Chicago’s first Black female mayor signs executive order to end aldermanic prerogative
Crusader Staff Report
Mayor Lori Lightfoot got to work, days after being sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor in a spectacular inauguration ceremony that ushered in a new era with a rousing, bold speech that promises to end corruption and backroom deals at City Hall.
Hours later, Lightfoot traveled from the Wintrust Arena to her new office at City Hall to fulfill her campaign promise and signed an executive order seeking to end the aldermanic prerogative. It was her first move in her new career, met with mixed emotions among the city’s 50 aldermen and one that set the tone for what will be an intense era of change at City Hall.
On Tuesday Lightfoot announced that she will keep many of the city’s Black leaders, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointees, in key department positions that have in recent years been heavily accused for ineffectiveness in addressing the city’s problems.
They include Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Chicago Public Schools Chief Janice Jackson, and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Eugene Jones Jr. Lightfoot will also keep Dorval Carter, president of the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Park District CEO Michael P. Kelly, and City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado.
No decisions were given on Fire Commissioner Richard T. Ford or Randy Conner, the commissioner of the city’s Water Management department who was appointed in 2017 during a department shakeup after an explosive lawsuit was filed, accusing the leadership of racial discrimination and denying Blacks and Latino promotions.
“We are hitting the ground running with a talented team of public servants ready to serve every Chicagoan,” said Lightfoot in a statement. “I look forward to working with these experienced professionals to ensure a responsive, transparent government that creates equity, opportunity and growth for every neighborhood in our city.”
Days before she was sworn-in, Lightfoot proposed a shakeup of the leadership of the City Council Committees, putting her ally Scott E. Waguespack (32nd Ward) as chairman of the Chicago Finance Committee, one of the most powerful of the city’s 16 committees. Eight Black incumbent aldermen have been chosen to lead committees, according to Lightfoot’s proposal.
Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th Ward) is not on Lightfoot’s proposed list of committee leaders. Beale reportedly had a falling out with Lightfoot after he allegedly tried to block Waguespack from chairing the Finance Committee. He reportedly tried to maneuver around the next City Council’s committee chairmanship and clashed with the new mayor, who proposed Beale lose his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee. Alderman Carrie Austin (34th Ward) is Chairman on Contracting Oversight and Equity.
Throughout her campaign, the city’s first Black female and openly gay mayor made it clear that she was not comfortable with becoming just a symbol and satisfied with the city’s status quo. She continued her campaign to break the machine politics of the city’s past with a 38-minute inaugural speech before a massive audience at the Wintrust Arena that included Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Governor Jay Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and other city, county and state leaders.
During the ceremony, Melissa Conyears-Ervin was sworn in as the city’s first Black treasurer. Aldermen Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward), Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), Matthew J. Martin (47th Ward) and Maria Hadden (49th Ward) were among the city’s 12 new aldermen who joined the rest of the aldermen in the swearing in ceremony. The number of Black aldermen on the council has grown from 18 to 20.
It was a historic moment for Lightfoot, who stunned many with her meteoric rise as a longshot mayoral candidate who swept the city’s 50 wards to defeat Preckwinkle in a landslide victory that sent a strong statement to City Hall. After her swearing in ceremony, she held an open house at City Hall that drew long lines of Chicagoans excited about her leadership and the future of the city.
During her inauguration speech, Lightfoot at times was emotional and candid about her plans to sweep out corruption and make Chicago the city that serves all of its residents.
With her 90-year-old mother and supporters from her Ohio hometown in the first rows, Lightfoot shared her feelings with the audience.
“As I stand here today, I can’t help but think of where I came from—and I know, in my heart, that a story like mine, of a kid from a working-class family growing up to realize the dreams of my father and mother through education, hard work and sheer determination, needs to be the story of possibility in every neighborhood. Kids who look like me and come from families like mine shouldn’t have to beat the odds to get an education, pursue their passions, or build a family. Black and brown kids, low-income kids, every kid in this city should grow up knowing they can pursue anything, they can love anyone—that’s my Chicago dream.
“I’m looking ahead to a city of safe streets and strong schools for every child regardless of neighborhood or zip code. A city where people want to grow old and not flee. A city of sanctuary against fear where no one must hide in the shadows. A city that is affordable for families and seniors and where every job pays a living wage. A city of fairness and hope and prosperity for the many, not just for the few, a city that holds equity and inclusion as our guiding principles,” said Lightfoot.
Many of the incumbent Black aldermen and Emanuel looked uncomfortable as Lightfoot slammed the city’s political establishment and sent them a warning of tough times to come.
She said the four stars on the Chicago flag represent her new agenda for Chicago. They are Safety, Education, Stability and Integrity-issues that have been a problem with the city’s police, school system, finance department and City Hall in recent years.
When she spoke of integrity, Lightfoot turned to Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward), who has been charged with attempted extortion, and turned back to the crowd and said, “I know, I know …putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is …well… a little strange. But that’s going to change.
“It’s got to change. For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready … because reform is here.”
The crowd cheered.
Lightfoot inherits a city that has a budget shortfall of at least $700 million. While tourists flock to Chicago in record numbers and downtown sparkles with new skyscrapers and attractions, many of the city’s neighborhoods remain in shambles with shootings and unsolved murders.
“We will also continue the hard, but essential work of forging partnerships between police officers and the community premised on mutual respect, accountability, and a recognition that the destinies of police and community are inextricably intertwined. One simply cannot succeed without the other.”