Lori Lightfoot’s farewell, and a welcome promise to keep working for Chicago

Some political commentators have concluded that had Lightfoot been more personable, she might have been re-elected. Maybe. But if Lightfoot were a man, would she have been given a pass? Likely.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves as she gets on stage during her farewell address at BUILD located at 5100 W. Harrison St. in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Monday, May 8, 2023. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves Monday as she gets on stage during her farewell address at BUILD, 5100 W. Harrison St.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lori Lightfoot faced plenty of criticism during her tenure at City Hall.

The former federal prosecutor, who ran as a progressive outsider in 2019, nevertheless angered plenty of progressives with high-profile fumbles such as backtracking on support for a fully elected School Board, raising the downtown bridges to thwart civil unrest in the summer of 2020, and ramming through the three-year NASCAR deal without City Council input.

Still, it would be disingenuous to discount her accomplishments, or to ignore the unprecedented challenges she faced or the undercurrent of sexism and racism in some of the criticism hurled her way.

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During an emotional farewell speech on Monday to a crowd of about 300, Lightfoot said “lots of time and energy and ink has been spilled” about her reputation as a prickly, put-up-or-shut-up leader.

Had she not been so cantankerous, she may have been reelected, many political commentators have concluded. Maybe. But had Lightfoot been a grumpy man, would she have been given a pass? Likely. Studies have shown that if women aren’t seen as likable, others will be less supportive of them and their plans than if they were men.

Leading with humor amid a pandemic

Lightfoot made commendable strides in reinvigorating neglected neighborhoods through lNVEST South/West, and we hope Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson keeps building upon that initiative. And just a year into her term, the city went into lockdown because of COVID-19, a blow no one could have foreseen.

Lightfoot’s star rose as she charmed Chicagoans with her humorous PSAs urging everyone to stay at home, and memes of her sprouted everywhere on social media. The mayor was the formidable rock the city needed to get through a pandemic.

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Then, in the following months, her administration had the challenge of dealing with protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder as well as the violence and looting that broke out in August following a non-fatal police shooting in Englewood. The bridges were raised several times that summer, in a futile attempt to deal with the unrest.

Even as her term came to a close, Lightfoot was dealing with another unforeseen emergency: Finding shelter for the wave of migrants still being sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

On Monday, Lightfoot told the crowd that she’s “more optimistic” about Chicago than ever, “My work is not done. I will roll up my sleeves in another form and fashion,” she promised.

Let’s hope so. Chicagoans didn’t re-elect her, but the city can use all the help it can get.

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