Lightfoot calls for 'Chicago renaissance'
New mayor lauds guv on fair tax, seeks Springfield action on infrastructure, casino, legal pot
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Lori Lightfoot called for a “Chicago renaissance” with investment in “desolate” neighborhoods Tuesday, as the new mayor suggested funding it in part through Gov. Pritzker’s fair tax, as well as action in the General Assembly on infrastructure, a casino, and legal marijuana.
“People still have hope,” Lightfoot said in a luncheon speech at the City Club of Chicago. “That is the mantra that we have to lead with.
“We have to have a Chicago renaissance,” she added, “and it starts with controlling the violence, the importance of our public schools, and getting our fiscal house in order.”
Lightfoot said public safety, though, is the initial issue all others rest on. “If we can’t keep Chicagoans safe, if we can’t make sure that communities are violence-free, nothing else that we do will matter,” she insisted.
The new mayor, inaugurated only last week, said “three-day weekends … fill residents with dread,” and she cited how 43 people were shot and five killed over the Memorial Day weekend — fewer deaths, but more shootings than in years past. “I didn’t come into this with any illusion that we were going to be able to wave a magic wand and reverse trends that have been in the making for some time,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot blamed bad public policy and private disinvestment for the “structural racism” that produces gun violence on the street.
“Racism and segregation continue,” she said, “tied to the culture of corruption that has favored the clouted and the wealthy in this city for too long.” Lightfoot cited “deliberate policy choices made in decades past by people in power,” insisting white flight and forgotten neighborhoods were “caused by redlining real-estate agents and banks seeking profit from racism.”
She called gun violence the “symptom” of “what happens when the government and private capital pull out and value other neighborhoods.”
“We have to have a Chicago renaissance, and it starts with controlling the violence, the importance of our public schools, and getting our fiscal house in order.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
Lightfoot said those desolate neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Side “now have a supporter and partner at City Hall and a government that will work with them. Because I know that government created these systems and conditions, under my administration I will be leading the effort to solve them.
“Unless we provide more resources to these communities, we’re never going to get ahead of the violence,” she added. “We have to invest in the South and the West Side, and that’s going to be the ultimate difference-maker.”
Lightfoot said, “That’s what voters sent me to do,” when they elected her with a 74 percent majority in last month’s runoff. “Change is hard, but change is necessary.”
She lauded the General Assembly’s passage of the constitutional amendment to enable a graduated income tax, saying it is critical “to make sure that we’re asking the very wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share and provide some relief to working families,” in part by providing relief on property taxes. “I want to avoid raising property taxes entirely,” she said.
Lightfoot also backed the legalization of marijuana as a revenue stream, saying, “I’m hopeful it will pass this week as well,” along with a Chicago casino.
“No offense to Indiana,” she said, “but it makes no sense that we keep sending our dollars by the car- and busload to Indiana.
“We have casinos all around us,” she added in a following interview session with reporters, “but the city of Chicago is being deprived of important revenue that we need. The casino question has to move forward. We need a casino here in Chicago.”
Lightfoot endorsed a statewide capital bill on infrastructure, saying it would boost the Chicago Transit Authority, but granted that it might have to favor funding on “horizontal” projects like roads and bridges over “vertical” projects such as buildings.
Sounding a persistent theme to reduce fear for city residents, she pledged to “protect undocumented Chicagoans from the backward policies of the current administration in Washington, D.C.” And she said she’d work to pass a $15 minimum wage by 2021, ahead of the state timetable, and pass a Fair Work Week law, calling for employers to set stable and timely schedules for workers. Lightfoot also said she’d crack down on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
“We need to rethink the whole question of ride share,” Lightfoot said. “We have literally tens of thousands of new cars that are on city of Chicago streets every single day.”
Pointing out that many come from suburbs or even out of state, she added, “I want to make sure that people who are plying their trade in Chicago are paying their fair share. We’ve decimated the taxi industry. The medallion is virtually worthless. People have been driven into bankruptcy because we’ve created these two unequal markets, and we’re going to change that.”
Lightfoot blasted Uber and Lyft lobbying in Springfield intended to allow a state tax on the ride-sharing services, if they get in return the “pre-emption” of cities like Chicago being able to tax and regulate the industry. “We’re never going to stand for that,” she said.
Lightfoot granted that “in Springfield, there’s a lot on the table” this week, as the General Assembly works to pass as much of Gov. Pritzker’s ambitious agenda as possible before the session ends Friday. Yet she said that was in many ways an annual event, perhaps with increased pressure this year with the new governor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll quite know what gets over the finish line until we see it at the very end.”