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Lightfoot sworn in: ‘Get ready because reform is here’

Lori Lightfoot, right, is hugged by wife Amy Eshleman after Lightfoot was sworn in as mayor Monday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox is at left.
Lori Lightfoot, right, is hugged by wife Amy Eshleman after Lightfoot was sworn in as mayor Monday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox is at left.

Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as Chicago mayor Monday, becoming the first black woman and the first openly gay person to hold the office in the city’s history.

During her approximately half-hour speech, Lightfoot drew from Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks and called for citywide unity in addressing public safety, education, financial stability and “integrity” – a reference to Chicago’s infamous corruption.

“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready because reform is here,” Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, said. “I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government. That means restoring trust in our city’s government and finally bringing some real integrity to the way this city works.”

Lightfoot was sworn in just after 11:15 a.m., by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox.

Campaigning as a long-shot first-time candidate, Lightfoot pledged to dismantle Chicago’s “broken and corrupt political machine” and end what she called unchecked aldermanic power over matters in their wards.

On her first day in office, Lightfoot said she signed an executive order limiting so-called aldermanic prerogative over matters such as permitting and licensing – the first of many conflicts as she seeks to fulfill her signature campaign pledge to “bring in the light.” During her speech, the new mayor said aldermen would still have a voice in what goes on in their wards.

“This does not mean that our aldermen won’t have power in their communities, of course they will. It does not mean our aldermen won’t be able to make sure the streetlights are working or the parking signs are in the right place or any of the thousands of good things that they do for people every day,” Lightfoot said. “It simply means this – it means ending their unilateral, unchecked control over every single thing that goes on in their wards. Aldermen will have a voice, but not a veto.”

Lightfoot signed an executive order banning city departments from deferring to aldermanic prerogative “in their decision-making practice unless expressly required by the Municipal Code of Chicago.”

Each department must create a 60-day report to the mayor describing their historical decision-making practices, including when they’ve deferred to prerogative “as a matter of custom or practice,” and all steps they took to enact the executive order.

The move is a precursor to further actions dealing with aldermanic power over Zoning.

While much of Lightfoot’s speech focused on making Chicago a safer, more equitable city, it also evoked some of the most intense reactions during the portion dedicated to fighting public corruption – a topic which she introduced with a joke.

“Putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence sometimes may seem a little strange,” Lightfoot said. “But friends, that’s going to change. It’s got to change.”

She criticized the city’s pay-to-play political culture, saying it hurts common citizens.

“The family with the bungalow, the lady who runs the hair salon, the guy who owns the store on the corner – they aren’t powerful or big or well-connected, but they end up paying when our government is corrupt,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot also put pressure on the city’s aldermen to support her reform proposals.

“These practices have gone on here for decades and this practice breeds corruption. Stopping it isn’t just in the city’s interest. It’s in the City Council’s interest,” Lightfoot said before turning to face the aldermen seated behind her onstage.

Lightfoot delivered a line that would seem obvious in most cities, but not Chicago, declaring: “No official in the city of Chicago elected or appointed should ever profit from his or her office. Never. Ever.”

Melissa Conyears-Ervin and Anna Valencia also were inaugurated as treasurer and clerk, respectively, marking the first time all three citywide positions will be held by women of color.

As Lightfoot sets up on the fifth floor of City Hall, she will face deeply entrenched political interests that are eager to derail her reform agenda.

In addition to the daunting challenge of cleaning up City Hall, Lightfoot’s administration will confront endemic gun violence, neighborhood disinvestment and segregation, and a first-year budget shortfall estimated by the outgoing administration at more than $700 million.

City cops and firefighters need new contracts, and the Chicago Teachers Union already has threatened a strike in the fall. And the Chicago Police Department will navigate a federal consent decree aimed at overhauling how the city’s historically troubled force operates.

The 50-member City Council will include a larger Progressive Caucus, and Chicago voters have sent six socialists to the body who have their own left-wing demands on the new mayor.

Lightfoot’s moves to shake up city government have rankled some City Council veterans and other members of the political establishment.

On Friday, Lightfoot unveiled her recommendations for who should head the City Council committees tasked with passing her ambitious agenda, which aldermen will need to approve at their May 29 meeting.

Most significantly, Lightfoot chose Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, to lead the powerful Finance Committee, a post held by Ald. Edward Burke for about 30 years until federal prosecutors charged him in January with attempted extortion.

Burke’s legal problems transformed the mayor’s race into a referendum on Chicago corruption, clearing the way for the former federal prosecutor to emerge on top in a 14-candidate race – the widest field in the city’s history.

Ironically, Burke sailed to re-election despite the federal charge that he tried to shake down two businessmen seeking to renovate a Burger King restaurant in his ward.

The only alderman who endorsed Lightfoot in the first round of the mayor’s race, Waguespack is detested by some of his peers and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel allies, who view him as an obstructionist with the easy job of criticizing how Chicago operates.

Choosing Waguespack is practically a declaration of war against the way the City Council traditionally does business, as he’s been an outspoken voice on everything from TIF reform to housing policies.

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, led an effort to block Waguespack from chairing the committee.

In her own recommendations, Lightfoot proposed Beale lose his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee even though he supported her against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Under Lightfoot’s plan, Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, also would lose her Budget Committee chairmanship. Austin is the second longest-serving alderman, behind Burke.

Austin once said Lightfoot could go “straight to Hades” during a 2016 debate over police accountability and faced controversy over hiring her son to be ward superintendent. Austin pitched herself to Lightfoot in a Sun-Times interview by pledging the sort of loyalty she showed Mayors Richard M. Daley and Emanuel, but she was rebuffed.

Lightfoot said her choices are meant to signal change, and she is looking for allies who can “make sure we have a City Council that is aiding in restoring trust and confidence in city government.”

Though Lightfoot didn’t call anyone out by name, she also took a hard line on patronage.

“What I’ve said to every committee chair that we’ve identified is there will no longer be nepotism,” Lightfoot said. “You will no longer be hiring your friends and relatives and supervising them and putting them on the city payroll.”

Lightfoot’s executive order on aldermanic prerogative has been precharacterized by some observers as a softer version of her pledge to curb their influence, but she disputed news reports that her administration would allow aldermen to keep power over zoning while limiting their influence on permits and other administrative functions. Changes to how zoning is handled will require legislation, she said.

Before the signing, Beale said Lightfoot’s action “means absolutely nothing.”

“It’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” Beale said. “There’s no such rule as aldermanic prerogative, there’s no such law.”

He also criticized Lightfoot’s inaugural address, saying the “attack on the aldermen is unfortunate.”

“It’s almost like you’re trying to promote yourself on the backs of the people who are out here making hard decisions to move the city forward,” Beale said. “You can’t paint the entire City Council with a (broad) brush. We care about our communities. We are elected by our communities to do the right thing.”

Beale said he doesn’t regret attempting to organize the City Council, noting that the aldermen are the ones who are supposed to vote.

“If I’m being penalized because I’m following the rules, what message does that send?” Beale said.

Check back for updates.

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