Mayor’s gaffes won’t help Chicago get a lift from Pritzker and Springfield

If Lightfoot’s administration doesn’t pay better attention to that relationship, it will be costly for Chicago.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in 2019; Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, in 2019.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Amr Alfiky/AP file; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot keeps making me cringe. 

I can get over some of her rookie missteps, such as hiring a former alderman for a six-figure job in the Department of Planning and Development during her own citywide hiring freeze. 

The alderman, John Arena, did admirable work for his Northwest Side ward before being ousted in the election, but his hiring reeks of a favor and contradicts Lightfoot’s image as a reformer. 

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In the spring, Lightfoot spread a rumor that the police union had told officers to basically slack off over the Memorial Day weekend, a time when violence is known to break out in some neighborhoods. That was pretty bad form, too. At least it was a one-time thing. 

What’s really worrying are the mayor’s repeated mistakes in dealings with state lawmakers in Springfield, especially Gov. J.B. Pritzker. If her administration doesn’t pay better attention to that relationship, it will be costly for Chicago. 

The latest gaffe came in the last week. In a meeting with state lawmakers from Chicago, Lightfoot proposed co-ownership of a casino license between Chicago and the state. A private company would run it. 

Such a plan wouldn’t have a prayer of passing in Springfield. Downstate and suburban lawmakers would never allow such a deal for Chicago.

Pritzker or his aides would have told Lightfoot’s administration that the idea was a non-starter had they received sufficient advance warning. The governor’s people were caught off guard. Actually, they were “completely blindsided,” according to a Sun-Times report by Tina Sfondeles and Fran Spielman. 

Lightfoot, for her part, says she kept the governor in the loop. But why bother to press the idea if you’ve already been warned off by an original sponsor of the gambling bill that was signed into law last spring by the governor.

“I told them, ‘The governor is still opposed, so why do you keep bringing this in?’” Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, told the Sun-Times. “‘Let’s focus on some different ways that we are working on. Let’s focus on that.’ And now the mayor comes out and makes this statement. I can’t figure it out.”

Veteran political consultant Don Rose told me that such a miscue, if true, would “obviously be cringeworthy” and a “rookie mistake.” But, he said, “It’s a matter of who do you believe.”

But there’s a pattern emerging with Lightfoot when it comes to working with Pritzker. Her team seems to keep his people in the dark about her proposals until the last minute. Four months ago, she proposed in the news media a state takeover of city pension funds. It was news to Pritzker. 

On Wednesday, Lightfoot got a taste of the good that can come from working closely with Pritzker. 

When the mayor’s ordinance on recreational pot sales was in danger of stalling Wednesday because of protests from the City Council’s Black Caucus, her aides asked for and received help from the governor’s team, reports Capitol Fax political blogger Rich Miller. 

Pritzker’s aides went to City Hall to listen to and address aldermen’s complaints that there aren’t enough minority owners in the mix for cannabis shops. The aides were helpful in getting the ordinance passed. 

Lightfoot promised to help the aldermen make their case in Springfield for more equity.

“I will be your partner,” she told them.

I sure hope she means it. She has not made a sustained effort to establish strong ties with Pritzker and state legislators.

There has to be better networking if Lightfoot is serious about getting financial help for Chicago from Springfield. Otherwise, she looks naive or halfhearted.

Either way, it weakens her. 

Marlen Garcia is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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