Mayoral election in a year: A look at Lightfoot’s tenure
CHICAGO — With one year to go before Chicago’s 2023 mayoral election, it’s worth reflecting on the tenure of a candidate who had campaigned for sweeping reform.
In the 2019 election, Mayor Lori Lightfoot won all 50 wards in the second round.
A year before the next election, much of Lightfoot’s noble agenda has not been implemented.
A former U.S. attorney and Chicago Police Board chief, Lightfoot introduced herself as an expert in public safety. In 2021, violence in Chicago has reached levels not seen in decades. More than 800 homicides were recorded in 2021, with more than 1,800 carjackings, the most of any major city in the United States
After the scandal forced Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson out, Lightfoot hired former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck as acting police superintendent. After a few months, she made her permanent choice, former Dallas Police Department Chief David Brown.
To deal with the mounting violence, Lightfoot and Brown declared war on the gangs.
Brown has changed strategy several times, including creating a team of roving officers throughout the city, only to later shift some of them to neighborhood beats at a time when the CPD is slowly moving toward reforms ordered by the court.
Lightfoot worked with the city council to increase public safety spending, allocating more than $1 billion to address poverty and violence.
Lightfoot was unavailable to answer questions from WGN News for this story, but his office provided Frank Perez. Perez is the Chief of Violence Prevention and Intervention Services at UCAN. He said it was not fair to blame Lightfoot for the upsurge in violence.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It didn’t happen on his watch. It was years in the making. Years of all the “isms” that exist. Isolationism, high unemployment rates, high dropout rates, high numbers of self-medicating people. »
On the other hand, Ald. Anthony Beale became a fierce and prominent critic of the Lightfoot administration.
“You look at all the senior leaders who have left. We had a lot of expertise here in the city and they’ve since gone. When you see even the soldiers all leaving,” Beale said.
Lightfoot campaigned for a reinvention of city government, vowing to end the prerogative of aldermen. By decree, the mayor removed the power of council members to block certain developments, subsidies and permits. But she failed to limit the power of aldermen to change the zoning code.
When COVID-19 swept through Chicago, Lightfoot leaned into the challenge and urged residents to stay home. She coordinated a citywide response and launched a team dedicated to helping black and brown residents get health care.
But many departments and agencies faced challenges. In the Chicago Park District, a lifeguard sex abuse scandal rocked the district in 2021. In the legal department, questions about the treatment of Anjanette Young following a botched 2019 police raid carried out before the entrance according to Lightfoot.
The mayor’s response to various emergencies has angered residents, from rioting and looting to violent protests against statues and organized robberies at shops along the Magnificent Mile.
Lightfoot’s confrontational style has often been on full display.
Several council meetings turned chaotic, with cameras capturing a heated discussion between Lightfoot and Alderman Janette Taylor during a meeting.
In 2019, a labor dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union resulted in a 14-day strike. This year, teachers again came out on top of COVID safety protocols.
As a candidate, Lightfoot supported an elected school board only to change its mind when Springfield unveiled plans to create a 21-person board.
The proposal passed the legislature, and Governor J.B. Pritzker signed it into law over Lightfoot’s objections.
Staff turnover is common in government, but critics say Lightfoot has been slow to appoint replacements.
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The mayor has promised transparent governance, but his administration sometimes has limited access, such as when she only spoke to black journalists to mark her second birthday.
In hopes of revitalizing historic neighborhoods, Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West program has generated approximately $1.5 billion in commitments for 10 southern and western communities.
Beale said the money was welcome, but the community needed to have more of a say.
“The administration is trying to get around the aldermen and they’re trying to have unique rooms by putting a building in each of these hallways,” he said. “And then, election time, come and stand up and say, ‘Look what I’ve done in each of these INVEST South/West corridors. “”
Lightfoot inherited a budget deficit of nearly $1 billion. But within a few years, thanks to help from the federal government, the city’s expenses increased by 30%. Lightfoot’s most recent budget drew praise from supporters and critics alike.
After three turbulent years, all signs point to Lightfoot seeking another term.
Beale was asked if he thinks Lightfoot could win over Chicago voters for the second time in 2023.
“I think it’s okay be very difficult to see the total unrest in the city, to see the crime rate in the city, to see all the strikes we’ve had in this city, the murder rate in this city,” Beale said.
Conversely, Lightfoot supporters say they understand the unprecedented challenges she inherited.
“She came into this job, through no fault of her own, with what previous administrations over the last 30, 40 years left behind,” Perez said. “And because she’s a woman – I’ll say it, because she’s black, she’s used as a scapegoat.”
Public and private polls show voters think Lightfoot has done a good job in handling COVID-19. But violence is the number one issue for Chicagoans, and voters blame Lightfoot.
Her re-election, if she runs, may well hinge on whether voters believe she has delivered on her promise to make the city safer.
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