suburbs. The BGA’s policy team has led calls for ethics reform in Chicago’s City Council and in state government.