Lightfoot heading to Springfield to talk school board, taxes, casinos and pot

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in February. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, right, speaks to reporters after meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall on Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Emanuel had a relationship that went from friendly to toxic with former Gov. Bruce Rauner but still managed to reap legislative wins for Chicago.

And former Mayor Richard M. Daley never managed to have the same clout in Springfield that his father did.

So how will Lori Lightfoot — who won her very first political election in a landslide  — work with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly?

Lightfoot will have to jump into key issues quickly, and her campaign on Wednesday said she’s planning a trip to Springfield as soon as next week.

Pritzker has ambitious plans to try to pass hugely impactful legislation by the end of the spring session, including gambling expansion, the legalization of marijuana and a graduated income tax.

And it appears Lightfoot is on board with all of those issues. Lightfoot has a packed list of Springfield priorities, including pushing for an elected school board for Chicago — a measure that’s been stalled in the Illinois House since 2017. She’s also in support of a graduated income tax and plans to “work closely with the Pritzker administration to facilitate its passage and implementation,” her campaign said on Wednesday.

Lightfoot, too, supports a Chicago casino — with the money being used to help benefit “people and neighborhoods that have been neglected by City government far too long.”

And Chicago’s incoming mayor also supports legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana and will push for minority communities to benefit from legalization by receiving licenses, placement of grow operations and jobs, her campaign said. In terms of city violence, Lightfoot wants to continue to strengthen and implement gun bills that discourage straw purchasers and punish traffickers.

Pritzker reached out to Lightfoot to congratulate her on her landslide victory on Tuesday night, according to the governor’s office.

“The governor looks forward to discussing their shared priorities in the coming days, especially as he works to make the state’s income tax system more fair to working families, which will also benefit municipalities throughout Illinois,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said fixing the funding of the Municipal and Laborers pension funds, as well as the city’s other financial problems, will remain a major issue. And he wants to talk to Lightfoot about whether there would be local taxation when it comes to legalizing marijuana or expanding gambling in Chicago.

As for the type of demeanor needed to work with Springfield’s leaders, Cullerton credited Emanuel’s ability to work behind-the-scenes with the four legislative leaders as well as rank-and-file lawmakers to push for legislation, including the school funding formula bill.

“He rarely came down here, but he had very good people, folks that represented him down here. The speaker and I would have frequent meetings at City Hall to kind of review legislation,” Cullerton said.

“When I meet with Lori I’ll urge her to do the same thing. The mayor is an important political figure in the state Legislature. … She has influence beyond the city borders,” Cullerton said.

The Senate president said he expects to work with Lightfoot on legislation regarding schools, pensions, McCormick Place and tourism.

“Obviously there’s money that flows back and forth from the city and to the city from the state which we would have to go through and I’d like to kind of get her sense of priorities, because I don’t know her very well,” Cullerton said.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cullerton maintained close relationships with Emanuel, and were among the strongest advocates for key issues, such as funding for CPS and gun legislation. They also worked hard to defend Chicago from a city versus Downstate storyline.

“The speaker’s record of working with the mayors of Chicago who came over his tenure, at any shape or size, has been a good one and that will continue,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, is a family friend of the newly elected mayor. Lightfoot worked for Durkin’s brother in the U.S. attorney’s office and at the law firm, Mayer Brown. The Republican leader heaped high praise on Lightfoot, saying she “understands how to win by addition not subtraction.”

“It would be in her best interest to talk and to get to know the Republican legislators as much as she gets to know the Democrats,” Durkin said.

Durkin said there are universal issues the state and city are facing, including dire financial straits, the outmigration of residents and a lack of trust in elected officials. And he urged legislators to “do everything we can to give this mayor help in succeeding.”

“I think this is the type of person who was the person that nobody sent and I hope that people understand that she wasn’t brought out of a ward organization,” Durkin said. “She ran on what she felt was necessary and important for her and I have a lot of respect that she did this and that she actually followed through.”

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady’s office, too, said he is looking forward to working with Chicago’s new mayor, including a push for fair maps.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who was among several legislators to support Lightfoot’s campaign, said Lightfoot will have to hit the ground running with just weeks left before the Illinois General Assembly adjourns.

Cassidy said she envisions smoother sailing for Lightfoot and Pritzker — compared to the relationship Rauner and Emanuel had.

“Frankly we’re talking apples and oranges in terms of personalities,” Cassidy said. “I don’t anticipate that there would be rancor.”

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