In the two years since Lightfoot was elected, the mayor has deflected responsibility, brutally repressed protests, and delivered working Chicagoans a big bag of nothing. Here’s the timeline of her uninspiring tenure so far.
April: Before officially taking office, Lightfoot drops her opposition to the Lincoln Yards, a mega-development for the wealthy which ultimately receives a $1.3 billion taxpayer subsidy, helping pave the way for its passage in the city council.
May: Soon after being elected, Lightfoot opts to support her predecessor Rahm Emanuel’s $95 million Cop Academy, disappointing even her own campaign staff. She further signals that she will spend more than the original $95 million on it.
October: Lori Lightfoot’s administration and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fight the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) tooth and nail in a strike that lasts eleven days over demands such as having a nurse and social worker in every school, sanctuary school protections for immigrant students, and resources for homeless students, among other things, many of which Lightfoot campaigned on in the mayoral election.
November: Social worker Anjanette Young files a FOIA request after a horrific, wrongful police raid on her home in February. (Officers entered Young’s home with guns drawn and searched her home while she was forced to stand by, naked and terrified). Lightfoot is told about the raid by her staff, who describe it as “pretty bad.”
Lightfoot passes her 2020 budget through the city council, which fails to deliver on central campaign promises, like reopening mental health clinics, funding affordable housing, and finally prioritizing the needs of working-class Chicagoans over the rich.
March: As the Covid-19 pandemic rages onto the scene, Lightfoot fights to keep schools open. She and her health commissioner, Dr. Arwady, argue that “based on what we’ve seen to this point, [Covid-19] does not seem to be, certainly primarily, driven by children.” Hours later, Governor J. B. Pritzker shuts schools down statewide.
Lightfoot then pivots to enforcing stay-at-home orders, even threatening to arrest people if they come to the lakefront.
Lightfoot’s administration issues permits for a demolition of a coal plant in Little Village, blanketing the neighborhood in dust in the middle of a respiratory pandemic.
After the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police brings Chicagoans out into the streets in protest, Lightfoot, who ran on a “police reform” platform, responds by setting an arbitrary curfew of 9:00pm only thirty minutes before raising the bridges and shutting down the CTA, trapping hundreds of protestors from getting home and inconveniencing countless others who rely on public transit. The ACLU of Illinois calls it “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” but Lightfoot does not back down. She continues these practices, in effect making Chicago’s bridges into weapons wielded against the city’s residents.
June: Amidst a summer of protests against police brutality (responded to by repression from the Chicago Police Department [CPD]), Lightfoot saves her harshest words for the cops who napped and ate popcorn in congressman Bobby Rush’s office while protests were taking place.
Demolitions continue at the Hilco site.
A report finds that the CPD and the city missed more than 70% of deadlines in the first year of the federal consent decree, a court-mandated order establishing requirements and a timeline for instituting reforms to the police department, put in place after the Department of Justice found that the CPD had “a history of civil rights violations by officers, including a ‘pattern and practice’ of excessive force and abuse.”
July: The very same week Lightfoot salutes the departed civil rights hero John Lewis, calling for us “all [to] devote ourselves to the cause of justice and aspire to our highest ideals,” the CPD brutalize and tear gas protestors in Grant Park who try to remove the Columbus statue there. Lightfoot condemns the protestors. She initially refuses to remove the statue, but then removes it anyway days later.
August: As protests continue, CPD continues to “kettle” and brutalize protestors, which some aldermen condemn. Pressure from the CTU and parents forces Lightfoot and CPS to back down on an poorly communicated and unsafe plan to open schools in September.
November: Lightfoot squeaks past her 2021 budget, which includes a property tax hike and fines for going six miles over the speed limit, among other regressive measures, and still doesn’t reopen mental health clinics, another campaign promise.
Facing an enormous budget gap, Lightfoot rejects calls to make cuts to the CPD’s budget, despite 87 percent of residents polled (in a survey of nearly 40,000 Chicagoans) opting for “funds [to] be reallocated from police services to meet other needs, like public health, community services and infrastructure.”
December: Lightfoot falsely claims she knew nothing about the wrongful police raid of Anjanette Young’s home, and that Young never filed a FOIA request. Lightfoot’s Law Department tries to block the release of the video from airing on CBS 2 and seeks sanctions against both Young and her attorney. Lightfoot then flip flops, admits she did in fact know about the raid, and pledges to “build back trust.”
Lightfoot does not bring back the city’s department of environment, another campaign promise that would be an important step toward addressing issues of pollution in primarily Black and Latinx neighborhoods. In December, she pledges to hire a “chief sustainability officer,” but still hadn’t at the time of this writing.
January: Lightfoot and CPS continue to push for a February reopening of schools, despite evidence that it will endanger the lives of students, teachers, and their families.
Lightfoot’s second communications director resigns, which the Sun-Times notes is only the latest in a “string of top mayoral aides to leave Lightfoot’s staff before the midway point of her four-year term.”
Nisha Bolsey is a writer and activist from the Pacific Northwest living in Chicago. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at Columbia College Chicago.