With sirens blaring as she spoke, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday announced the creation of a task force to lead the city’s eventual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — even as she reminded residents the virus is still running rampant.
Lightfoot will co-chair the task force with Sam Skinner, who served as chief of staff and transportation secretary under former President George H. W. Bush.
The task force is designed to start planning for “the next phase of this challenge to develop ways Chicago can emerge from the unprecedented event stronger than before,” Lightfoot said in front of the Old Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, invoking the city’s resiliency after the Great Chicago Fire.
“We don’t know when this crisis will end” but “bold, visionary” action is required to reduce its impact on those who were already struggling, Lightfoot said.
“There can be no half measures,” Lightfoot said.
The task force is made up of four working groups: Policy and Economic Stimulus; Mental and Emotional Health; Marketing and Business Development; and Regional Coordination and Economic Change Study.
Its first order of business will be to develop “a plan to allow its residents to cope with grief, fear and loss,” according to the mayor’s office.
The task force will also address unemployment caused by the pandemic. According to the mayor’s office, 247,000 unemployment insurance claims were filed in the Chicago region during March.
In addition, the group will work to “reaffirm Chicago as a destination for businesses, workers, tourism and events.”
The task force will also conduct a study “to gauge the full extent of economic hardship and provide a baseline for the city as well as the business community” and help officials “prioritize growth in key industry sectors that have either seen significant losses, or which hold potential for workforce growth in a post COVID-19 economy.”
The mayor’s floor leader, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), will coordinate the task force’s efforts to develop recommendations for the entire region.
Villegas said he will work to develop “systemic, long-term” solutions to ensure that the city and the region recovers and builds an economy for the future.
“We have a huge task ahead of us,” Villegas said.
Anton Seals Jr., of Grow Greater Englewood, said the city must not respond to the pandemic by working to restore the status quo before the pandemic hit.
Instead, the recovery “must be bold. It must be transformative. And justice and equity must be at the center of that,” Seals said.
Bob Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor said the task force should work to “shape a new era of prosperity for the working class of Chicago, along with the rest of the city.”
Lightfoot’s task force announcement comes as the City Council weighs whether to grant her emergency powers during the pandemic. The measure was blocked Wednesday by aldermen who called it a “power grab.”
Lightfoot responded by calling those aldermen “selfish” and accused them of grandstanding during a pandemic.
The City Council is scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m. Friday.
Aldermen who oppose the measure want Lightfoot to commit to spending federal relief funds to fight long-standing issues like homelessness.
But Lightfoot said those funds can only be spent to respond to the pandemic, not to combat pervasive problems.
Lightfoot said again Thursday she needs the “nimbleness” and “flexibility” to compete with other cities and states for life-saving equipment.
“When we are literally, every single day, competing for not just the supplies for our health care workers and our first responders, but literally tests that we need to be able to expand the testing across the city, we don’t have 48 hours,” Lightfoot said. “We barely have four hours. If we delay, we lose.”