CHICAGO (CBS) — Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor on Monday, becoming the first black woman and first openly gay person to hold that office, and vowing to deliver the change she promised during her campaign by bringing a new level of integrity to City Hall.
Lightfoot said her administration would be led by four guiding principles, offering a reinterpretation of the four stars on the city’s flag, suggesting they would stand for safety, education, stability and integrity.
“I know, I know, putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is, well, a little strange,” Lightfoot joked. “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.”
Hours after being sworn in, Lightfoot made good on her promise, signing an executive order taking aim at the longstanding practice of aldermanic privilege, which traditionally has given alderman final authority over permits, licenses and zoning in their wards.
Her order reportedly will not do away with aldermen’s authority over zoning changes in their wards but will strip them of their control over issuing city permits and licenses.
“This does not mean our aldermen won’t have power in their communities. It does not mean our aldermen won’t be able to make sure the streetlights are working or the parking signs are in the right place or any of the thousands of good things they do for people every day,” she said. “It simply means ending their unilateral, unchecked control over on every single thing that goes on their wards. Alderman will have a voice, not a veto.”
Aldermen’s authority over licenses and permits has been at the center of the vast majority of federal corruption cases filed against dozens of aldermen since the 1970s.
Blasting elected and appointed officials who “cut shady backroom deals” to profit from their offices, Lightfoot — a former federal prosecutor — said the average taxpayer ends up footing the bill for corruption.
“When public officials cut shady backroom deals, they get rich, and the rest of us get the bill,” she said. “When some people get their property taxes cut in exchange for campaign cash, they get the money and sure enough we get the bill.”
While Lightfoot might face a stiff challenge in restoring public trust in city government, she said her toughest task will be addressing the city’s longstanding problems with gun violence and education, which she said have driven far too many families out of the city.
“The mass exodus we have seen, particularly in the black community, saps the vitality of our great city. We must reverse the exodus by creating the reality of safety in every neighborhood. Public safety must not be a commodity that is only available to the wealthy,” she said.
The new mayor vowed to develop a new proactive strategy to fight crime in neighborhoods hit hardest by gun violence and to create a new Office of Public Safety. She said the office would be led by a deputy mayor charged with coordinating a unified violence prevention strategy that brings in not only police, but also the full weight of city government, along with schools, non-profits, businesses and the faith community.
“People cannot and should not live in neighborhoods that resemble a war zone. Enough of the shootings. Enough of the guns. Enough of the violence,” she said.
Lightfoot also promised to expand early childhood education in an effort to make sure every student has a good education all the way through high school and college.
“Every child gets a quality education—that’s our business, no matter what,” she said.
She said the city cannot attract new families to Chicago and keep families here without a quality education for every single child.
“Our goal is simple: starting in our schools, we will create a citywide workforce as the pipeline for jobs of today and tomorrow that will be the envy of the world,” she said.
Lightfoot also said she would work with local businesses and labor unions to set up more apprenticeships for students who want to work in the trades and make sure they can get jobs as soon as they graduate high school.
“Every student should have the option to pursue vocational and technical training,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot acknowledged she also faces tough choices when it comes to the city’s budget, given ballooning pension payments, at a time when Chicago residents already have been hit with significant property tax increases and other higher fees.
“None of this is going to be easy,” Lightfoot said. “But we will do the hard work with transparency, integrity and a determination to put our pensions on a true path to solvency and make our government work more efficiently and without balancing budgets on the backs of low wage and working-class Chicagoans.”
She also hinted that she would demand developers increase their commitments to providing affordable housing when they receive taxpayer subsidies for construction projects.
“Developers can no longer skip their responsibilities by taking tax dollars but leaving it to someone else to solve our affordable housing crisis,” she said. “Here too, the city must lead. We need to cut the red tape and obstacles and instead promote the building of new units and have flexibility in our building code, so that innovative housing forms can come on line.”
Ahead of her inauguration, Lightfoot’s transition office unveiled her proposal for the City Council’s leadership structure:
• Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) as chair of the Committee on Finance
• Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) as chair of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations
• Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) as chair of the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development
• Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) as chair of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards
• Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) as chair of the Committee on Workforce Development
• Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) as chair of the Committee on Transportation and Public Way
• Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) as chair of the Committee on Committees and Rules
• Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) as chair of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety
• Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) as chair of the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation
• Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th) as chair of the Committee on Education and Child Development
• Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19th) as the chair of Committee on Aviation
• Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) as the chair of the Committee on Public Safety
• Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) as the chair of the Committee on Housing and Real Estate
• Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6th) as the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Relations (formerly the Committee on Human Relations)
• Ald. George Cárdenas (12th) as chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy (formerly Committee on Health and Environmental Protection)
• Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) as chair of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection
According to the Lighfoot administration, the proposal also includes changes to the committee structure, including the creation of a new Committee on Ethics and Good Governance with Ald. Michele Smith as chair, a Committee of Public Health and Human Relations and a Committee on Environment and Energy.
However, aldermen must approve the City Council leadership posts, so it’s possible Lightfoot could face a fight over who will chair the committees.