Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence and she’s not about to “outsource” control of the Chicago Police Department to a civilian police oversight commission.
Lightfoot said she’s not abandoning the police reform she championed. She remains fully committed to making sure Chicago has “a form of civilian oversight over the police and that there’s more accountability to the people of this city for the monies that are spent” on the department.
But she made clear she’s dead set against the compromise ordinance crafted by two groups that have long pushed dramatically different versions of civilian police oversight.
Under that plan, Chicago voters would be asked to approve a binding referendum on the 2022 primary ballot empowering a civilian police oversight commission to hire and fire the police superintendent, negotiate police contracts and set the CPD budget.
“I wear the jacket, as every [Chicago] mayor does, for violence in this city, for crime in this city. And the notion that we’re gonna outsource that to someone else and have no responsibility — no ability to impact this — I don’t know anybody who thinks that’s a good idea,” Lightfoot said during a conference call with City Hall reporters.
“When I hear particularly from people in communities that are most impacted by violence, it’s, ‘Please, mayor don’t walk away from us. We need you to help us manage what’s going on in our neighborhoods.’ Those may not be the loudest voices. They may not be the people that are marching in the streets. But, they are very much concerned about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. So we have to come up with the plan that is also responsive to them.”
If that binding referendum fails, the 11-member commission still would have the final say in disputes over police policy unless two-thirds of the City Council decides otherwise. The commission also would be empowered to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and hire and fire the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Also during Thursday’s free-wheeling conference call, Lightfoot said she’s not about to “play to the crowd” when it comes to spending the $1.8 billion avalanche of federal relief on its way to Chicago even though she fully expects to be bombarded with demands from aldermen, community groups and special interests.
The mayor said Chicago quickly and frivolously spent a smaller influx of federal stimulus funds after the 2008 recession without confronting any of the city’s “long-term, structural fiscal problems.” Next came a “tremendous fiscal crisis” that former Mayor Richard M. Daley solved with the widely-despised parking meter deal.
“The worst municipal deal probably in the history of the universe that still continues to plague us. Then, after that money got spent quickly and not held for long-term fiscal reforms, what happened next? The largest property tax increase in the history of the city,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot is determined not to “repeat that history” and vowed to “lead with equity” and help ease the burden for those hardest hit by the pandemic. But she promised to do it in a way that is fiscally responsible.
“I recognize it’s gonna be challenging. There’s gonna be a lot of people with a lot of opinions about how the money should be spent. But we’ve got to look for the long term and really make sure that we’re being careful, prudent fiduciaries of taxpayers hard-earned dollars,” she said.
“What I don’t want to do is pander to the crowd, throw money around in a way that creates a larger problem financially for the city on the back end.”
Earlier this week, a seemingly harmless resolution calling for the city to use $30 million of the new stimulus money to launch a universal basic income pilot turned into an emotional debate about reparations.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, called it a “slap in the face” to discuss giving 5,000 needy families $500 a month — no strings attached — when aldermen have just begun talking about reparations for Chicago descendants of slavery.
The debate showcased “very strong feelings about the historic inequities” African Americans have endured since “the beginning of the original sin 400 years ago,” Lightfoot said.
“There hasn’t been a proper reckoning of, really, our history or our present and how those decisions that were made years ago to enslave Africans and deny Black folks in this country our rightful and full citizenship rights,” the mayor added.
“It is past time for us to have a very fulsome discussion about that. … There’s a lot that needs to be done to right historic wrongs. None of that can be done overnight. None of that can be done cheaply. But we’ve got to start chipping away at it.”