Video: Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers a farewell address on May 8, 2023. During a portion of the speech, she grew emotional. (WTTW News)
Bidding a formal farewell to the city that denied her a second term, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she was elected four years ago to “break up the status quo” — and claimed credit for doing just that, despite being “brought to my knees” by the COVID-19 pandemic, civic unrest and crime surge.
“The mandate that I was given four years ago was to break up the status quo that failed our residents for far too long and to chart a new path,” Lightfoot said. “And that's what we did.”
Lightfoot spoke for about 30 minutes in front of a friendly crowd made up of city employees, appointees and a handful of City Council members at the under-construction Austin headquarters of Build Chicago, a violence prevention and youth development organization.
Lightfoot appeared to acknowledge that she ends her single term as mayor with work undone. At several points, she claimed credit not for accomplishments, but for “planting seeds” that will lead to the city's transformation into a more equitable place to live.
Lightfoot will leave office in precisely one week, after finishing third in the first round of voting and failing to advance to the runoff – the first time in 40 years a Chicago mayor had fallen short in a bid for reelection.
Lightfoot portrayed her single, four-year term as an inflection point in Chicago history, and said she was proud of her work leading the city through what she called some of its darkest days.
“There were certainly times when the sheer number of challenges mounted on top of each other brought me to my knees,” Lightfoot said. “I wrapped myself up in resiliency. Resiliency that I saw over and over again, all across Chicago.”
Despite Lightfoot’s loss, Monday’s event was designed as a pep rally for Lightfoot and her team. Preceded by a booming drumline and a slickly produced video that intercut parts of her inaugural address with upbeat music and images of news stories that cast the previous four years as the fulfillment of those promises at a time of great trial and unimaginable tribulation.
Lightfoot has frequently blamed her defeat on the news media, and did so again Monday.
“Lots of time and energy and ink has been spilled by the pundits and the news media obsessing about what four-letter word the mean, ‘can’t-get-along-with-anyone mayor’ allegedly said,” Lightfoot said. “Let me tell you, my friends, the four-letter word that propelled me forward every single day of this improbable journey.”
Lightfoot became overwhelmed with emotion as she recounted the “despair” she encountered, and needed several moments to compose herself, bolstered by the cheering crowd, some of whom called out, “take your time.”
“That four-letter word was spelled H-O-P-E,” Lightfoot said, to loud cheers.
Lightfoot used her speech to tell the Biblical story of Lazarus, the dead man brought back to life by Jesus and his rock-solid faith, and likened his story to what has happened on Chicago’s West and South sides, which have suffered for decades from grinding poverty, disinvestment and violent crime.
“We can breathe new life into the people and places that have been left for dead,” Lightfoot said. “These are not just words. We proved that over and over again these last four years.”