Black mayors of Chicago, LA, NY, Houston speak in DC: ‘We’ve come forth at some difficult, challenging times’

For the first time, Black mayors run the four largest cities in the U.S. Here’s what they have to say.

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The mayors of the four largest cities in the U.S. spoke at the African American Mayors Association conference in Washington on April 21, 2023 (from left) ; Eric Adams of New York; Karen Bass of Los Angeles; Lori Lightfoot of Chicago; and Sylvester Turner of Houston.

The mayors of the four largest cities in the U.S. spoke at the African American Mayors Association conference in Washington on Friday (from left) ; Eric Adams of New York; Karen Bass of Los Angeles; Lori Lightfoot of Chicago; and Sylvester Turner of Houston.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — For the first time, Black mayors run the four largest cities in the United States — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Houston. And Friday at the African American Mayors Association conference, the “Big Four” were together for the first time, a historic gathering to discuss their work.

“If you look back when things started, there were none,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Prior to Dec. 12, when Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was sworn-in, there were three. And before New York Mayor Eric Adams became mayor on Jan. 1, 2022, there were only two.

Opinion bug

Opinion

The arc of history is long. Things change slowly. Very slowly. Nothing is permanent.

But for now, this is the snapshot:

Chicago has had 56 mayors. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is the third Black mayor and the first female Black mayor. Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will be the city’s fourth Black mayor.

Bass, the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles, is the second Black and first woman to hold that office.

Adams, the 110th mayor of New York, is that city’s second Black mayor.

Turner is Houston’s 62nd mayor and the second Black person in that office. But he’s term-limited, so he won’t be in Houston’s Nov. 7 mayoral election, and the tally may soon change again.

All four mayors are all Democrats.

They preside over cities that do not have a majority Black population.

“These are cities that are highly, highly diverse, where African Americans are not in the majority,” Turner said. “But we have stepped forward. And then the other thing that I would add is that we’ve come forth at some difficult, challenging times. That needs to be made very clear.”

“We are now leading cities and some very challenging times when the politics is so toxic, but we are still called upon to manage effectively, the cities that represent the economic engine, and not only the cities, the states in which we reside, but the country yet as well.”

Takeaways:

If you are curious: There was no mention that Lightfoot was in her last weeks as mayor — until Lightfoot herself brought it up.

Being in this club: The Black big-city mayors related to what the others are going through, from dealing with the COVID pandemic, the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and chronic issues of crime, policing and inequity.

The four have an informal support group. Bass said after her election that she was on a Zoom call with the other big city mayors and “just the way they have been so supportive has been amazing.”

Lightfoot and Bass are friends.

Said Lightfoot: “We do love and respect and support each other, lean into each other in times of triumph but also in times of tragedy, or other challenges that we all face every single day.”

Righting historic wrongs: A part of Lightfoot’s legacy is how she tried to right historic wrongs in Chicago that have shortchanged Black and Brown residents in many ways.

“For me, really, what our work has to be about, is about building wealth in places that have been denied for far too long,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot also called out companies — not by name — who, after the murder of George Floyd, put out statements “which I frankly call the ‘I love Black people’ statements. Well really, how many of those companies that have made those statements, made those pledges have actually followed through? And if we don’t, as mayors, hold those folks accountable, shame on us.”

Adams said people have “profited” over the “dysfunctionality” of “our communities.”

To that point, Bass added, in the United States, “people profit off of our poverty.”

Bass drew knowing laughs when she noted that in Los Angeles, a very liberal city, “everybody had their Black Lives Matter flags out, OK? Then crime ticked up and there was smash and grab and all of a sudden, you know, it was Black Lives Matter last year, but this year, ‘You’re scaring me,’ so I don’t think I really want to go there anymore.”

Lightfoot on Black elected officials and delivering for their communities: “I’ve been mayor for the last four years. My time is winding down. … But what I saw and what I see is people in my neighborhoods who have been starved for resources.

“There are areas in my city that looked like the fires of ’68 just got put out,” she said, a reference to the destruction in parts of Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s West and South sides after the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Black folks have represented those areas forever,” she said, not mentioning the names of any specific city, state or federal elected officials.

“Why is it? Why is it that we have taken so long for ourselves to wake up? If we are content with crumbs, our people will never, ever prosper.”

Note to Brandon Johnson: Try to watch the video of the four mayors discuss their daily realities, especially when it comes to crime, police and public safety. In a few weeks, you will be the new Number Four.

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