Mar 1, 2023 - Politics

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot leaves a fraught legacy

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waits to be introduced at a campaign rally on Feb. 25, 2023. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's single term will go down as one of the most memorable and disappointing in recent Chicago history.

Why it matters: The loss represents dashed hopes for those who, four years ago, saw in Lightfoot a new, transparent, progressive day for Chicago politics.

  • But in recent months, some of her most ardent former supporters publicly backed other candidates.

What they're saying: "Obviously, we didn't win the election today, but I stand here with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude," Lightfoot said Tuesday night.

  • "I am grateful to the millions of Chicagoans who came together as we made tough decisions, saw the struggles of our frontline workers and beat back a deadly pandemic."

The big picture: This year's election presented a stark contrast to 2019, when Lightfoot sailed to victory by winning every single ward in Chicago, securing almost 75% of the vote over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

  • Chicagoans voted in the reformer in part as a rejection of political corruption that had plagued Chicago politics, including the indictment of powerful Ald. Ed Burke.

Zoom in: Lightfoot promised to end corruption, take away aldermanic privilege and invest in all neighborhoods, not just the affluent ones.

  • Lightfoot brought in the city's first casino, which is being planned for the Near North Side. Her Invest South/West initiative funded new infrastructure projects for Black and brown communities.

Yes, but: Less than a year into her term, Lightfoot's sprawling plans were hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led her to take emergency measures and lock down the city.

  • Lightfoot was praised for the way she handled the early days of the pandemic, but as it dragged on the mayor found herself tussling with the police union over vaccine mandates and the teachers union over safety measures.

Her struggles

Violence: In 2020, Lightfoot's police department clashed with protesters during uprisings after the killing of George Floyd and Chicagoans watched as looters ransacked Michigan Avenue. The mayor ordered downtown bridges raised in an effort to control the crowds.

  • The city has seen a recent rise in gun violence and a rash of carjackings.

Education: Lightfoot battled over a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union early in her term and presided over an 11-day teachers strike. The mayor and CTU fought again over COVID safety protocols, which kept kids out of school for five days in early 2022.

Politics: Lightfoot spent much of her term bickering with the City Council, including former ally Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10th), who said last year, "I'm sick and tired of being thrown under the bus."

More challenges: Several high-profile businesses moved their headquarters out of town, citing taxes and violence under Lightfoot's watch.

What's next: Lightfoot will play out her term, which ends in May.

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