Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office as an underdog and an outsider, promising reform and transparency. But since her term began — three years ago this Friday — she’s spent much of her time overseeing a city in the throes of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and rising crime.
“It’s very different to govern than it is to campaign,” Lightfoot said Monday in an interview with WBEZ, noting that “nobody had a policy manual on how to respond to a global pandemic.”
“I thought I was prepared,” she said. “I studied. I’d worked in city government before so I wasn’t a neophyte coming into this job. But until you really get in and look under that proverbial hood to really understand the facts and what the immediate challenges are, it’s a very different thing.”
Lightfoot has yet to formally announce her reelection plans, but has indicated she wants another term. But she’ll have to fend off challenges from three men who have announced they’re running against her — State Rep. Kambium ‘Kam’ Buckner, D-Chicago, Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, and businessman Willie Wilson.
“I want the voters to think about what we’ve been through — think about what all of us have had to sacrifice over these last two years — and then ask yourself who’s up for the job?” Lightfoot said earlier this month. “I know I am.”
As the mayor gears up for a reelection fight, WBEZ looked back on her 2019 promises — specifically, her responses to 20 questions that were on the minds of voters then.
Despite a global pandemic, Lightfoot followed through on many of her promises, flipped on a couple and is still working on many of the rest.
“If we can get all these things done in the middle of a global pandemic, think about what we can accomplish on behalf of our residents when COVID fades into the rearview mirror?”
Here’s an analysis of where she stands on what she said during her campaign.
1. Will you work to raise fees on ride-shares, like Uber and Lyft, to fund CTA improvements?
- 2019 answer: The city must ensure a level playing field between taxis and ride-share services. The current system puts taxis at a decided disadvantage, creates significant traffic, safety and pollution issues from thousands of additional drivers, many of whom do not live in Chicago, and places significant wear and tear on our infrastructure. We need a new and fair regulatory framework to address these and other issues arising from the ride-share economy.
- Now: Five months after her inauguration, Lightfoot announced a plan that restructured fees for taxicabs and ride-hailing companies and implemented a so-called congestion tax. She promised that half of the money raised would bankroll improvements at the CTA. The plan was approved by the City Council as part of the mayor’s 2020 budget.
2. Chicagoans are not currently allowed to make anonymous complaints against police officers. Will you work to change that policy?
- 2019 answer: This was an issue raised by the Police Accountability Task Force, which I chaired, and was supposed to be addressed by a hotline monitored by the city’s inspector general. No progress has been made to date, but I will change that. I support giving the public the right to make anonymous complaints. However, giving the public this right will not result in change until CPD has an effective system for investigating and adjudicating complaints and holding problem officers accountable.
- Now: A state law passed in early 2021 allows citizens to submit anonymous complaints against police officers. But it’s come under scrutiny and Democratic lawmakers are under pressure to repeal or tweak many of the sweeping changes. But anonymous complaints appear to be here to stay in Chicago, as Lightfoot’s team successfully renegotiated police contracts for top brass and rank-and-file officers to include this policy. The Inspector General accepts and investigates them.
3. Will you work to hire social workers to respond to police calls involving mental health episodes?
- 2019 answer: While every officer should be trained in crisis intervention tactics, we cannot expect police to be lead mental health responders in addition to the other roles they serve. Therefore, as detailed in my public safety plan, I support having mental health experts respond to calls for service with CPD and, where appropriate, take the lead on calls.
- Now: Lightfoot launched a mental health co-responder pilot in the fall of 2021, after progressive aldermen pushed for one to be included in the budget. It pairs mental health workers with police and paramedics to respond to certain calls in two specific geographic areas. During a hearing in March, Lightfoot’s commissioner of public health Dr. Allison Arwady said the pilot was off to a strong start, with no arrests and no use of force reported. But the program is limited in scope and activists say the city should adopt a citywide strategy and one where only mental health workers respond without police.
