Congratulations, Lori Lightfoot. You got the job.
Now what are you going to do with it?
As mayor of Chicago, will you be more Jane Byrne or more Harold Washington, two former mayors who also beat the powers that be?
Or, given how much Chicago has changed, will you take us down an entirely new path?
You made history of the best kind on Tuesday. For the first time, an African American woman was elected mayor of Chicago. For the first time, an openly gay person was elected mayor.
You ran away with this election.
But you were not the first to beat the political bosses. Or the corporate money. Or the unions.
Byrne did it first, in 1979.
“I beat the whole goddamn machine single-handed,” she said.
And Washington did it next, in 1983, defeating Bernie Epton, Richard M. Daley and Byrne, who by then had reverted to type and re-embraced the “goddamn machine.”
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Byrne thought she had no choice. If she did not, as mayor, forge an alliance with the same City Council and Democratic Party leaders she had called an “evil cabal,” she feared she wouldn’t be able to get anything done.
“City Hall,” she told her disappointed campaign manager, Don Rose, “is lined with the bones of reformers.”
Washington, unlike Byrne, stuck to his progressive promises. He was determined, above all, that government would better serve all those Chicagoans who had been left out — African Americans, Latinos and women.
For this, Washington got four years of “Council Wars.” Only during his second term, cut short by his death after just six months, did he have the benefit of a workable City Council coalition of his own.
So what’ll it be, Mayor-elect Lightfoot?
Byrne or Washington? Accommodation or fundamental reform?
We’re thinking Harold and reform.
The way we see it, the voters of Chicago have granted you an unprecedented mandate to rein in, reinvent and redirect the traditional power structure of the city.
Like no mayor before you, you are in a position to demand that big developers do more for the neighborhoods, that the wealthiest residents and corporations pay a fairer portion of taxes, that neighborhood schools come before charter schools, and that affordable housing be extended to every ward.
You have been given a license to reform the Chicago Police Department. You can curtail the corrupting custom of aldermanic prerogative, which has allowed members of the Council to put the squeeze on every sad-sack store owner looking to hang a sign.
You were elected by tens of thousands of Chicagoans who are fed up with the way things are, the corruption and the self-dealing. Did you see the headline on the front page of the Sun-Times two weeks ago — “Another guilty alderman” — when Willie Cochran pleaded guilty to wire fraud?
The key word there was “another.”
To win this election, you had to beat 13 other candidates, including a trio — Toni Preckwinkle, Bill Daley and Susana Mendoza — who had much bigger names, a lot more money and the backing of powerful special interests. One of those three anointed candidates was supposed to win.
But you won, coming out of nowhere, because you were the preferred candidate of the rest of the city. You were the candidate of Chicagoans who can’t find a good school for their kids. Who wonder why they’re paying more in property taxes while wealthy developers get tax breaks. Who can’t find a mental health clinic in a family emergency. Who don’t dare let their children play outside.
They gave you a mandate: Be our mayor, too.
And they gave you a City Council, peppered with restless newbies, that could prove to be the most reform-minded in modern times.
You will not be universally loved, Lori Lightfoot. You’ll catch a lot of hell. It comes with doing the right thing even when that’s hard, like possibly raising taxes again, building affordable housing where it is not wanted, driving a hard bargain in union negotiations, and defending good cops against people who, weirdly enough, don’t believe there is such a thing as a good cop.
It will not always help that you are a woman, black and gay.
But you won this election because enough Chicagoans are finally sufficiently appalled by the political corruption and economic inequities. Start from there, as Harold Washington did, and good things will follow.
You made history, Lori Lightfoot.
Now make more.
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