She wants to re-open the city’s mental health clinics
Black women now control the four top elected positions in Chicago
By Frederick H. Lowe
Lori E. Lightfoot was sworn in today as Chicago’s 56th mayor. Lightfoot is the first black woman and the first openly gay person to hold the city’s highest elected office.
At her side for the festive ceremony were her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their 11-year-old daughter, Vivian.
Lightfoot took the oath of office decades after Harold Washington, Chicago’s first elected black mayor, and Jane Byrne, the city’s first woman mayor. Moreover, the atmosphere couldn’t’ have been more different.
Both Washington and Byrne faced bitter challenges. Washington endured unrelenting resistance from a gang of white-male aldermen who attempted to thwart his every attempt to govern. Byrne eventually made peace with the men.
Ed Burke, one of the aldermen who led the repeated assaults against Washington, is still a member of the Chicago City Council. Lightfoot did not give him as vital a city council committee post as he held under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The feds are also investigating him for allegedly shaking down a business owner in his ward.
When the Chicago City Clerk read the names of the aldermen seated on the stage behind Lightfoot, it was clear how far Burke had fallen.
Burke’s name was met with silence from the overflow crowd in the Wintrust Arena, where the inauguration was held.
The names of the other aldermen were cheered, some more enthusiastically than others.
During a half-hour speech, which was frequently interrupted by applause, Lightfoot told the crowd, “You wanted an agent of change. Now you have it.”
Lightfoot told the crowd that she would focus on reducing violence, police reform, the ongoing exodus of black families leaving the city, and Chicago’s lack of affordable housing.
Mayor Lightfoot repeated what she had said many times that she would end corruption by limiting the power of the city’s 50 aldermen to solely decide economic matters in their wards.
Until today, aldermen had the power to determine what businesses or facilities could locate in their wards, which some observers claim is a significant incentive for corruption because business owners have to pay bribes to the aldermen to get things they want to be done. Mayor Lightfoot today signed an executive order curbing the aldermen’s power.
“They will have a voice in the running of the government but not a veto,” she said.
Mayor Lightfoot also touched on re-opening the city’s mental health clinics which the city’s black aldermen voted to close on orders from Mayor Emanuel. The clinics served a mostly black clientele, many of them struggling economically.
Lightfoot faces a series of challenges. One of the biggest is a $750 million budget deficit.
However, that concern didn’t stop her from acknowledging her 90-year-old mother and her deceased father. Both encouraged her to pursue her goals. She blew a kiss to her mother, who was beaming and crying as she sat in the audience with Lightfoot’s three siblings.
Lightfoot’s inauguration brings a significant change in Chicago.
Black women now hold four of the top elected positions in Chicago and Cook County. Toni Preckwinkle is president of the Cook County Board, Kimberly Foxx is the Cook County State’s Attorney, and Melissa Conyears Ervin is City Treasurer.
Lightfoot is one of seven black women mayors nationwide.