Chicago's Mayor Lightfoot Envisions a Bright Future for the City

In an upbeat and visionary inauguration speech, Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s first Black woman and openly gay mayor, sketched out her vision of a Chicago dedicated to opportunity for all. She highlighted the need for safe streets and strong schools, as well as a city that is affordable for families and seniors. She was elected on April 2 as the city’s 56th mayor. Although she has faced some criticism from progressive activists, Lightfoot enjoys significant support from various sectors of the city and swept all 50 of Chicago’s wards — the widest electoral margin of any mayoral candidate. In an effort to build on this broad consensus, Lightfoot has moved quickly to establish her presence.

Lightfoot has created a list of committee chairs for the City Council, announced key cabinet officials, and issued a far-reaching and inclusive 100-plus page transition report, according to the Chicago Tribune. Cabinet officials were announced two days after Lightfoot assumed office. In a conciliatory move toward the previous mayor, Rahm Emanuel, several key officials will remain: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado, Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter, Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly, and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Eugene Jones. Samantha Fields, Emanuel’s budget director, will be senior adviser for legislative counsel and government affairs.

Among the new faces are Samir Mayekar, who will serve as deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development. Marisa Novara, an outspoken opponent of aldermanic privilege, will be the commissioner of housing. Tiffany Sostrin will become deputy director of legislative counsel and governmental affairs, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The challenges Lightfoot faces are daunting. Chicago has historic and deeply embedded issues within the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), especially as it relates to providing affordable housing to its residents. Chicago’s school system has suffered from mismanagement and funding shortfalls. Crime is a perennial issue, and the city has been dubbed “Chiraq.”

The crowning achievement of the Lightfoot transition is “Better Together Chicago,” a 116-page report that presents a holistic plan to support and expand city initiatives, including good governance, housing, education, and public safety. It draws on the collective efforts of Chicagoans across race, class, gender, and sexual lines, as well as across Chicago’s wards. The report features the work of 10 committees, each of which focused on solutions to the city’s most pressing problems. The report’s authors rooted their work in five key values: transparency, diversity, inclusion, equity, and accountability.

Lightfoot has proposed several path-breaking initiatives in crucial areas of city governance. She has also proposed several important changes in the City Council, including reducing the number of committees, requiring monthly meetings, preventing outside employment, and requisite live streaming of all meetings of the council and committees. She is calling for term limits for committee chairs. Lightfoot favors transparency through open data and has proposed a plan to digitize and index data from the mayor’s office and all city departments.

“Better Together Chicago” also includes proposals for increasing access to homeownership, eliminating homelessness, and converting basement and garden apartments units into affordable housing. Innovative proposals also exist in public safety, including the appointment of a deputy mayor for gun violence prevention and public safety, a transitional anti-violence summer program, a task force on illegal guns, and a neighborhood policing initiative and safe passage zones. Lightfoot wants to strengthen trust between police and communities, and wants to conduct community “listening tours” to determine neighborhood needs.

The plan aims to diversify the teaching workforce, improve the quality of education training, and develop an equity-based funding formula for high poverty centers and schools. Proposals would cultivate bilingual and bicultural community members into the workforce, develop a baseline equity report, and benchmark current progress and develop key goals in K-12 education. There are also proposals to expand transition support from senior year to post-secondary education.

The environment is also another increasingly important area of consideration. The proposal suggests restoring water service to all disconnected homes, and the establishment of more progressive water rates. The plan also aims to address lead poisoning — which includes a pipe inventory, testing, and filter distribution — and the appointment of an environmental advisory council consisting of city departments, sister agencies, and partners.

Lightfoot’s proposals are full of hope and promise. Bringing these ambitious plans to fruition is perhaps the greatest challenge for her young administration.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.