Taking the oath of office, Lori Lightfoot became the first black woman to head the City of Chicago. And she is also the first openly gay person to serve as mayor. But those identities will not be the course of her direction, she said in her inaugural address, “We will not fail, we cannot fail, We Are Chicago”
In her first speech as mayor, she noted Chicago’s flag has four stars, and she said she had four stars her administration will focus upon. The first of those is to tackle the gun violence that has scarred the city with massive levels of murders, and gun violence. Lightfoot said “Public safety must not be a commodity only available to those well off.”
She said the devastation of violence hits Chicago far and wide. She said her administration wants to repair the city’s mental health safety net, help those being release from prison to transition back into society. She also addressed the need for wellness reform for police and firemen, who struggle with the violence they face.
Education was her second star. As a city, she said, we make promises to our children – particularly a promise of education. She said it is time to provide a good education to every child in every neighborhood. As part of that effort, she wants to work to develop vocational training in addition to traditional education, and to work to match those vocational students with employers looking for those skills.
Stablily is her third guiding star — and she noted the city needs to get ahead of its financial problems, as she noted the city’s wallowing in pension debt, “We must tackle this problem head on.”
She wants the city to help the neighborhood businesses as much as they do downtown. “We need to grow, and grow, and grow together”
Ethics is her fourth star, as she announced “Get ready because reform is here” She said ethics in government isnt just in the city’s interest, its in the city’s council interest.
“The requirement that individuals must pay more to access basic city services must end, and it will today”
She said she will end the practice of council members having unilateral unchecked control over everything that goes on in their wards. “They will have a voice, but not a veto”
Lightfoot then diverted to the national issues of abortion — saying she would oppose the recent efforts in states like Georgia and Missouri to place new restrictions on abortions.
To those who are alone, who are powerless, we will not pass you by, she said.
A single leader cannot do this alone, she said. We must all make the sacrifices together. Each of us needs to ask, “What can I do to make a difference?”
With both Mayor Emanuel and Mayor Daley looking on, as well as members of the city council, Lightfoot laid out a message of reforms to the city’s power structure, police, finances and education. At times her speech was met with cheers of “Lori, Lori” particularly when she spoke of the need to lessen the dominating influence of the city council — a council that now has several members under indictment, including the longest serving member of Chicago’s City council, Ed Burke, who was recently recorded using his influence in an attempt to force a fast-food operator move his law business to Burke’s lawfirm.
Her term may well be the most challenged in the city’s history since WWII, with both the Chicago Public Schools and the city’s police and firemen pension systems teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, murders in the city continue to top 500 annually, the city spends on average $50 million each year to settle claims made against the city’s police, and the most of those getting an education in the Chicago Public Schools perform well below grade level, with just 78% graduating — up from 56% a few years ago.
And as she looks to bring her reforms, the city is facing a need to pay an additional $1 billion to pension, from a city budget already stretched to the breaking point. And in the context of these challenges, many continue to flee Chicago as well as the state.
If Chicago is to avoid the calamity that befell Detroit, which was driven into bankruptcy by decades of poor management, Lightfoot will have to become one of the most powerful leaders to ever serve as Mayor.
She will have to impose her reforms that are needed to save the city from further decline, against a history of wide-spread opposition to change for the entrenched interests that will surely look to block her from forcing them to change from the path that has brought Chicago to its knees.