Mayor Lori Lightfoot cannot be “written off completely,” but she has “a lot of work to do” to have even a shot at re-election.
That’s the bottom-line, mid-term assessment of Lightfoot from David Greising, president and CEO of the Better Government Association.
If Greising were a teacher filling out Lightfoot’s report card, he’d say the biggest “room for improvement” is in the “works well with others” category.
So far, Lightfoot hasn’t. In fact, her abrasive, micro-managing style and thin-skinned propensity to take things personally and lash out is alienating people and driving them away.
“Lori Lightfoot’s pique, her vulgar statements, her open personal animosity toward some of the people she gets caught up with doesn’t necessarily seem to advance an agenda. It looks more like a lack of discipline on her part. She keeps shooting herself in the foot,” Greising told the Sun-Times.
He pointed to Lightfoot’s recurring tension with Gov. J. B. Pritzker and her string of recent losses in the Illinois General Assembly.
That includes expanded bargaining rights for the Chicago Teachers Union and a pension sweetener for Chicago firefighters — likely to be followed by a sweetener for Chicago police officer pensions, too.
“Why is she at odds with Gov. J.B. Pritzker? ... Can she potentially salvage that relationship and make it something constructive? Can she get something done in Springfield, which so far, she’s not done very well in? There are some things she could fix if she chooses to,” Greising said.
“But it gets back to that question of her personal discipline, her sense of isolation. What sometimes appears to be almost a sense of paranoia that she just is wary of everybody she’s dealing with. ... If she can’t address those issues, then her viability if she chooses to run for re-election will be compromised.”
Aside from the persistent questions about Lightfoot’s temperament, Greising said the mayor’s greatest weaknesses have been in areas expected to be her greatest strengths: public safety and police reform.
Lightfoot made her political bones on those issues. She’s a former Chicago Police Board president who co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability amid the furor that followed the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
In 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was ordered to release the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke — later convicted of murder — shooting McDonald 16 times after Emanuel was accused of concealing the video until he was safely reelected.
Lightfoot personally drafted the policy requiring the city to release body-camera and dashcam video of police shootings and other incidents involving cop shootings within 60 days.
She promised during her inaugural address to stop the “epidemic of gun violence that devastates families, shatters communities, holds children hostage to fear in their own homes.”
Yet she hits the midway point with crime and violence far worse than when she walked in.
In March, shootings were up 70% over the same period a year ago. Homicides were up 50%. Carjackings more than doubled.
Her hand-picked police superintendent, David Brown, a retired Dallas police chief, seems overwhelmed by the job. His officers continue to be shot at in record numbers.
“The progress on policing so far has been utterly disappointing. … Some of the videos that have come out have been very disturbing. It almost seems that we’ve made zero progress on addressing some of the serious problems” in the Chicago Police Department, Greising said.
“The hope was that, because she had an inside view of what is wrong with the Chicago Police Department, she would have fixes in mind. And she doesn’t appear to have fixes of her own. Nor does ... Brown seem to have a strategy that offers any hope that he really can fix this problem of a high level of violent crime, of rogue policing.”
Progressives had high hopes for Lightfoot but have been bitterly disappointed by her failure to deliver the elected school board she promised as well as civilian oversight of CPD.
The mayor’s spotty record on environmental issues — including the Hilco smokestack demolition debacle in Little Village and General Iron’s now-stalled move from Lincoln Park to a Southeast Side that has been Chicago’s dumping ground for decades — will be another tough pill for progressives to swallow, Greising said.
The BGA president gives the rookie mayor her highest grades when it comes to the progress she has made toward righting Chicago’s financial ship and in her strong leadership during the pandemic.
He pointed in particular to the tough decision she convinced the City Council to make to raise property taxes by $94 million in 2021 followed by annual increases tied to the consumer price index.
But he saved some of his harshest criticism for her surprisingly poor record on the issues of government openness, transparency and her failure to honor Freedom of Information requests.
Greising pointed to Lightfoot’s “terrible” failure to promptly comply with Freedom of Information requests and to the secret City Council meetings held during the George Floyd demonstrations that the BGA sued the city to stop.
“The city is required to pay the legal fees of anybody who sues under Freedom of Information if the city is not complying with those requests,” and Emanuel wracked up $1.7 million in legal fees over eight years, Greising said.
“In two years, she’s a third of the way toward matching Rahm’s abysmal record,” Greising said.
“From a mayor who promised transparency — for this mayor to have this disappointing a record is really a surprise. … We would look for a lot better from her in the second half of her term.”