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Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot brands city violence a ‘public health crisis’

Video by Ashlee Rezin and Rahul Parikh

Chicago’s never-ending cycle of gang-violence has triggered a “public health crisis” that requires a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild long-neglected city neighborhoods, mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot said Friday.

“We don’t need another riverwalk when we have neighborhoods literally crying out for the smallest crumbs. Rome is burning and Nero is fiddling . . . When you see communities suffering from this level of violence, it shows they are communities in distress. We’ve got to approach this like it is a public health crisis,” Lightfoot said.

“What I would do . . . is institute a comprehensive plan focused on uplifting those neighborhoods, identifying what’s working, what the community assets are and backfilling that with the levers of city government . . . whether in economic development, providing access to affordable, quality health care and mental health care.”

Caron Brookens, a spokesperson for the Rahm Emanuel campaign, said Lightfoot “talks a good talk” but spent part of her legal career leading “a plan to help return five more Republicans to Congress.”

“Republicans who would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, taken away healthcare for people in need and who passed a law making it easier for mentally ill people to get guns,” Brookens wrote in an emailed statement.

“It’s hypocrisy at the highest level.”

Brookens was referring to the fact that, as a private attorney, Lightfoot represented Republicans in the Ilinois Congressional delegation on electoral issues.

Lightfoot has argued that her legal work was designed to empower racial minorities against “hyperpartisan” Democratic power brokers.

Emanuel has spent the last three years trying to shed his “Mayor 1 percent” label and rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The mayor hired Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp to serve as a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer. Zopp has since moved on to World Business Chicago.

He also proposed: a series of incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment, a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.

Millions of dollars in grants have been doled out to minority-owned businesses to rebuild vacant commercials strips.

More recently, he has used public buildings — like the new fleet maintenance facility in Englewood and the controversial new police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park — as catalysts for economic development.

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks with Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times at City Hall on August 10, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks with Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times at City Hall on August 10, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Lightfoot dismissed those efforts as too little, too late.

She said it’s no accident that much of the weekend bloodbath that left 71 shot, 12 of them dead, was concentrated in Chicago’s “poorest, most economically distressed, least invested in neighborhoods.”

“These neighborhoods are crying out for resources and we are not listening to them. This mayor and this administration is not doing the hard and necessary work that needs to be done to lay a foundation for transforming — not just the neighborhoods, but our city,” she said.

“Having a Whole Foods — which sells products that, frankly, even the most well-off people are hard pressed to pay for, in Englewood — that’s not doing it. We need a real comprehensive plan on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis that is focused on uplifting those neighborhoods and investing private capital.”

To prevent another violent weekend, Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson have temporarily reassigned 600 additional police officers to Chicago’s five most violent districts and declared plans to break up large, unsanctioned street parties.

Lightfoot dismissed that response as a “Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

“Those parties, particularly the ones on the West Side, many of them were advertised on Facebook. They were trending on Facebook . . . Why didn’t we know something and use the data analytics he’s been trumpeting to make sure that we were being proactive [and] patrolling those parties?” Lightfoot said.

“All the things he’s talking about now should have been in place last week. And yet, we’re gonna have this big surge of officers who are gonna come into these districts. Officers who are not familiar with these districts, who don’t know the stakeholders, don’t know the nuances. That’s potentially a recipe for disaster . . . We’re going to continue to ask our officers, who themselves are stressed out, to work more overtime.”

Also on Friday, Lightfoot said Chicago should seriously consider following New York City’s lead by freezing new ride-hailing licenses and establishing a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers.

In fact, she went a step further by reviving the possibility of a downtown congestion fee and by suggesting an additional fee on ride-hailing drivers from the suburbs and even out of state. She argued that traffic congestion is “off the charts,” adding wear and tear on Chicago streets, and that City Hall cannot continue to do nothing about it.