Lightfoot lays the groundwork for reelection campaign

During a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the audience of movers and shakers that Chicago is “poised for the best economic recovery of any big city in the nation, bar none.”

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses a new program, aimed to help Chicago residents facing higher transportation costs, during a news conference at City Hall, Thursday morning, March 31, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday touted Chicago’s economy in a speech to the City Club of Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Chicago is poised for “the best economic recovery of any big city in the nation, bar none,” in spite of “what the naysayers” claim, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday, laying the groundwork for what’s likely to be an uphill battle for a second term.

During a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Lightfoot buried the audience of movers and shakers in statistics to bolster her claim that Chicago is already on the rebound.

From business relocation and expansion to pedestrian and retail traffic, retail rents, conventions and trade volume at O’Hare International Airport, Lightfoot argued that economic activity in Chicago is booming. Thanks to her signature neighborhood revitalization program, the boom has also touched South and West side neighborhoods that have suffered a history of disinvestment, Lightfoot said.

The recovery is so robust, that it’s even touched city revenues. Lightfoot said Chicago may well close the books on 2022 with a $200 million surplus.

That’s even after eliminating what she called “financial time bombs” like scoop-and-toss borrowing, “climbing the ramp” to actuarial funding of city pensions and bankrolling the “largest retroactive paycheck” in Chicago history to rank-and-file police officers.

The mayor made passing mention of the carjackings, shootings and homicides that worry Chicago residents, employees and visitors. Polls show that the unrelenting crime wave is foremost on the minds of Chicago voters.

But even on that front, Lightfoot maintained that Chicago is “trending in the right direction,” even though “more needs to be done.”

For the umpteenth time, Lightfoot argued that shootings and homicides are down “year over year” and that the once-dismal homicide clearance rate is “above 65%,” which, she claimed is “in the heartland of where we should be.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a narrative out there that our city is headed in the wrong direction. That noise is completely belied by these objective data points, which show a very robust economy that is creating jobs and opportunity,” the mayor said.

“Our city is strong and solid and well-poised, well-poised to be one of the strongest economies in the nation. And that is simply a fact. Now, we absolutely have more work to do. But don’t let anybody tell you anything other than we are leading the nation among big cities in positive economic growth. And despite the naysayers and the skeptics, the truth is, we have a lot to be proud of in Chicago.”

After reciting a seemingly endless number of statistics, Lightfoot conducted what she called a “pop quiz.” She asked those in the audience who had heard “most of these positive economic milestones” to raise their hands.

When only a handful of hands were raised, the mayor said, “Ask yourselves why not.”

“We need to own our own narrative. And we need to tell these stories so that our people understand it, our businesses continue to have confidence, investors continue to flock to Chicago and we break through the noise,” she said.

“Make no mistake. We are a great city that is on the move.”

Recent polls conducted by other declared and potential mayoral candidates and for the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucuses show Lightfoot facing an uphill battle for reelection.

Her public approval rating stands below 30%. A politician is considered “underwater” and in trouble if less than 50% of voters approve of the job they’re doing.

Even after her best quarter of fundraising, Lightfoot has just $1.7 million in her primary political account. The big money remains on the sidelines waiting for a candidate, perhaps U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago.

Still, Lightfoot left little doubt that Tuesday’s speech was a prelude to a reelection campaign.

“I will challenge you to find another mayor who has had to address the kinds of challenges that I have in the last three years. I don’t think you’re gonna find it because it’s an unprecedented set of challenges: A pandemic, historic economic meltdown, civic unrest, spiking violence ... all happening within about a six-month period. ... There was no honeymoon period for me coming in as mayor,” Lightfoot said.

“Many of you say, ‘The mayor doesn’t get along with people.’ Well, look at the results and report on that, you folks who like to write about the challenges and how the powers of the incumbency won’t benefit this mayor. What I would say to you is that we get stuff done. We get stuff done because we build relationships and partnerships that enable us to do that.”

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