Lightfoot outlines plan for post-pandemic recovery

“The crisis we face today is like nothing any of us have ever experienced,” the mayor said in announcing her task force. “What we are embarking on is nothing less than the most breathtaking recovery effort our city has ever seen.”

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Amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic and a stay-at-home order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, few pedestrians and minimal traffic could be seen in the Loop, looking east on West Randolph Street from the roof of City Hall during the Wednesday morning commute, April 1, 2020.

Chicago streets have been nearly traffic-free at times during the state’s stay-home order resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Recovering from the impact of COVID-19 will take a long time, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday announced a task force to guide those efforts.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday asked a who’s who of Chicago’s movers and shakers to plan for the city’s resurgence after the coronavirus pandemic is finally over.

Standing outside the Water Tower, which survived the Great Chicago Fire, Lightfoot announced a COVID-19 Recovery Task Force co-chaired by the mayor along with her longtime friend Sam Skinner.

Skinner served as White House chief of staff and U.S. Transportation Secretary under former President George H.W. Bush. He is also a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

“We don’t know when this crisis will end. … But what we do know is that, when it comes to recovering from this crisis, there are no half-measures. No cutting corners. … The crisis we face today is like nothing any of us have ever experienced. … What we are embarking on is nothing less than the most breathtaking recovery effort our city has ever seen,” the mayor said.

With the statewide stay-at-home order extended to June 1, Lightfoot acknowledged Chicago is “still very much in the thick of the fight” and a “long way from being out of the woods.”

“At the same time, we need to plan in a thoughtful, deliberative way about what the future is gonna look like at the neighborhood level, at the block level, but also at the city and the regional level. That’s what this task force is all about: Assessing the damage that’s been done, the harm — both in economic and … emotional terms — and building a framework for us to transition out of stay-at-home when that time is right,” she said.

The task force the mayor has assembled is a virtual who’s-who of Chicago power brokers.

It will be divided into five working groups: Policy and Economic Stimulus; Mental and Emotional Health; Marketing and Business Development; Regional Coordination; and Economic Change Study.

The Regional Coordination group includes Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was swamped by Lightfoot in the 2019 mayoral runoff and has had a frosty relationship with the mayor ever since.

Preckwinkle applauded Lightfoot for her “strong leadership” and said it makes sense for a city and county that “share labor markets and supply chains” to work together.

She stressed the need for a recovery focused heavily on “the devastating impact” the virus has had on “black and brown communities.”

“This pandemic has forced millions of people in the region out of their jobs, with the most vulnerable communities being the hardest hit. Small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, gig workers, artists and independent contractors are experiencing unprecedented challenges and many of them are in the fight of their lives to stay operational. Recovery is paramount to all of us now,” Preckwinkle said.

“There’s no silver bullet for turning things around. But I’m convinced that we can improve our regional outlook through collaborative efforts. Regions with the least inequality perform the best. And for this to happen, we need to work together to drive this change.”

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter will serve on a Policy and Economic Stimulus working group that includes Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments and vice-chair of World Business Chicago. The Federation of Labor has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Reiter said essential workers on the front lines during the pandemic “need more than just a ‘Thank you.’ Working people need an ambitious plan for recovery that will not just return workers to the pre-pandemic status-quo, but strengthen worker protections and shape a new era of prosperity for the working class of Chicago.”

Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago, will serve on the working group for Mental and Emotional Health.

She called the pandemic impact “deep and complicated” — even on those who have lost no one they love to the virus and still have jobs and paychecks while working from home.

“Nearly everyone can identify with the fear and anxiety caused by the shutdown of our city and our economy. ... There is real grief in peoples’ hearts about what we have lost and what has changed. Whether it’s missing milestones like high school graduations and weddings, financial insecurity and instability — we are all feeling a tremendous sense of loss,” James said.

“The fears that people may have will continue, even when the stay-at-home order is lifted. Recovering from this crisis won’t be easy. … We will need to recognize the trauma that the city has faced … [and] plan a response to the long-term impact this crisis will have on the emotional health of our community.”

After introducing the task force, Lightfoot openly acknowledged Chicago Public Schools are planning for at least the possibility that remote learning may need to extend into the fall and the new school year.

“We know that … sometime in early 2021 at the earliest before there’s a vaccine. So, we have to be prepared for a lot of different contingencies, including the worst-case contingency,” she said

“We want to make sure that our children learn. … We want to stand up systems and structures now to be prepared, but also to continue to support our young people in particular because this is really, really difficult stuff on them.”

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