Video: The WTTW Spotlight Politcs team of Paris Schutz, Heather Cherone and Amanda Vinicky joins Brandis Freidman to discuss the latest in Chicago and Illinois politics. (Produced by Paul Caine)
Lori Lightfoot has yet to formally announce that she will seek a second term as Chicago mayor — but that has not stopped her from beginning to make her case to Chicago voters.
Lightfoot fired what is likely to be the opening salvo in her bid to be the first woman to be re-elected as Chicago mayor during a spirited 45-minute speech at the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday to a room packed with Chicago’s most politically active and influential business and nonprofit leaders.
Lightfoot touted her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened more than a half a million Chicagoans, hospitalized more than 41,000 of them and killed 7,656 people. Despite that toll — and the economic collapse the pandemic triggered — Chicago is poised for “the best economic recovery of any big city in the nation, bar none,” Lightfoot said.
While touting what she said was her pro-business record of accomplishment, Lightfoot implicitly acknowledged that she would have to “break through the noise” to tell Chicago’s real story.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a narrative out there that our city is headed in the wrong direction,” Lightfoot said. “That noise is completely belied by these objective data points, which show a very robust economy that is creating jobs and opportunity.”
As she ticked off a list of statistics she said bolstered her claims, Lightfoot asked the friendly crowd of big wigs whether they had heard any of those facts — and urged them to ask themselves why.
“We need to own our own narrative,” Lightfoot said. “And we need to tell these stories so that our people understand it, our businesses continue to have confidence, investors continue to flock to Chicago and we break through the noise.”
Lightfoot’s speech left no doubt that her reelection bid will hinge on an attempt to turn the page and put the COVID-19 pandemic behind Chicago.
“This summer will be the summer of joy,” Lightfoot said.
With the election approximately 10 months away, Lightfoot also promised a budget season of joy, telling the crowd that Chicago’s economy was booming so fast that the city could end the year with a surplus after two years of massive deficits. Revenues are outpacing estimates by nearly $200 million, Lightfoot said.
A pile of extra cash could make it much easier to propose — and push through — a 2024 spending plan for Chicago in the months before voters go to the polls to not only elect a mayor but also all 50 members of the Chicago City Council.
While Lightfoot said she was proud to serve as Chicago’s “cheerleader in chief,” she acknowledged that Chicago is still struggling to reverse a surge of violent crime that polls show is voters’ biggest concern.
Lightfoot said she was proud the number of violent crimes in Chicago are “trending in the right direction,” while cautioning that “more needs to be done.”
Crime usually soars during the summer months in Chicago, and that could threaten Lightfoot’s attempt to depict Chicago as a city that has shaken off more than two years darkened by the pandemic and threatened by violent crime and carjackings across the city.
After the speech, Lightfoot told reporters she was confident that she had a strong case to make to voters.
“I think that we have done a very good job under very daunting odds,” Lightfoot said. “I will challenge you to find another mayor who has had to address the kinds of challenges that I have in the last three years.”
Lightfoot declined to set a timetable to make her bid for re-election official, saying only it was coming “soon.”
“Like any good gardener, when you plant the seeds, you till the soil, you watch the shoots rise up from the garden, you want to be there to reap the harvest,” Lightfoot said. “Soon is soon.”