Safety, reform, schools, equity top her agenda
By AARON GETTINGER
Lori Elaine Lightfoot, a Black, openly gay former federal prosecutor who lives in Logan Square, became Chicago’s 56th mayor Monday, sworn in along with other elected municipal officials including reelected Alds. Sophia King (4th) of Kenwood and Leslie Hairston (5th) of South Shore.
In her 38-minute inaugural address at Wintrust Arena, Lightfoot called for safe streets and strong schools for every child, “regardless of neighborhood or zip code;” an affordable, inclusive, fair and equitable city full of citizens who want to remain there, where every job pays a living wage.
She called for a reimagining of the four stars of the Flag of Chicago:
- The first to stand for “safety in every neighborhood,” of which she said she had “no higher calling,” as she called for efforts to cut violence, reform the Chicago Police Department and improve mental health care efforts;
- The second for education from pre-K to college, expanded apprenticeships and support for teachers;
- The third for stability, “[getting] our fiscal house in order” after an ongoing analysis of the city’s books “without balancing our budgets on the backs of working class and poor families” and support for the business community affordable housing “all over this city.”
- The fourth for integrity, “For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready, because reform is here!”
The City Council stood up to clap. “You voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government.” Aldermen were tardy in rising to their feet when Lightfoot said corruption and “shady backroom deals” had no place on the City Council; they eventually and uneasily joined the crowd in one of the morning’s longest stretches of applause. Lightfoot called for an end to aldermanic privilege and their “unilateral, unchecked control over on every single thing that goes on their wards.”
After the ceremony, Lightfoot signed her first executive order, instructing departments to end aldermanic prerogative in processes controlled by the mayor and city departments. Residents and businesses still obtain licensing and permits by the same processes, and Lightfoot said in a release that aldermen still retain input in city service deliveries.
Both King and Hairston support aldermanic privilege, calling it a useful tool to protect the 4th and 5th wards against unwanted development.
“Chicago is not where my story began, but from the moment I arrived in Hyde Park to attend law school and begin my career, this city felt like where I belonged,” the new mayor said in her speech. A Northeast Ohio native and graduate of the University of Michigan, Lightfoot matriculated at the University of Chicago Law School in 1986 after winning a full scholarship. She became student body president.
After working in private practice, Lightfoot became a federal prosecutor and, in 2002, began working in police oversight for the city. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her President of the Chicago Police Board in 2015. She announced a challenge to Emanuel, who had been expected to seek reelection to a third term, on May 10, 2018, earning immediate support from attorneys, LGBTQ people and liberal donors. Emanuel announced his surprise decision to retire on Sept. 4, drawing County Board President Toni Preckwinkle into the race on Sept. 20.
Animosity between the two materialized early on and accelerated when the two made it to the April 2 runoff. Preckwinkle faltered in part because of links to Ald. Edmund Burke (14th), the City Council dean and former finance committee chairman who came under federal investigation during the election, campaign missteps, low polling numbers and depleted campaign coffers.
Lightfoot picked up hefty endorsements from the major newspapers, politicians including U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) — but not Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), King or Hairston, who endorsed Preckwinkle — and won in a landslide, taking every ward and almost 74% of the total vote. Preckwinkle won no neighborhoods except Hyde Park–Kenwood, her political base, with 53% of the vote.
Lightfoot acknowledged Preckwinkle on Sunday among other elected officials in attendance, thanking them all for their service. Her recollection of former Mayor Harold Washington provoked sustained applause and a standing ovation from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Preckwinkle attended the ceremony as the top Cook County government official. In a statement, she said she looked forward to working with Lightfoot “to address the many challenges that lie ahead as we both strive to make Chicago and Cook County even better places to live, work, learn and play.”
In a statement, King called Inauguration Day “an historic moment with big plans for our community, especially the marginalized,” and said she was “ready to go to work with the new mayor!”
Emanuel appointed King, who attended the inauguration with her husband Alan, to her seat in 2016. She had an easy reelection over attorney Ebony Lucas, who also ran against her in the 2017 special election, winning around 66% of the vote and every 4th Ward precinct on Feb. 26.
Hairston’s reelection took longer: she won 48.5% of the first-round vote and faced South Shore community activist William Calloway in the runoff. In a heated campaign, Hairston prevailed by 176 votes.
Hairston started a sixth term on May 20, her brother Scott at her side. She and King swore to uphold the U.S. and Illinois constitutions and to do their jobs as aldermen to their best ability.
Also, in attendance were Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd), Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul (D), Rush, Kelly and U.S. Sens Dick Durbin (D) and Tammy Duckworth (D).
In a statement, former President Barack Obama congratulated “our outstanding new mayor” and the City Council “for starting an exciting new chapter for the greatest city in the world.”
“We’ve got our fair share of challenges in Chicago, but our city is on the move,” Obama said. “We look forward to working with you to make sure that our city continues to thrive.”
State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), a Preckwinkle protege, called the inauguration “a historic moment for the city that touches on interlocking layers of race and gender” in a statement.
“We all want to see the city succeed,” he said. “The city faces a lot of challenges that both her and the Council will need to tackle. I look forward to seeing what they look like moving forward. The city needs the state and the state needs the city, and so I’m hopeful that we can get past the animosity of the last four years to create real change for working class families.”
State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th), who represents Kenwood west of Woodlawn Avenue and Hyde Park west of Ellis Avenue, said Lightfoot “brings a new vision and some new perception to City Hall.”
“I’m excited to see what her creativity and innovation means for the city. It’s time that start moving in a new direction and stop being last in everything that’s good and first at everything that’s bad,” Buckner said. State Rep. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) and Hairston could not be reached for comment.
Lightfoot, a first-time elected official, spoke just after 11:15 a.m., after the City Council, Clerk Anna Valencia and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, a former West Side state representative who succeeded Hyde Parker Kurt Summers, were sworn-in. A large crowd watched at Wintrust Arena, DePaul University’s basketball venue in South Loop.