Mayor Lightfoot: 'We are each other's business'
Inaugural speech redefines Chicago flag’s four stars to commit to safety, education, stability, and integrity
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Quoting from Gwendolyn Brooks that “we are each other’s business,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered a message of shared responsibility and interpersonal commitment for every resident across the city in her inaugural address Monday.
“Folks, we must be in this together,” Lightfoot said before thousands of supporters and members of the new City Council at Wintrust Arena in the South Loop. “Our challenges can only be solved if we face them together.”
Lightfoot redefined the iconic four red stars of the Chicago flag to serve as the four basic tenets of her new administration: safety, education, stability, and integrity. “If we follow these four stars,” she added, “we can once again become a city that families want to move to, not run away from.”
But it was that last subject that inspired her most emotional rhetoric and the strongest audience response.
“I know, I know, putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is, well, a little strange,” Lightfoot acknowledged. “But that’s going to change. It’s got to change.
“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” she added. “Well, get ready, because reform is here. I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government.”
She called out the 50 aldermen in the City Council, saying, “No official in the city of Chicago, elected or appointed, should ever profit from his or her office. Never. Ever.”
Proclaiming, “Aldermen will have a voice, but not a veto,” she said she’d be signing an executive order before her first day in office was over to rein in “aldermanic privilege,” in which members of the council agree to support each other back and forth on local zoning issues and other ward matters — the mechanism that set the stage for much public corruption going back decades in Chicago and even into the 19th century.
Many members of the crowd rose to their feet in response, and the members of the council — seated behind Lightfoot on the stage — rose to their feet as well, some more rapidly than others.
Lightfoot declared “a new social compact here in Chicago,” following the basic and almost universal religious principle to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” She extended that to each city resident, saying, “No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter your circumstance in life, Chicago is now on a mission to include you, to join hands with you, to share power with you, and to give you reason to believe that we can all pull in the same direction to make Chicago better, together.”
Drawing on “the tremendous hope and optimism that I am feeling from people all over the city,” Lightfoot said, “Each of us needs to ask what can I do? What contributions can I make? You may not be the richest, the smartest or even the most able, but ask yourself are you ready to serve in some way, because our city surely needs you.”
Lightfoot also got a rousing response when she expanded her speech to address reproductive rights, calling out states that have recently passed new laws restricting abortion. “As I stand here today, Georgia is also on my mind, as is Alabama and every other state that is enacting laws intended to deprive women of our rights,” she said. “We must stand with women all across our country who fear for their basic rights and feel powerless in the face of the hateful legislation designed to control our bodies, our choices. We cannot go back — not in Chicago, not as a nation. We will join together and we will fight.”
On public safety, she committed her administration to halting the city’s runaway gun violence and reconnecting neighborhood residents with their district police officers, stating, “The destinies of police and community are inextricably intertwined.”
Drawing again on Brooks, whom she called “Chicago’s poet laureate,” Lightfoot declared, “We are each other’s business. We are each other’s neighbors. And, together, we will work tirelessly to bring peace to this city.”
She committed to providing quality schooling “for every child, every single child,” adding, “Each child gets a quality education. That’s our business no matter what.”
Lightfoot committed to fiscal stability in government and to coming to terms with Chicago’s pension obligations, “without balancing our budgets on the backs of working-class and poor families.” She called for more affordable housing, and put developers on notice, saying they “can no longer skip their responsibilities by taking tax dollars, but leaving it to someone else to solve our affordable-housing crisis.”
Echoing one of the primary themes of her campaign, in which she won election in a landslide in a runoff with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in a race to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lightfoot said, “Our neighborhoods have been neglected too long. They cannot be anymore.”
Lightfoot quoted Brooks at the beginning of her 35-minute speech, saying, “We are each other's harvest. We are each other's business. We are each other's magnitude and bond.”
Toward the end, she quoted from a well-known hymn, saying, “Pass me not, O gentle Savior. Hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.” Many in the audience said those words aloud along with her, without prompting or a cue from the arena video screens.
“It means that we must not forget or ignore the plight of so many for whom joy often does not come in the morning,” Lightfoot said. “Whether it is the homeless, people living with mental illness, those desperate for love and recognition, we will not pass them by. As we pursue our new stars, this will be our guiding light.”