Making History: How Chicago’s first black woman, openly gay mayor plans to shake up the political machine

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Making History: How Chicago’s first black woman, openly gay mayor plans to shake up the political machine

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd alongside wife Amy and daughter Vivian. She is the first black woman and openly gay mayor.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd alongside wife Amy and daughter Vivian. She is the first black woman and openly gay mayor.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd alongside wife Amy and daughter Vivian. She is the first black woman and openly gay mayor.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd alongside wife Amy and daughter Vivian. She is the first black woman and openly gay mayor.

Andres Correa, Assistant City Editor

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Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as the 56th mayor of Chicago Monday morning, vowing to transform the city’s government.

The historic moment took place in the South Loop’s Wintrust Arena with thousands sitting in the audience. With all 50 Chicago aldermen and former mayors Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley behind her, the 56-year-old former federal prosecutor became the city’s first black woman and openly gay mayor.

Regarded by some as a political outsider, Lightfoot achieved the highest seat in Chicago’s government after she won all 50 wards and beat the so-called Chicago political machine last month. In her speech, Lightfoot said reform was coming to the city, hinting at the long-standing corruption that has plagued Chicago for years and more recently has been the center of several federal investigations, including several into Ald. Ed Burke, who is currently under investigation for extortion.

“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” she said during her inauguration. “Well, get ready… because reform is here. I campaigned on change, you voted for change and I plan to deliver change to our government.”

The new mayor wasted no time getting to work. On her first day of office, she signed an executive order limiting aldermanic privilege over matters such as permitting and licensing.

Northwestern political science Prof. Thomas Ogorzalek told The Daily in an email that aldermanic privilege has been a ‘longstanding and fairly distinctive’ element of Chicago governance. He added that this move is associated with limiting corruption but could bring up other issues.

“It could have the side effect of making critical zoning and development issues rise to the level of city-wide debate, which could undermine ‘Not In My Back Yard’ efforts to limit affordable housing in wealthier parts of the city,” Ogorzalek said.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer
All fifty Chicago aldermen stand with their families and honored guests at Lightfoot’s inauguration. Thousands of attendees flooded into the South Loop’s Wintrust Arena for the historic ceremony.

Lightfoot drew from poet Gwendolyn Brooks in her speech and redefined the meaning of the Chicago flag’s four stars. Each star, she said, represents a component in her plan to change the city: safety, education, stability and integrity.

Safety

When it comes to safety, Lightfoot said gun violence was the greatest challenge the city faces. She said gun violence has led to a mass exodus of Chicago’s black community and called for the reversal of this exodus. However, she said law enforcement could not solve this problem alone and communities under siege should not be blamed. Instead, she called for the city to come together.

“This greatest challenge demands all of us, united together,” she said. “And, I promise you the city will lead, and we’ve already begun this work.”

Lightfoot said that while in office, she will create a mayor’s office of public safety. She said a deputy mayor would lead the office, developing and implementing violence prevention strategies. These would include connecting community stakeholders like government, nonprofit, educational, business and philanthropic sectors.

Education

Lightfoot began her speech by saying she would build strong schools for every Chicago student “regardless of their zip code.” She said the city must deliver the education it is promising to residents and plans on expanding early childhood education services.

The new mayor said she will be working with businesses and unions to set up apprenticeships for people who want to learn a trade or pursue vocational and technical training.

Essie Hall, who attended the inauguration, said she felt inspired by Lightfoot’s speech, especially her commitment to equity.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer
Essie Hall, who attended the inauguration. “What I love about Lori most, in my opinion,” Hall said, “she represents not only bringing in light but shining a light of love.”

“She is interested in ensuring that whether you live on the far South Side or the North Side, there will be equity and opportunity for you in employment, equity for your children, equity in the safety of the neighborhood,” Hall said. “Equity was the key word.”

Lightfoot took time out of her speech to speak to the young people in the crowd and encourage them to recognize the power they have in their communities.

“You have the most at stake in the city’s future, just as the city’s future most depends on you, Lightfoot said. “ We need your energy, creativity, intelligence and dedication. There’s hard work ahead of us. But we will do that work, because we believe in you and in the vast, still-untapped potential of this great city.”

Stability

With the city facing an estimated $740 million budget deficit, financial stability was another issue Lightfoot said her administration will seek to fix. She said her team has already begun reviewing the size of the city’s fiscal challenges. Those challenges, she added, will force her to make “tough decisions.”

Lightfoot said her administration will work with transparency and integrity to ensure the city’s pensions are headed in a “positive direction” without jeopardizing low-income and working-class Chicagoans.

In addition to city’s pension, affordable housing was another factor Lightfoot discussed. She said long-term residents should not be forced out of their neighborhoods after periods of transformation. Lightfoot said she wants the city to increase its homeownership numbers and turn vacant lots into communities.

Under her administration the city will lead by example and “cut the red tape.”

Integrity

When it came to the final star, Lightfoot said she plans to end “shady deals” and corruption in city government.

“These practices have gone on here for decades,” Lightfoot said. “This practice breeds corruption. Stopping it isn’t just in the city’s interest, it’s in the City Council’s own interest.”
After Lightfoot’s speech, Santita Jackson, political commentator and daughter of Rev. Jesse Jackson, said she liked that Lightfoot is an “outsider.”

While the new mayor is an “outsider,” Jackson said Lightfoot is bringing the lessons she learned before her political career to her new role now. In addition, she said the challenges ahead cannot be tackled alone and she is excited to join Lightfoot to create change in the city.

“She wants the resources, the great resources of this city to be spread around the city,” Jackson said.” She wants every man, woman and child, however you identify, to have an opportunity to be all that you can be.”

Email: andrescorrea2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @aocorrea1

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