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Lightfoot wraps up listening tour with promise of ‘transformative’ neighborhood investments

For three months, 28 community development organizations united by their demand for “greater equity” hosted a six-part conversation with Chicago’s new mayor and members of her cabinet.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot visits the San Miguel School Community Center
Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited an all-night campout at the Increase The Peace anti-violence initiative at the San Miguel School Community Center in violence-plagued Back of the Yards last week.
Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised Thursday to deliver “transformative” investments to long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods after wrapping up a “listening tour” to learn the pressing priorities of area residents.

“The kind of community-based-led strategy that we’ve been talking about is exactly the one that we’ve been engaging in. So when we announce our plans soon, it will be as a result of those community conversations,” the mayor said.

“We’re gonna make concrete, specific investments in neighborhoods that, we hope, will be transformative. Not just nibbling around the edges. But truly transformative and informed by what residents have told us that they want and they need.”

From April through June, 28 community development organizations united by their demand for “greater equity” hosted a six-part conversation with Chicago’s new mayor and members of her cabinet. The listening tour was facilitated by LISC Chicago, with financial support from a who’s-who of philanthropic groups.

The two-way dialogue was tailor-made to prove to voters who gave Lightfoot her 74 percent mandate that their new mayor was essentially intent on becoming the anti-Rahm.

Lightfoot has long criticized former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s dictatorial, top-down management style, epitomized by his subsequently scrapped decision to build a selective enrollment high school on the North Side named after former President Barack Obama.

She was determined to listen more and dictate less and maintain a running dialogue that would inform all of her major decisions.

On Thursday, Lightfoot made a show of wrapping up the tour by asking key members of her cabinet to join participating community leaders at La Casa Student Housing & Resource Center, 1815 S. Paulina.

As participants sat around a table, the mayor said what struck her most about the tour was the similarities between what Chicagoans of all neighborhoods want.

The only difference was the precise order of those priorities and the resources made available to one neighborhood compared to another, she said.

“I’ve heard residents and families seeking the basics that we all strive for. Stable, violence-free communities. Affordable housing and education that is accessible to all. The active engagement from city government that’s elected to serve them,” the mayor said.

“This wasn’t a huge theme, but it was kind of an undercurrent. Which is, we have to have integrity in government at all levels in order to be able to deliver and restore the confidence that people must have in us as public servants in order for us to have legitimacy in the work that we are doing.”

Going forward, Lightfoot promised that her department heads would hold quarterly meetings with the group and that she would join in the dialogue whenever possible.

“I don’t need to tell you that we have had a strategy way too long of investing here but not here. Listening to some, but not enough. We will change that. ... We never get public policy right if we don’t start with engaging people whose lives are most affected by the policy,” she said.

“Being here, being present, listening, engaging and being in partnership and collaboration with you and other people across the city as we move forward to take on and solve the tough challenges — that’s absolutely core to what we do. It’s not just gonna manifest itself in economic development or in planning. It’s gonna manifest itself in everything that we do.”