4. Will you lobby state legislators to allow a city-run casino in Chicago?
- 2019 answer: If people in Chicago want to gamble, then they should be able to gamble in Chicago at a city-owned, land-based casino. A casino can generate needed revenue while acting as an economic development tool for people and neighborhoods that have been neglected by city government, including minority and women-owned businesses and individuals on the West and South sides. I will ensure these groups are involved in and benefit from every stage of the process, from the design phase to daily operations.
- Now: The mayor recently picked a winning bid in the casino operator beauty pageant. Bally’s Corporation’s proposal to build a casino and entertainment district in River West at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Plant is now winding its way through the City Council and state Gambing Board approval process. It’s been a long time coming. Former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel worked on proposals and legislation over the years that would have brought one to fruition. In May 2020, the state legislature approved revised legislation to make a Chicago Casino possible, one year after Lightfoot took office. At least one lawmaker praised the mayor’s “tenacity” in getting a casino deal in Springfield. In March, the mayor narrowed the five possible bids being considered to three and created a new super committee in the City Council to help narrow and approve a winning proposal. Once the shovels are in the dirt, expect the casino to be a feather in Lightfoot’s metaphorical cap as she seeks re-election.
5. Chicago’s vehicle ticketing and enforcement system disproportionately affects people of color. Will you make changes to the system, even if it means less revenue for the city?
- 2019 answer: We cannot accept a system that has such a devastating impact on low-income people and people of color. To identify and address racial disparities, I will direct an audit be conducted into potential bias in ticketing. The city currently bans people who owe money to the city from working for the city or as taxi or ride-share drivers. I will end this policy for people whose outstanding payments are below a certain threshold, and will seek to stop the suspension of licenses for non-moving violations.
- Now: The mayor has rolled out several changes to the city’s fines and fees practices since taking office. Two months into office, Lightfoot and City Clerk Anna Valencia announced they would stop suspending the driver’s licenses of people with parking ticket debt. During the pandemic, the city even halted all debt collection and ticketing for a short period of time. The 2022 budget included limited-run efforts that expire in 2023 to lower costs and provide debt relief to low-income motorists. Still, advocates argue the city needs to reduce the cost and sheer number of tickets it issues annually. It’s worth noting that in addition to these reforms, the Lightfoot administration implemented new $35 speed camera tickets issued to drivers going between 6 and 10 miles per hour over the limit near schools and parks.
6. Chicago’s mayor has the ability to make dozens of appointments to influential public boards and commissions. Do you commit to making appointments that mirror Chicago’s diverse demographics?
- 2019 answer: As an LGBTQ+ woman of color, I know how important it is for people, especially those who have been historically marginalized, to see themselves reflected in people of prominence and influence, whether at school, work, on the playing field, in the media, or government. I’m committed to building an inclusive, equitable city that is welcoming and accessible to, and reflective of, everyone. That will be evident in my appointments to boards and commissions, and to leadership roles in city agencies.
- Now: Lightfoot’s cabinet is more diverse than her predecessor Rahm Emanuel’s was when he left office, according to a WBEZ analysis of top city positions. She nearly doubled the number of people of color and increased the number of women in her cabinet and at the helm of the city’s sister agencies. Several of her appointments made history, as well. For example, Annette Nance-Holt is the city’s first black woman to lead the Fire Department; Celia Meza is the city’s first Latina corporation counsel; and Pedro Martinez is the first Latino to serve as the permanent CEO of Chicago Public Schools, a district in which Latino children are now the plurality.
7. Will you support a binding community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center?
- 2019 answer: I am pleased that the [Obama Presidential Center] will be in Chicago and it represents a significant investment in the community. Jackson Park residents should be commended for their advocacy on behalf of their neighborhood. I will work to help resolve outstanding issues in a way that is respectful of community needs as articulated by residents. I am concerned about the Obama Foundation’s reticence to sign a community benefits agreement, especially for a project that is receiving more than $100 million in public funds.
