Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, is nearing the end of her first term. Lightfoot, a political newcomer, has had to balance her plan to change how business is done at City Hall with crisis management during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and historic protests against police abuse.It has not been an easy road.
She has been chastised by aldermen, the Chicago Teachers Union, and police reform advocates for exhibiting a lacklustre leadership style. On the other hand, those who support her say it is her governing style that drew them to her in the first place.
Earlier this year, the mayor was embroiled in a contentious battle with the CTU over her desire to reintroduce in-person learning. A reporter asked her about Alderman Gilbert Villegas, who had shepherded Lightfoot’s agenda through the council as her floor leader. Still, she also said her governing style made it difficult for people to work with her.
I am unlike in every single way any other mayor who has ever served here, Lori Lightfoot said at the time. That comes as no surprise. People are still getting used to it almost two years later, but I say what I mean and mean what I say.
Lori wore her outsider status as a badge of honour as a candidate. However, as she nears the midpoint of her first term, her honesty has caused some problems, most notably with the City Council. For example, she called some aldermanic criticism of her administration’s use of federal pandemic funds for policing “dumb.
Lightfoot, on the other hand, did not inherit the rubberstamp council of her predecessors. She lacks the tenure in office that would allow her to have some say over which council members are seated, as former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley did. And, unlike former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she has made it clear that she is not interested in exchanging support for her plan for aldermanic perks.
Lori Lightfoot explained at the same press conference where she was asked about her governing style that people are still not used to the fact that I don’t buy votes. I never have and never will.
Some people see conflict as a source of strength.
Lightfoot has faced crisis after crisis in the last year. She was in charge of shutting down the city and schools to stop the spread of the coronavirus. She had to figure out how to keep residents and businesses safe during the summer while also protecting protesters’ right to free speech as thousands took to the streets following the death of George Floyd.
She had to find an equitable way to distribute a new COVID-19 vaccine to communities hardest hit by the pandemic in recent months.Lightfoot’s efforts were both praised and criticised in each of these. This was perhaps most visible at the city’s monthly Council meetings, where councillors publicly chastised the mayor for what they saw as her failures to govern inclusively.
Aldermen complained that Lightfoot excluded them from discussions and decisions needed to get the city back on track.Despite the challenges she faced, the mayor’s office said in a statement that she was successful in her coalition-building efforts.
Conflict with Supporters
From raising the minimum wage to passing two difficult City budgets to navigating the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has consistently built the broad coalitions required to make progress on her agenda, according to the statement.
Some Lightfoot supporters see any ongoing conflict with the city’s political establishment as proof of the mayor’s strength.Mark Rust is the Vice Chairman of the law firm Barnes and Thornburg in Chicago. He was an early supporter of Lightfoot’s and remained so to this day.
The thing that excited me the most right away was taking the immediate opportunity to remove the aldermanic prerogative,Rust told WBEZ, referring to aldermen having significant influence over which projects are approved or rejected in their wards. It has been the source of a large portion of our city’s corruption.
Rust cites the first City Council meeting when Lightfoot verbally attacked veteran Ald. Ed Burke, the leader of the 1980s Council wars, a group of council members banded together to oppose Mayor Harold Washington’s agenda.
The ousted Finance Committee chairman raised an arcane issue about City Council rules in the middle of the meeting, but Lori Lightfoot rolled over him, prompting applause from the gallery.After the incident, a triumphant Lightfoot told reporters, Apparently Alderman Ed Burke has forgotten that I am a 30-year trial lawyer.