Analysis: 4 Years of High-Profile Appointments by Lightfoot Did Not Completely Keep Pace with Growth of Latinos in Chicago

Video: Joining “Latino Voices” to discuss the mayor’s appointments are Carlos Jaramillo, chief operating officer of Instituto del Progreso Latino; Ald.-elect Jessie Fuentes (26th Ward), former co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda; and Manuel Pérez, who served under Mayor Lori Lightfoot as deputy mayor for inter-governmental affairs, is now senior vice president for real estate and finance at Cabrera Capital and is affiliated with the Illinois Latino Agenda. (Produced by Jennifer Cotto)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s picks for key city posts during her four years in office failed to keep pace with the growing number of Latino Chicagoans, according to an analysis by WTTW News.

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The first Black woman and gay person to serve as Chicago’s mayor, Lightfoot lost her bid for a second term in February, finishing third, and failed to win a single ward outside the city’s South and West sides, where a majority of residents are Black. Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will be sworn in on May 15 as the city’s 57th mayor.

Lightfoot repeatedly called equity and inclusion the twin “north stars” of her administration and vowed to dismantle the systems that create and uphold racial disparities in Chicago. That agenda was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic that swept Chicago in 2020, triggering an economic collapse and surge in crime and violence that has yet to fully recede.

Of the 149 key appointments sent by Lightfoot to the Chicago City Council for confirmation between May 2019 and March 2023, 58% of those selected were women, according to WTTW News’ analysis. Lightfoot is the second woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor.

The people of Chicago are 31.4% White, 28.7% Black, 29.9% Latino and 6.9% Asian, according to the 2020 U.S. census.

But approximately 34% of Lightfoot’s appointees are White. Another 31.5% were Black, while 27% were Latino and 6% were Asian, according to WTTW News’ analysis.

That analysis does not include appointments Lightfoot made to a variety of advisory councils designed to make recommendations to her administration that require City Council confirmation. However, those boards and commissions have no policymaking authority and serve a largely ceremonial role.

Cesar Rodriguez, the mayor’s press secretary, said in a statement that Lightfoot's appointments were “very closely aligned to the makeup of the city.”

The Lightfoot administration “developed a holistic plan to tackle the decades of injustice and discrimination that hindered Black and Brown residents from advancing professionally in past administrations,” Rodriguez said.

But some advocates for Latino Chicagoans told WTTW News that Lightfoot failed to fulfill promises to ensure those she chose to lead city departments and to serve on city panels with decision-making power truly represented the city’s racial and ethnic diversity.

“I’m disappointed,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago advocacy group.

Much of the energy around the need to make the city’s leadership more diverse after the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd triggered demands for racial justice did not translate into permanent changes, Puente said.

“That is not unique to City Hall,” Puente said, adding that the pattern is the same in state government as well as in the corporate and philanthropic worlds. “There is certainly a heightened awareness of equity, but the metrics do not reflect progress.”

WTTW News first analyzed the gender and racial breakdown of Lightfoot’s appointments in August 2021, approximately halfway through what will be the mayor’s single term in office. The analysis of the gender and racial breakdown of all of Lightfoot’s appointments found little change during the past two years, although the mayor tapped slightly fewer White people to serve in key posts between August 2021 and March 2023 than she did between May 2019 and August 2021, according to the analysis.

Whereas it is not perfect parity, this is better than what we have seen in past administrations and better than what we see across the government and corporate sector,” Rodriguez saidHowever, this is not a moment to take a victory lap as our work to advance equity remains ongoing. 

Lightfoot appointed the city's first Latina corporation counsel, Celia Meza, and the first Black woman to serve as commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, Annette Nance-Holt. Those “unprecedented” appointments are evidence of Lightfoot's committment “to diversifying key leadership positions from the start of her administration,” Rodriguez said.

Puente said she is frustrated by unfulfilled promises of greater equity at City Hall.

“We have seen some gains, but it is not enough,” Puente said.