- Now: The Obama Foundation did not sign a community benefits agreement and the mayor did not put pressure on them to do so. Instead, Lightfoot’s administration worked with advocates and the two alderwomen who represent the Woodlawn neighborhood to pass an ordinance that aims to preserve affordable housing in the area. The ordinance gives renters the ability to purchase their building before a landlord puts it on the market and sets aside a portion of the city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing, among other things.
8. Will you force developers of new projects to build affordable housing units in gentrifying communities where long-time residents are being displaced?
- 2019 answer: As set forth in my housing plan, I support amending the Affordable Requirements Ordinance to increase the number of affordable units built, including requiring affordable units to be built within market rate developments, and shrinking the radius where affordable units can be built so developers are forced to build affordable units in gentrifying neighborhoods. I also support limiting an alderman’s ability to keep affordable housing from being built in his or her ward.
- Now: One of Lightfoot’s first-term accomplishments is the 2021 overhaul of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which was first passed in 2008. Despite a revision in 2015, affordable housing advocates and developers both continued to criticize the measure for not actually leading to more affordable housing. Lightfoot’s team negotiated with several stakeholders to come to an agreement that incentivizes developers to build more units and aims to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing. Lightfoot’s team implemented a demolition surcharge in Pilsen and the neighborhoods surrounding the 606 Bloomingdale trail in an effort to preserve affordable housing in the gentrifying neighborhood.
9. Will you support a tax on financial transactions conducted by asset exchanges in Chicago, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the CBOE?
- 2019 answer: The so-called “LaSalle Street” tax gets regular mention as a possible source of revenue. As I examine progressive revenue options, I want to make sure wealthy individuals and businesses must pay their fair share, reduce the burden on low-income and middle-class families, and not drive businesses from Chicago or create a disincentive for businesses to invest in our city.
- Now: Progressive aldermen elected in 2019 have pushed the mayor to consider taxing financial transactions on Chicago’s version of Wall Street during the city budgeting process. But executives from the top two financial firms, CBOE and CME, threatened to leave Chicago if the city enacted a “LaSalle Street” tax. Given that Lightfoot explicitly said she did not want to “drive businesses from Chicago,” it’s not surprising this has not happened under her administration. Her office pointed to Lightfoot sweeping changes to the fines and fees imposed on drivers as an example of “lessening the burden on working families.”
1. The mayor currently appoints Chicago Public Schools’ CEO and each member of the school board. Will you lobby state legislators to pass a law allowing Chicago voters to elect school board members?
- 2019 answer: My mother was an elected school board member, so I understand the importance of giving parents and stakeholders a real voice in how our children are educated. That is why I support a fully independent, elected, representative school board.
- Now: The mayor changed her answer to this question before she even took office, declaring that the move would be “a recipe for disaster.” Even so, momentum for an elected school board continued in Springfield. Lightfoot’s lobbying efforts failed to stop a bill to create a 21-person elected board by 2025. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law in August 2021. Lightfoot told WBEZ recently that her administration did negotiate some changes to the bill before it was signed, but cited the new board’s “unwieldy size” as a significant concern. “She remains committed to a democratic, inclusive Board of Education that elevates parent voices in discussions about the future of their children’s schools,” a mayoral spokesman said recently.
2. Will you support the creation of an income-based city tax, either on Chicagoans or commuters?
- 2019 answer: I oppose Bill Daley’s commuter tax and a city income tax. Chicago needs additional progressive revenue sources to solve the pension crisis. However, before seeking any new revenue, the city must demonstrate to taxpayers it takes seriously its obligation to be a responsible fiscal steward of the public’s hard-earned tax dollars. This starts with making the city run as efficiently as possible and looking into structural reforms, including with [tax increment financing districts], that can result in meaningful cost-savings.
- Now: Technically, Lightfoot followed through on her direct opposition to opponent Bill Daley’s proposal to tax suburbanites who work downtown. That would have required a change to state law. But while Lightfoot expressed her opposition in the WBEZ questionnaire, she turned around and implemented a congestion tax in her first budget. It imposes a surcharge on taxi and rideshare trips into and out of downtown on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
1. Tax hikes are often discussed as a solution to Chicago’s under-funded pension crisis. Will you explore cutting benefits for current and/or future workers and retirees in order to lower the city’s pension obligations?
