The Chicago Bears take the field with a scripted series of plays for the opening drive.
The same could be said of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot. She has a list of things she wants to get done in the first 100 days:
• Keep Chicago safe — and young people occupied — by “flooding the zone” over Memorial Day weekend.
• Prepare a budget that’s certain to include painful cuts and tax increases to satisfy a $277 million spike in pension payments and a budget shortfall more “dire” than she anticipated.
• Build more affordable housing to stem Chicago’s population losses.
• Bring equity to an overly-punitive ticketing policy that has unfairly targeted minority motorists and forced thousands into bankruptcy.
• Level a playing field tilted in favor of Uber, Lyft and Via by: dramatically increasing ride-hailing fees; imposing a New York-style cap on ride-hailing licenses; banning out-of-state motorists who have flooded Chicago streets; or, perhaps, all three.
• Reform a City Council bracing for what could be its biggest-ever corruption scandal — in part, by televising committee meetings and broadening the already-sweeping powers of Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
• And seat a cabinet that’s likely to include at least some holdovers from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.
Once she gets past Memorial Day weekend, city finances top Lightfoot’s list — and not simply because she must introduce her first city budget just over four months after taking office.
“The number is far bigger than this administration has disclosed to the public,” Lightfoot said Wednesday.
Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown has said she’s been forthright about the shortfall Lightfoot is inheriting. But Brown has acknowledged in recent days that investment returns for the four city employee pension funds have fallen short of the projected, seven percent.
“We would beg to differ,” Lightfoot said.
“The number that we understand, based upon information that they provided, has not been socialized in the public, meaning it has not been disclosed. It has not been. If it had been, you would have reported it.”
Chicago taxpayers have already endured a $2 billion avalanche of tax increases under Emanuel just to begin to chip away at the $28 billion pension crisis.
Should they brace themselves for more of the same?
Lightfoot would say only: “We’re gonna have to make some hard choices. And we’re working on a range of possible solutions.”
Emanuel has proposed taxing retirement income, merging city pension funds and forging ahead with his stalled $10 billion pension borrowing to save beleaguered Chicago taxpayers “as much as $200 million” in his successor’s first budget.
Lightfoot rejected two out of three of those suggestions, but embraced the third: the pension fund merger.
“We have four pension funds. Every single one of them has a separate administrative function. Separate investment function,” she said.
“One of the things we’re gonna look at is pressing for consolidating these administrative functions that are duplicative and waste money that could be put back into the pension funds themselves.”
Although the shortfall is worse than she anticipated, Lightfoot is determined to forge ahead with her plan to yank out at least some of the red-light cameras installed at 149 Chicago intersections.
“Let’s do an audit and look at where they’re actually needed for safety. And where they’re not, then we’ve got to look at de-commissioning those,” she said.
Lightfoot was asked how she can afford to do anything that puts a dent in the $57 million in annual red-light camera revenue.
“We’re driving people into bankruptcy. That means they are not able to provide resources to the city through taxes. We’re taking peoples’ drivers licenses for non-moving violations. We’re not only booting their cars. In the last seven years, 50,000 cars have been taken from people and sold. How is that fair? How does that aid the economy? How does that fit into a growth strategy? It doesn’t,” she said.
“That is one of the things we’re absolutely gonna tackle in the first 100 days. That is a critical piece of bringing equity and fairness to people in the city who feel the government takes from them, provides roadblocks to their success but does very little to enhance the quality of their life.”
Lightfoot has chosen a pair of women to grapple with a budget shortfall more “dire” than she anticipated.
As the Sun-Times reported earlier this month, Lightfoot has chosen Jennie Huang Bennett, chief financial officer at the Chicago Public Schools, to make the leap to City Hall. Her budget director will be Susie Park, currently deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Organizational Development.
Lightfoot refused to reveal other members of her cabinet, other than to say they would include holdovers from the Emanuel administration. Likely in that group would be Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee, who is presiding over an $8.7 billion O’Hare Airport expansion project.
“I’ve known Jamie Rhee since she was a lawyer at the O’Hare Modernization Project. I have a great deal of respect for her. I think she’s an excellent, excellent leader … I think we will work very well together,” the mayor-elect said of Rhee.
Lightfoot did confirm her five top mayoral staffers: chief of staff Maurice Classen; policy director Dan Lurie; communications director Marielle Sainvilus; press secretary Anel Ruiz; and Celia Meza as mayor’s counsel and senior ethics adviser.