How Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Record Achieves Campaign Promises

Government reform

Lightfoot campaigned heavily on a reform agenda, laying out a nine point ethics plan. The main promises included the end of the prerogative of the Aldermanes, the expansion of the powers of the inspector general of the city and the transfer of the redistribution of districts from the city council to an independent citizens’ commission.

On the prerogative of aldermen, the age-old practice of giving aldermen a veto over development projects in their neighborhoods, she stripped council members of the power to block affordable housing developments, certain small business subsidies and special event permits. But she did not follow through on a campaign pledge to directly attack the prerogative by changing the zoning code.

As for the inspector general, she gave a broader role to the city’s ethical watchdog, but failed to keep its electoral promises to give the IG power or authority over other municipal agencies. His tenure was marked by a public quarrel with the last IG, Joe Ferguson. She blamed him for the slowness of an investigation into the events that led to the dismissal of former Chicago police commissioner Eddie Johnson. Ferguson in turn blasted Lightfoot’s response to the Chicago Park District sexual assault scandal and his denial of a new database of police misconduct. In an interview with Crain’s, he hinted his administration was incompetent.

Rather than pushing to keep its pledge on neighborhood remapping, she let council set new boundaries, perpetuating a long-standing custom that has been criticized for protecting incumbents at the expense of fair representation of voters. Reform group Change Illinois expressed its “disappointment” in a letter to the mayor, warning that “the people of Chicago will remember if you do not keep … the basic promises.”

She went in part on other major campaign pledges, increasing transparency around the city’s tax hike funding program and supporting legislation that prohibits aldermen and city employees from doing outside work that is in conflict with the interests of the city but allows them to continue to occupy other secondary jobs.

The mayor’s office did not provide responses to Crain’s request for comment for this story.

Police reform and public security

Perhaps the two most difficult issues for Lightfoot today were his campaign forces: public safety and police reform. In 2019 advertisements, she pledged to make every part of the city safe. Lightfoot also pledged to “comply fully and quickly” with a three-year consent decree demanding that the Chicago Police Department end civil rights violations. And she called for a new civilian oversight board with broad powers to set police department policy, set budgets, and hire and fire superintendents.

Yet Chicago ended 2021 with unprecedented levels of homicides and shooting incidents since the mid-1990s and an increase in car hijackings. In a Jan. 4 event with CPD Superintendent David Brown, Lightfoot admitted Chicago “has failed” even compared to other cities where crime is on the rise.

This year’s violence came despite Lightfoot keeping its promises to increase the staffing of its own public security bureau, increase funding for street awareness groups and stop violence and to launch a multidepartmental effort to treat gun violence as a public health crisis. She also appealed to federal partners for help with gun trafficking and prosecutions, and launched a gun investigation team dedicated to interrupting the illegal flow of guns in the city.

Compliance with the consent decree has also fallen short of his campaign rhetoric. By the end of June, Chicago had achieved full compliance on just 19 of the 519 reforms required, “secondary” compliance of 65, and preliminary compliance of 182.

Lightfoot and Brown announced progress in use of force policies and other Consent Order requirements, such as officer mental health support. But two parties to the executive order, the Illinois ACLU and state attorney general Kwame Raoul, denounced a lack of progress in community engagement and new foot prosecution policies for the DPC.

The fully empowered civilian oversight board that Lightfoot pledged to create within 100 days has not materialized. After two years and several breakdowns in negotiations, the aldermen authorized a new body, but with less power than Lightfoot envisioned as a candidate.

City finances and economic development

Lightfoot’s campaign focused little on the city’s dire fiscal situation, focusing instead on economic development in disadvantaged areas. She promised to direct investments to the south and west sides and to stimulate the construction of more affordable housing.

Lightfoot was forced to deal with deteriorating Chicago finances soon after taking office. At the start of 2020, the city faced a projected $ 1 billion budget deficit, thanks to pension bonds and costly bond repayments.

She closed the gap with short-term solutions like debt refinancing and a TIF surplus, as well as new taxes on restaurant bills and downtown cab rides. Since then, a one-time influx of federal COVID relief money has helped stabilize the city’s finances.

The mayor has kept his promise of recovery programs in areas that have suffered from a lack of investment for decades. Lightfoot’s signature Invest South / West program has attracted $ 575 million in corporate and philanthropic commitments and $ 300 million in planned mixed-use projects in neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, South Shore and Englewood.

She has also made progress in affordable housing. She recently announced a billion dollar plan for 2,400 rental units, the city’s largest affordable housing program. Other measures include a fix to the often-criticized Affordable Requirements Ordinance, protections for residents near Obama’s next presidential center, slowing demolitions near the popular 606 Trail, and allowing “housing. accessories ”such as discounts to increase the housing stock.


Lightfoot campaigned on many of the Chicago Teachers Union’s central demands, including endorsing a fully elected school board. But Lightfoot has changed his mind as relations deteriorated with a union that staged two work stoppages during his tenure. She urged the Illinois legislature to allow a council made up of a mix of appointed and elected members. In a crushing defeat for the mayor, the legislature and Governor JB Pritzker passed a union-backed measure establishing a council made up of all elected officials.

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