After a violent Memorial Day weekend, Lightfoot makes nine Blacks chairmen of city council committees, more than any other ethnic group in Chicago. But one Latino alderman isn’t happy. Did Lightfoot start a war?
By Erick Johnson
Thursday was a peace rally. Friday was a game of corn hole with Black youth. Monday was a Memorial Day ceremony at Grant Park. Tuesday was a press conference about a violent holiday weekend, and a speech at the City Club of Chicago. A Black majority of new committee chairmen approved at the first City Council meeting.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s era of reform has begun with a big victory. On Wednesday, May 29, Lightfoot set the stage for historic change at City Hall as the City Council approved her entire list of aldermen who will serve as new chairmen of the council’s 18 committees. Half of those are Black aldermen who have been blessed with extra political power by Chicago’s first Black female.
It was Lightfoot’s first City Council meeting where she put longtime alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward) in his place, after he raised objections about a rules only pronoun that should be gender neutral. She cut him off and said if he had no other objections they would move forward.
When the meeting ended, a new council was put in place with new leadership on committees.
They include Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), who is now chairman of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations. Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) chairs the Committee on Transportation and Public Way. Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward) is chair of the Committee on Committees and Rules. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward) chairs the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th Ward) chairs the Committee on Education and Child Development. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) chairs the Committee on Public Safety. Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6th Ward) chairs the Committee on Health and Human Relations. Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) chairs the Committee on License and Consumer Protection and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) chairs the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity.
Before the vote, Ald. Raymond Lopez, (15th Ward), expressed his opposition to the appointments, saying there were too few Latino aldermen who were given leadership posts despite the city’s large Latino population. Lightfoot’s plan was approved anyway, by a voice vote.
The move may spark tensions among the city council’s 11-member Latino Caucus which has gained political power since Latinos overtook Blacks to become the largest ethnic group in Chicago in 2017, according to the U.S. Census. So far, Lopez is the only Latino alderman to voice his disappointment about the ethnic composition of the new committee chairmanships.
Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th Ward) was elected Vice Mayor and Ald. Brendan Reilly, (42nd Ward) will be the president pro tempore.
Her first week in office kept Lightfoot busy, as the city’s first Black female mayor experienced her first Memorial Day weekend as Chicago’s mayor. It ended with the same tragic results as her last two predecessors. Some 42 people were shot, and seven killed, over the three-day weekend.
The weekend’s deadliest shooting occurred when at least four people were shot in the 1300 block of West Hastings just after 6 a.m. according to police. Officers at the scene found two men in their mid-20s with gunshot wounds. They were taken to Cook County Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
Keeping the city’s streets safe proved to be the first big challenge for Lightfoot as she settles into her new job at City Hall, while cultivating political alliances. She had a big victory at City Hall, but Chicago’s well-publicized shootings may be the biggest problem, that could define her political career for the better or worse.
So far, she’s leading with grace as a new mayor, but there’s a time limit on how much Chicagoans can take before the criticism grows louder and bigger.
The stage was set for what Lightfoot hoped would be a safe Memorial Day weekend and a strong statement to open a new political era in Chicago. On Friday, Chicago Police Organized Crime officers arrested 32 people during a raid on the South Side. Some 21 of those arrested had previous felony convictions, and seven were once convicted of gun-related offenses, according to a tweet from police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi. The city placed an additional 1,200 officers on duty and put 50 officers on CTA buses and trains.
The extra police steps weren’t enough to curb the violence. Last weekend’s 42 shootings were close to 2018 figures where eight people were shot dead and 31 wounded by gunfire.
“I had no illusions that we were going to be able to wave a magic wand and everything was perfect, but I think we definitely made some progress in some areas, and in some other areas, we clearly have more work to do,” Lightfoot said Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting for a new modular construction factory on the Southwest side.
The next day, Lightfoot joined members of the various U.S. Armed Forces for Memorial Day ceremonies in the Loop that included the annual parade on State Street and the wreath-laying ceremony in Daley Plaza. Later that day, Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stopped at a Red Line station on the North Side for a press conference. They also walked the North Avenue beach to greet residents soaking up the sun.
At the City Club of Chicago on May 28, Lightfoot reaffirmed her plan to end aldermanic power and implement ethics reforms that include preventing officials from profiting from their elected positions. She also promised to strengthen Chicago’s inspector general’s office and raise penalties for ethics violations.
“Make no mistake about it: change is hard, but change is necessary,” Lightfoot said during a wide-ranging speech before the City Club of Chicago.
Lightfoot also stressed the importance of reducing Chicago’s gun violence and addressing the city’s fines and fees programs, which she said hurt the city’s poor families. She also wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 and pass so-called “fair workweek” legislation that tightens rules around workplace scheduling. Both measures have drawn opposition from the business community.
Within her first 100 days of taking office, Lightfoot also called on the City Council to pass an ordinance that’s backed by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability that would establish some civilian oversight over the Chicago Police Department.