- 2019 answer: No, I will not look to cut benefits for current city workers and retirees. Pensions are a promise, and I will make sure that current city employees and retirees receive the benefits they have been promised. We will have no choice, if we want to act in a fiscally responsible way, but to explore alternatives to a city-funded pension for people hired on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Just as pensions are a promise, we cannot make promises that we have no ability to keep.
- Now: The city has now climbed the so-called “pension ramp,” as required by state law. Instead of making payments to the four employee pension funds based on what the mayor and aldermen decide, the city has to make payments based on actuarial standards. That meant the city’s annual pension costs increased from $1.6 billion during Lightfoot’s first budget to a projected $2.3 billion. Lightfoot has not proposed changing pension benefits for city workers based on their date of hire.
2. Will you commit to building public housing replacement units and affordable units on vacant CHA land where demolished high-rises once stood?
- 2019 answer: CHA should expand its partnerships with the Illinois Housing Development Authority to create more units. We also should look to what other cities are doing to address housing crises, including cities like Austin and Portland, Ore., which are exploring social housing — publicly-owned, mixed-income, revenue-generating developments. Creative solutions like this can facilitate construction of needed affordable units and help to end economic segregation in one fell swoop.
- Now: Since 2019, the Chicago Housing Authority has started construction on about a dozen different projects in places where demolished high-rises once stood. According to Lightfoot’s office, 515 new apartments or homes are being created. Of those, 187 will be for CHA families, 120 will be for families who qualify under affordable housing requirements and 208 will be market rate. Under Lightfoot’s tenure, the CHA launched the redevelopment plan for the site of the former LeClaire Courts development on the Southwest Side. The low rise apartments near Midway Airport opened in the 1950s and remained open until the late 2000s, when the units were demolished.
3. Chicago aldermen enjoy unwritten, unilateral power to influence zoning and development decisions in their wards. Will you work to end this so-called “aldermanic prerogative” in favor of a holistic approach to citywide development?
- 2019 answer: As discussed in my housing plan, I favor curbing the aldermanic prerogative and working toward a city that does not have 50 elected “urban planners.” Many aldermen take these issues seriously and involve their constituents in zoning and development decisions, but many do not. And as we know, the prerogative breeds corruption. As mayor, I’ll push for the creation of a master city plan, which we’ve not had for 50 years, that sets forth a vision for preserving Chicago’s past and forging its future.
- Now: So-called “aldermanic prerogative” is not spelled out explicitly in city law, which makes it difficult for Lightfoot to simply do away with it. She did sign an executive order on her first day in office aimed at curbing the practice. But when it comes to zoning, aldermen still give deference to their colleagues on developments in their wards. (With a recent exception on the Northwest side.) Lightfoot is following through on her promise to create a master city plan, with an effort dubbed “We Will Chicago.” Dozens of meetings have been held as part of the three-year initiative to create a master plan outlining what Chicago should look like in the coming years. The city’s last master plan is from 1966. Lightfoot’s planning commissioner Maurice Cox told WBEZ that the new plan must address the city’s legacy of segregation and be rooted in “environmental justice, social justice, economic justice.”
4. Chicago has more lead service lines than any big city in the U.S. Will you use city money to help residents replace lead pipes that carry water to their homes?
- 2019 answer: As discussed in my environmental policy, I’ll add lead pipe replacement to city construction projects and earmark federal-state loans to replace lines. I’m looking to other cities that have had large scale lead replacement projects for funding ideas, such as letting utilities use ratepayer money to cover the cost of replacing pipes on private property and providing incentives for homeowners to replace lines through financial assistance, waiving or reducing city fees and interest-free loans.
