SPRINGFIELD — Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot spent her Wednesday in the state capital on her own timetable — early to meetings with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and with lawmakers on the Illinois House floor.
Noting that “obviously Springfield looms large,” Lightfoot declined to spell out what help she might seek from the Legislature, but vowed to have “boots on the ground” in the statehouse to advance her plans.
“I’m not going to wait until May 20th to be active and engaged in the General Assembly,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve already started that process.”
She predicted she would have good working relationships with the governor — “a very, very good, open guy, very no-nonsense” — and House Speaker Mike Madigan, a “very important person to the city of Chicago.”
Addressing legislators, Lightfoot introduced herself as a small town Ohio native whose parents struggled in a segregated steel town. The message was to those outside of Chicago who know little about her beyond her historic victory.
Lightfoot focused on unity and “change,” as she challenged the city-versus-state narrative championed by many conservative Downstate lawmakers, instead shifting the focus to the commonalities, and problems, Illinois residents face.
“Working together, regardless of party or geography, I see new opportunities for all of us,” Lightfoot said, while later acknowledging the financial struggles many face “are not unique to Chicago.”
“People are shouldering those same burdens in many communities across our great state,” Lightfoot said. “So the solutions we forge together in Chicago can and should have resonance across the state. And similarly, we are open and anxious to learn from others in this state and across the nation on how we can build a better, greater Chicago.”
Lightfoot said the state and city must find a way to fix the pension crisis, improve public safety and focus on transportation infrastructure.
Earlier, as reporters waited outside the governor’s office to snap a picture of Lightfoot walking in to meet with Pritzker, they learned the incoming mayor was running on her own time — early.
And Lightfoot then addressed House lawmakers about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. She spent about 20 minutes meeting with Madigan, but a planned photo opportunity with perhaps the most powerful, yet unpopular lawmaker in the building was scratched without explanation.
Lightfoot began her Capitol visit with a 40-minute meeting with Pritzker, whom she had dined with, along with their wives at the Pritzkers’ Chicago home last week.
Pritzker called the Wednesday meeting “terrific,” and told reporters the two shared “common interests.”
Lightfoot called it “very productive.”
“He’s a very, very good, open guy, very no-nonsense,” Lightfoot said. “So, there are a lot of things we obviously need to be aligned on, and we started talking about some of those issues today. I look forward to a very good and productive working relationship.”
Lightfoot then met with Madigan before heading to the House floor to deliver an address. After the address, the speaker stood feet away as Lightfoot shook hands and posed with Democratic, and some Republican, legislators. She also met with Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, who is a family friend.
On the speaker, Lightfoot called him an “important person to the city of Chicago,” whom she’ll have a “good working relationship and a good line of communication.”
“The speaker occupies an important space in state government. I look forward and I have no question that we’re going to have a good productive relationship,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not going to have to be aligned on every issue but he is a very important person to the city of Chicago and he’s obviously a constituent.”
Lightfoot’s team last week detailed some of her Springfield agenda, which included a push for an elected school board for Chicago, a graduated income tax and gun reform.
Lightfoot vowed to do everything possible to run city government work in a “cost-effective, and fiscally responsible way.”
Asked if she’d be seeking help for Chicago from the Legislature, Lightfoot said she’s looking at a “range of options.”
“I’m not putting my cards on the table quite yet, but we’re looking at a range of issues. And obviously there’s limited powers regarding revenue that the mayor can exercise. A lot of the powers that we can tap into flows from Springfield. So obviously Springfield looms large and we’ll make sure that we come up with solutions that we can get through the General Assembly with the help of the governor and the leaders.”
The mayor-elect again voiced her dissent for an elected school board measure sponsored by state Rep. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, who famously sparred with Lightfoot during a news conference in February.
“I want to have true parent representation on such a board. I don’t favor the Martwick bill. I think it’s highly problematic. And it also doesn’t address all of the details that are going to be necessary to flesh out, such as how are we going to get people on that board? What [is] going to be the criteria?” Lightfoot said. “I don’t want to turn an elected school board into another costly election, which is going to drown out the opportunity for parents to be participate in the process. That’s critically important to me. We’ve got to work out the details and the timing matters, but the details matter and I think getting that right is really important.”
Lightfoot plans to meet with the Illinois Senate and its leaders on Thursday.