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Lightfoot Era Dawns In Chicago — ‘We Are Going To Transform Our City’

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is set to become the 56th mayor of Chicago Monday.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot addresses supporters on April 2, 2019.
Brittany Sowacke / Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — The Lightfoot era will dawn Monday in Chicago.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is set to become the 56th mayor of Chicago Monday after taking the oath of office in front of more than 8,000 well-wishers and admirers determined to usher her into office on a wave of goodwill, where she will face dozens of seemingly intractable problems including a massive budget deficit and pervasive violence.

Lightfoot vowed Friday not to shrink from those challenges as she released a 232-page report crafted by the 400 people who served on her transition committees. That roadmap details a plan to increase equity in Chicago and sets the tone for Lightfoot’s first 100 days.

“We are going to transform our city,” Lightfoot said. “No one person, no one leader — even if it’s a woman — can change the city alone. We must do it together.” 

Lightfoot told reporters she would direct city officials to no longer cut off water to residents who have fallen behind on their bills, calling water “a basic human right.”

The transition plan also calls for an end to the practice of funding Chicago Public Schools based on the number of students enrolled. It’s a practice that critics, including the Chicago Teachers Union, contend has drained neighborhood schools of resources pushed them to the brink of closures.

Lightfoot also pledged to toughen the city’s affordable housing rules and force developers of large projects that get a city subsidy or zoning change to build more units earmarked for low- and moderate-income residents on site, rather than paying a fee or building the units elsewhere. In addition, more of those apartments must be large enough for families.

The transition plan also urged Lightfoot to adopt a very different approach to gun violence than Mayor Rahm Emanuel by treating it as a public health problem and creating a mayor’s office of gun violence prevention that will be tasked with developing proactive strategies.

Lightfoot also ended weeks of fevered speculation and announced her picks for committee chairs. The slate must be approved by the City Council, which will vote on May 29.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) — the only alderman to endorse Lightfoot before the runoff — will take over as chair of the powerful Finance Committee, replacing Ald. Ed Burke (14), who was forced out of the position in January after he was charged with attempted extortion. Burke has said he did nothing wrong.

“Chicagoans expect us to deliver on our commitment to end the old way of doing business in City Council, and this proposal will begin to chart that course,” Lightfoot said. “We worked hard to ensure diversity in committee leadership, and to empower aldermen who will help achieve our mission of a more transparent and accountable City Council.”

Waguespack said he planned to clean house.

“It’s gonna be pretty intense,” Waguespack said Friday. “I think the key is to get in there, find out what the duties of each staff member is tasked with, what their responsibilities are, what are the overall needs of the committee, and really try to restructure it from there.”

Waguespack acknowledged that some alderman’s feelings had been bruised, but predicted the changes would be approved.

“I know there’s some very upset people, but there’s also a lot of new people coming in who want to see these changes, and it’s up to Mayor Lightfoot, I think, to help direct her agenda,” Waguespack said. “When she rolls this out for a vote, people will get behind her.” 

Ald. Walter Burnett (27), who will remain chairman of the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety committee, said he anticipated some opponents might try to defeat Waguespack’s selection.

“Some folks don’t like Scott. I don’t have a problem with Scott, Scott is just different,” Burnett said. “He’s a different dude, I’ll give you an example – Lori gives a nod for Lincoln Yards, right? She said she’s cool with it, Scott still vote against it. He go by his own drum, he beats his own drum, he drums his own beats, you know? He’s different. Just cause he finance chairman doesn’t guarantee he’s always going to agree with Lori… He goes against you and look you in your face, all the time. That’s fine. I teach my young democrats we’ve got to agree to disagree.” 

Ald. Tom Tunney (44) is set to chair the Zoning Committee, replacing disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25), whom the Sun-Times reported traded sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions for City Council actions.

Tunney will also serve as vice mayor. He would replace Lightfoot if she is unable to serve.

Lightfoot moved to oust Ald. Carrie Austin (34), the longtime chair of the Budget Committee. Austin had pleaded with Lightfoot in the Sun-Times to keep her job, despite her endorsement of Toni Preckwinkle for mayor.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3) will replace Austin, and be charged with crafting a budget plan that fills a deficit Lightfoot estimated at more than $700 million.

Instead, Lightfoot tapped Austin to chair the new Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity in an effort to keep tabs on whether the city is meeting its contracting goals for firms owned by women African Americans and Latinos.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) will chair the Committee on Health and Human Relations, which was chaired by Dowell during the last term when it was the Committee on Human Relations.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) will replace defeated and disgraced Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1) as chair of the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development and serve as the mayor’s floor leader.

“As long as everyone communicates, we’re going to be fine,” Villegas said.

Former Chicago Police Officer Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) will replace Emanuel-ally Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) as the chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, which will grapple with whether to establish civilian oversight of the CPD — and what form it will take.

Taliaferro said he has a big job in front of him, amidst oversight by a federal judge and as negotiations for new police and fire contracts start in earnest.

“I don’t want to be one to bury proposed legislation,” Taliaferro said. “I don’t think that’s fair to our city and I don’t think that’s fair to the democratic process. I want to make sure we look at everything with open eyes and with reason.”

Though Taliaferro backed Preckwinkle, he said would support Lightfoot as mayor.

“We all should respect her… now she’s tasked with growing this city beyond what Mayor Emanuel has done, so she’s taking up the helm and we’ve got to start off with respecting her in that position,” Tailaferro said. “Overwhelmingly, the city has put her in that position by a large margin, and I respect my constituents’ decision to support Lori and I want to do so as well.”

Taliaferro called for his colleagues to fall in line and support Lightfoot’s picks.

“We have to let her take the helm,” Taliaferro said. “When you’re a captain of a ship, your crew doesn’t necessarily put together the agenda of the ship. The captain has always done that. So I think I want to be respectful enough of Mayor Lightfoot to say: lead the ship.” 

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10) — a member of the Chicago Teachers Union and the daughter of a labor icon — will chair the Committee on Workforce Development, which was led by defeated Ald. Pat O’Connor (40).

Ald. Harry Osterman (48) will chair of the Committee on Housing and Real Estate, replacing his former neighbor to the north, defeated Ald. Joe Moore (49).

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38), will chair the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation, which was led by Tunney during the last term.

Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24) will chair the Committee on Education and Child Development, taking over from Ald. Howard Brookins (21).

Instead, Brookins will replace Ald. Anthony Beale (9) as chair of the Committee on Transportation and Public Way. Beale had campaigned to be Finance Committee chair, and warned Lightfoot she needed to pick him to avoid battling with aldermen.

Five aldermen who chaired committees during the Emanuel administration are set to remain  as chairs under Lightfoot, including Ald. George Cárdenas (12), who will lead the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy, which was the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection under Emanuel.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8) will remain chair of the Committee on Committees and Rules, giving her the power to block legislation at the direction of the mayor. Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee Chair Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27); Aviation Committee Chair Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19) and License and Consumer Protection Committee Chair Ald. Emma Mitts (37) will also keep their spots.

Ald. Michele Smith (43) will chair the newly created Committee on Ethics and Good Governance, which will be charged with reforming the city’s rules and procedures.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) will serve as president pro tem, and will preside over the City Council meetings in Lightfoot’s absence. He will also be in charge of the Legislative Reference Bureau, which is designed to help aldermen craft ordinances.

Reilly said he would make the bureau “a real resource for my colleagues.”