Lightfoot has five deputy mayors, including Lori Ann Lypson, who oversees infrastructure and services and is a Black woman, and Samir Mayekar, who handles economic development and is an Asian American man. Beth Beatty, a White woman, replaced Manny Perez, who is Latino, as deputy mayor for intergovernmental affairs and Elena Gottreich, a White woman, replaced John O’Malley, a White man, as deputy mayor for public safety. O’Malley replaced Norm Kerr, a Black man, who replaced Susan Lee, an Asian American woman. Jaye Stapleton, a White woman, serves as the deputy mayor for education.

Those positions, along with the mayor's senior staff, do not require City Council confirmation. Lightfoot's chief of staff is Sybil Madison, a Black woman, and her press secretary is Rodriguez, a Latino.

The city’s approximately 30,900 employees are less diverse than the city’s overall population, according to data compiled by the city’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice, created by Lightfoot in 2019. That workforce is 41.3% White, 29% Black, 24.6% Latino and 3.3% Asian, according to city data.

Chicago's Black population dropped approximately 10% between 2010 and 2020, while Chicago’s Latino population grew 5%, according to the 2020 census.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), the chair of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, said he is frustrated that Lightfoot ignored repeated pleas to appoint more leaders.

“Recommendations were made, but they were ignored,” Villegas said.

Grace Pai, executive director of the Chicago chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said she was pleased that the percentage of Asian American leaders in Lightfoot’s administration was just slightly less than the city’s Asian American population, which grew 31% between 2010 and 2020, according to the 2020 census.

“There has been some intentional effort,” Pai said. “But it requires more, because Asian American leaders have often flown under the radar.”

Lightfoot’s most important appointment of an Asian American was to tap Nicole Lee to replace convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson to represent the 11th Ward, Pai said. The ward, which is also home to Bridgeport and parts of Canaryville, was redrawn after the 2020 census to include all of Chinatown – the first in the city's history to have a majority of voters who are Asian American – fulfilling a decades-long goal for Asian American political groups.

Lee defeated Chicago Police Officer Anthony Ciaravino on April 4 to win a full, four-year term in office, and will be the first Chinese American elected to the City Council.

Lightfoot’s appointment of Lee sent an “important signal” that Asian American representation on the Chicago City Council mattered, and gave Lee a chance to put together a track record as an incumbent to show she could do the job, Pai said.

Lee will not be the only Asian American member to be sworn into office alongside Johnson. Joining her will be Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, elected to represent the North Side’s 48th Ward, which includes Edgewater and the heart of Chicago’s Vietnamese community.

Manaa-Hoppenworth is the first Filipina elected to the Chicago City Council, She and Lee will join former Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) as the only Asian Americans elected to the City Council in the city's history.

The amount of political power wielded by Asian American Chicagoans has grown significantly across the city in recent years, Pai said. In part, that is due to organizing that began amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of anti-Asian violence it touched off, she added.

Pai said she was confident that Johnson will make appointing Asian American leaders a priority, saying she was thrilled that he tapped Amisha Patel, a long time activist who is  Asian American, to serve as a senior adviser to his transition team.

Villegas and Puente said they hoped Johnson would ensure his leadership team reflects the city’s racial diversity.

“It is incumbent on the mayor-elect to recognize that we are a growing population,” said Villegas, who endorsed U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García for mayor, only to see him finish fourth, but did not endorse either candidate in the runoff. “We want to see ourselves in government and at the table.”

Puente acknowledged that efforts to expand Latino political power in Chicago have been complicated by low turnout by Latino voters.

“Latinos are not monolithic,” Puente said. “We have diverse and broad interests.”

The Illinois Latino Agenda, a coalition of 26 Latino leaders of some of the largest Latino-serving nonprofits in Chicago, sent Johnson’s transition team a list of approximately 100 potential appointees, Puente said.

Puente called on Johnson to keep three of the highest-ranking Latino city officials in their jobs, saying City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado, Chicago Park District CEO Rosa Escareño and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez had done “exemplary work.”

In addition, the Public Building Commission is led by Carina Sánchez, who is Latina. Both Salgado and Sánchez were appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and kept on by Lightfoot.

None of those appointments required City Council confirmation.

Note: This article was published April 17 and updated with video April 22.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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