- Now: Replacing lead service lines is a difficult and expensive undertaking. Lightfoot campaigned on getting it done and in 2020, with the help of federal money, she announced a plan to take on the “long overdue” problem. But several months later in 2021, WBEZ found not a single pipe had been replaced. Last month, city officials provided an update indicating that 74 of 400,000 lead service lines had been replaced. Lightfoot’s team said this remains “an urgent priority” that “requires a massive mobilization of resources.” They also noted financial incentives the Lightfoot administration rolled out to make it easier for homeowners to get their service lines replaced.
5. Will you work to hire more police detectives to reduce violence and increase Chicago’s low homicide clearance rate?
- 2019 answer: While we need to maintain a strong, diverse detective corps, numbers alone are not the answer. My public safety plan includes multiple strategies for improving our woeful homicide clearance rate, like having beat officers build relationships in the communities they serve, improving on-scene evidence collection, getting detectives into communities, providing support for victims and their families, and witnesses, buying a mobile ballistics lab and strategically deploying police cameras.
- Now: A WBEZ analysis of city budget documents show that the number of detective positions has not changed in the last three years. The city has funded just shy of 1,200 detective positions. But it’s not clear how many have been left unfilled. Lightfoot says she is “firmly committed” to working with the police department to hire and promote more detectives. Numbers cited by her office indicate there have been approximately 200 new detectives hired since late 2021. According to the mayor’s office, the Bureau of Detectives cleared 400 homicide cases, which is the highest number in 19 years. However, an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times found issues with how homicides are cleared often without anyone being charged.
6. Will you expand the number of CHA housing vouchers that allow renters to find homes in neighborhoods that aren’t racially and economically segregated?
- 2019 answer: Yes. The sheer number of applicants for CHA housing vouchers — 260,000 in 2014 — proves CHA must make more vouchers available. We must also enforce the Source of Income ordinances that allow Chicagoans to use their housing vouchers in the neighborhoods that they want to live in without facing discrimination. And we must explore innovative approaches, like publicly owned, mixed-income housing, to help address the housing crisis and the associated economic segregation.
- Now: There are a few different kinds of housing vouchers that the federal government and local municipalities can distribute to low-income and houseless people. According to Lightfoot’s office, the Chicago Housing Authority has added more than 1,100 “project-based vouchers” since 2019. These are vouchers tied to specific buildings. That is not the same as “housing choice vouchers,” which can be used to pay rent anywhere. It is not clear if “housing choice vouchers” have been increased under Lightfoot’s tenure. However, her team noted that the city has also distributed 1,165 “emergency housing vouchers,” which were funded by federal COVID recovery money.
1. Will you support eliminating the single-family home zoning designation, which disallows multi-unit homes in parts of the city, as a way to reduce housing segregation?
- 2019 answer: As set forth in my housing plan, available at https://lightfootforchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/LL-Position-paper_Housing.pdf, I support efforts to reduce housing segregation and revise the city’s zoning laws.
- Now: The single-family home zoning designations still exist and the mayor has not introduced any legislation that would eliminate them. However, Lightfoot did manage to pass an ordinance to allow for something known as Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, to create more housing in parts of the city zoned primarily for single-family homes. These types of bonus apartments are usually built in a basement, attic or backyard and they had been illegal in Chicago since 1957. Now, they are allowed in five pilot zones.
2. So-called “sweepstakes” machines function like legal video gambling, but are unregulated. Will you support a ban on sweepstakes machines in Chicago?
- 2019 answer: I do not support “sweepstakes” machines, which the Illinois Gaming Board maintains are illegal under Illinois law, and I support passing an ordinance specifically banning them in Chicago.
- Now: Out of concern that “sweepstakes” machines would compete with a Chicago casino, Lightfoot’s administration has not legalized the illegal machines. Lightfoot told WBEZ she still does not support “sweepstakes” machines, and noted that the Illinois Gaming Board maintains they’re illegal under Illinois law. The mayor has not introduced an ordinance banning the slot-like machines, but said she still supports doing so.
Becky Vevea covers Chicago politics and government for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.