Lightfoot splashes the crowded Chicago mayoral field with re-election launch

Lightfoot’s biggest recent victory is one that eluded his predecessors: a deal to build a casino in Chicago, where a portion of the proceeds will go to pay the pensions of police and firefighters who upset former executives. It’s a move that will reduce the chances that she will need to enact deeply unpopular property tax hikes ahead of the 2023 municipal elections.

But after winning a runoff election in 2019 where she swept all 50 Chicago wards as a political underdog and reform candidate, Lightfoot has a real fight on her hands. A city once ruled for decades by Mayor Richard M. Daley is feeling the mayor’s turnover. And despite his accomplishments and aggressive fundraising operation, Lightfoot has plenty of critics across the political spectrum – attracting at least six crime-focused challengers.

“So many people in the city are concerned about safety, and until they feel safe and secure, Mayor Lightfoot’s campaign is on the line,” said former Democratic Senator Susan Garrett. state and now president of the nonprofit Center for Illinois Politics. “Her heart is in the right place and I think she’s working hard. That’s a challenge for any Chicago mayor, but that’s what she should be focusing on.

Lightfoot remains the frontrunner in the race given that his competitors are less funded and, for the most part, lesser known: State Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Raymond Lopez, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, businessman Willie Wilson, former Chicago Public Schools leader Paul Vallas, and LGBTQ media consultant DJ Doran.

Although Chicago police say violence is on the decline, residents still see it as the No. 1 problem, according to a poll by other campaigns. Over the Memorial Day weekend alone, more than 50 people were shot, nine of them fatally. A deadly shooting in the middle of Millennium Park, a popular tourist district, shook the city. And a third Chicago police officer was shot last weekend.

Many of Lightfoot’s opponents launched their campaigns in part by attacking the mayor’s handling of violence. And to his critics more broadly, Lightfoot is a mayor without a plan.

She hired a police chief who struggled to gain support from her ranks. And after years of attracting the attention of his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s downtown business district felt ignored – a feeling that boiled over when violence erupted along the Magnificent Mile after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

Lightfoot stepped up his criticism of the criminal justice system for releasing too many alleged offenders before trial, urging criminal court judges to exercise more discretion. “We don’t want to turn Cook County Jail into a debtors’ jail,” she told reporters this week. “But residents of our community also have the right to be safe from dangerous people.”

A common thread for Lightfoot is his emphasis on stronger ethics rules across city government, including local lawmakers.

She was elected as a reformer after speaking out against the hypocrisy of leaving Democrat Ald. Edward Burke remains a fixture in city government as he faces a federal investigation for using his office for personal gain. As mayor, Lightfoot introduced ethics measures that strengthen the inspector general’s office and tighten rules for disclosure of lobbying activities within city council. It also introduced heavier fines for ethics violations.

“She’s made more progress on ethics and good governance than anyone since Harold Washington,” former city councilman and political consultant Dick Simpson said in an interview, comparing Lightfoot to Chicago’s first black mayor. Simpson was part of Lightfoot’s inner circle when she first ran for office and he also supports her 2023 run.

But others say Lightfoot’s record on transparency has failed to live up to his campaign promises, pointing to a botched police raid on the home of Anjanette Young, a black social worker who was forced to stand naked and handcuffed. Although the incident took place before Lightfoot was mayor, his administration was not immediately made aware of it when the details were made public last year.

Another key campaign promise was to bring transparency to city government by loosening the near-one-sided grip city council members have on matters within their wards — everything from controlling who gets a business license and the types of panels they can display. Although she has made some progress in ending the cultivation, the practice still persists.

“Many had hoped that she would really make this type of reform a priority. And I don’t know if we’ve seen that,” said Alisa Kaplan, executive director of nonpartisan reform for Illinois. “I think that’s partly because things look different between a candidate’s position and an office holder’s position.”

What really bothers Lightfoot’s critics is the mayor’s snappy behavior – something they say hampers city management – and his critics are likely to focus on his temper throughout the campaign at the town hall.

In a dispute with lawyers for the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans involving a statue of Christopher Columbus, Lightfoot is accused of saying, “My dick is bigger than yours and Italians, I have the biggest dick in Chicago.”

Lightfoot denies making the comment, but that didn’t stop the headlines in part because it didn’t seem out of place to the mayor, which made the statement hard to shake. Supporters call it a double standard, noting that Lightfoot’s male predecessors — particularly Emanuel, whose penchant for profanity is well known in Washington — were known to have similar choice words in hot moments.

“Lightfoot is vulnerable due to self-inflicted injuries. She wants to rule like Daley and Emanuel, but she was elected on the promise of something different,” said Delmarie Cobb, a longtime Chicago-based political consultant who has worked on multiple Democratic campaigns. “What is most surprising are the incidents that show a lack of finesse and polish.”

But Lightfoot embraces his candor.

“When we fight for change, confront a global pandemic, work to keep kids in school, confront guns and gangs, systemic inequality and political corruption only for powerful forces to try to stop the progress of Chicago — of course, I take it personally, for our city,” she said in her campaign launch video on Tuesday.

Lightfoot allies point out personality traits they like.

“She has determination. She doesn’t want to go back to the old way of doing business in this town,” Ald said. Scott Waguespack, whom Lightfoot appointed to the city council’s finance committee. “She pushed us all to invest in areas of the city that had been neglected for decades. Finances are improving, and minority participation in city finances has increased significantly for the first time.

Chicago is used to having abrasive and aggressive mayors, said Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, an ally who has known Lightfoot for 30 years.

“Then comes a black lesbian and suddenly people are clenching their beads,” she said. “I want my mayor to throw for my city.”

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