Not Kidding About the Change
Candidate Lori Lightfoot was not supposed to win the mayoral election. You have to go back more than a year to mark her entry into the race, as the only candidate willing to take on Rahm Emanuel. She has been running ever since – through the primary, through the runoff, and through her first 10 days on the job. For those who choose to underestimate Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, don’t start with stamina. And as Alderman Ed Burke learned yesterday, it’s really better not to underestimate her at all.
I first learned that three years ago while providing communications support for the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. If Mayor Emanuel was looking for a way to put a period at the end of the sentence that begins with “the shooting of Laquan McDonald,” he chose the wrong person to lead the process. Methodical and disciplined, Lightfoot recruited subject-matter experts, community members, and a host of others and organized them into working groups that explored five key areas, including community and police relations. Their searing report set the stage for a Department of Justice report and ultimately the consent decree put in place by former Attorney General Lisa Madigan. It’s no coincidence that some of those who worked most closely with Mayor Lightfoot at that time were among her earliest personal supporters, and one is now serving as her chief of staff. When you work with Lori Lightfoot, you come away impressed.
It’s easy to understand that many who watched the “battle of the progressives” play out in the run-off election chalked up some of the promises Mayor Lightfoot made on the campaign trail to, well, a campaign. Weary Chicago voters have heard it all before. But their first taste of her authenticity came on Inauguration Day, when she doubled down on critical City Council reform promises by calling the newly sworn-in aldermen to their feet to feel the crowd’s enthusiasm for fundamental change. After that display, it is difficult to fathom why Alderman Burke thought he would test the new mayor at her first City Council meeting with an objection to the lack of a gender-neutral pronoun in the new Council rules. It just provided her the opportunity to underscore what she has said all along: this is a new day in Chicago and the old guard will do well to take the Mayor at her word. And speaking of her words, it might help to pay attention to the values that she established as Mayor-elect during the 6½-week transition. I can attest through my work on the mayor’s transition that, like most of the inaugural address, the words are her own.
The rules changes Mayor Lightfoot pushed through the City Council include livestreaming committee hearings (where most development deals get done); preventing aldermen with conflicts of interest on an ordinance from not only voting on it but from taking part in the debate on the issue (hello, Alderman Burke); and moving TIF issues from the Finance Committee to the Committee on Economic and Capital Development.
If Burke or other aldermen want to challenge the Mayor’s commitment to transparency, they’re going to have to do better than questioning pronouns.