Mayor Lori Lightfoot is off to a “promising but mixed” start, in part because she’s made “very little progress” in reducing violent crime and has yet to articulate a clear and coherent crime-fighting strategy.
That’s the bottom line from David Greising, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, a government watchdog group where Lightfoot once served as a board member.
As a twice-appointed Police Board president and co-chair of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability, Lightfoot should have had a crime-fighting strategy ready to implement on Day One, Greising said.
That’s particularly true, since crime and corruption were the two key issues that got her elected, Greising said.
But if the mayor really does have a crime-fighting strategy, Greising said he hasn’t seen it.
Instead, numbingly familiar violence seems to dominate nearly every summer weekend.
“We’ve seen very little progress. Yes, the murder rate is down from a couple of years ago, when it peaked. But we’ve had these bad weekends that seem no different really than what Rahm Emanuel was dealing with last summer and the summer before,” Greising told the Sun-Times.
“She at least has gotten out into the neighborhoods. She’s done ride-alongs. She has these `Accountability Monday’ meetings with Eddie Johnson and his staff. Those are all good things. But where’s the plan in terms of, how do we fix these problems? What is her strategy? It’s surprising that she didn’t come in with a strategy and that she still has not articulated one.”
The mayor’s office countered that Lightfoot has implemented a “data-informed, all-hands-on-deck strategy” that identified the “top 18 beats” in Chicago that “drive violence.”
She’s also focused on “60 citywide neighborhood hot-spot locations to centralize strategic police missions and deployments as well as city resources,” including “Operation Clean-Up missions, street outreach and youth intervention,” the statement said.
”By retooling our approach to crime-fighting strategy around collaboration, we’ve been able to address the root causes of violence head-on,” the mayor’s office said.
”As a result of this ongoing effort, murders are at a three-year low, shooting incidents are at their lowest count since 2015, and many neighborhoods across Chicago are at their lowest levels of burglaries and robberies in the last 20 years.”
Still, Greising predicted that barring a major turnaround, Lightfoot would dump Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and replace him with an outsider long before April, when Johnson will be fully vested on his police pension.
As for the city’s $1 billion financial crisis, Greising warned beleaguered Chicagoans to brace themselves for a post-election property tax increase, even if Lightfoot gets everything she wants from state lawmakers.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Lightfoot plans to ask the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to help Chicago dig itself out of a $1 billion hole — by empowering the city to tax professional services and raise the transfer tax on high-end home sales.
Those requests will be made during a fall veto session when Lightfoot will also be seeking a Chicago-only casino gambling fix.
“Rahm doubled property taxes. ... He raised property taxes, what is it, three of the last four years in office. So, it’s going to be a political problem for her. But I’ll be surprised if it’s not part of the equation for her,” Greising said.
Even after enduring the avalanche of Emanuel increases, Chicago is “not the most heavily taxed major city in the country by any means,” and there is “probably still room” to increase property taxes.
“Raising property taxes, of course, contributes to other issues like affordable housing, gentrification in neighborhoods. People who have a hard time just hanging onto their homes. It creates other issues that she would have to deal with. But I would expect property taxes would have to be a big part of it,” he said.
The mayor’s office refused to talk about the possibility of raising property taxes.
The statement simply reiterated Lightfoot’s determination to do everything she can to “avoid raising costs for working families.”
Greising also argued that Lightfoot made a rookie mistake by floating a long-shot plan to have the state take over the city’s $28 billion pension liability. The plan blindsided Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who predictably shot it down.
“It was a big mistake. It’s part of her being a rookie politician. You don’t want to go public with a request like that unless you know the answer is going to be, `yes,’” he said.