Thumbs up to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s four-star inaugural address Monday.
In a focused, quoteworthy speech, Lightfoot laid out a pitch-perfect vision for Chicago that cleverly reimagined the four stars on the city flag as guiding lights for her administration.
“Enough of the shootings. Enough of the guns. Enough of the violence,” she said. “Let’s unite in our response to the biggest challenge we face: the epidemic of gun violence that devastates families, shatters communities, buries dreams and holds children hostage to fear in their own homes. It inflicts lifelong trauma that spreads through our communities like a virus. … There is no higher calling than restoring safety and peace in our neighborhoods.”
The urgency is undeniable, though Lightfoot’s prescription — "a comprehensive violence-prevention strategy that will connect efforts across city government, other aspects of the public sector and nonprofit, philanthropic, education, recreation, business and faith communities” still has a vague, platitudinous feel to it.
“Forging partnerships between police officers and the community premised on mutual respect (and) accountability,” is a necessary but ever-elusive goal. And my optimism remains guarded about the effectiveness of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety that she plans to establish.
“We will work to expand early childhood education and extend the promise of a good education through high school and college, and to every kid,” Lightfoot said. “Starting in our schools, we will create a citywide workforce as the pipeline for jobs of today and tomorrow that will be the envy of the world.”
“We must start with getting our fiscal house in order,” Lightfoot said, alluding to the “giant financial hole” in which the city finds itself.
“No doubt some hard choices will have to be made and none of this is going to be easy. But we will do the hard work with transparency, integrity and a determination to put our pensions on a true path to solvency, and make our government work more efficiently, and without balancing budgets on the backs of low wage and working-class Chicagoans.”
Details to follow, she said, adding that “stability also means that we must build housing that is affordable for more people, including families … (and) support for our business community, large and small.”
“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” Lightfoot said. “Well, get ready … because reform is here. I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change.”
Here she got more specific, more pointed.
“No official in the city of Chicago, elected or appointed, should ever profit from his or her office,” she said. “Never. Ever.” And to underscore that, “later this afternoon, I will sign an executive order to end the worst abuses of so-called aldermanic privilege ... ending their unilateral, unchecked control over every single thing that goes on their wards.” She signed just such an executive order within hours of her speech.
In his first inaugural speech eight years ago, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel spelled out four, similar civic goals — “Stronger schools. Safer streets. An effective and affordable government. Good-paying jobs.” But he reached out “a hand of mutual respect and cooperation” to aldermen rather than issuing a challenge to their power.
The four stars on the flag of Chicago stand for moments in the city’s history — the Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition (1933–34).
But the four stars of the Lightfoot agenda — alluded to in “Shine On, Chicago,” the title of Monday’s festivities — are anything but discrete. They are more like the rings on the flag of the Olympic games, interconnected and interdependent.
Our streets will not be safer until our schools are better, the city’s finances are stable and its government is trustworthy. Our schools will not be better until our streets are safer, our finances stable and our government trustworthy. We will not achieve stability until … well, you get the idea.
Our destiny is in these stars. Lightfoot lifted our eyes to them Monday with a stirring message of hope, unity and defiance of the old order.
Her challenge now is to keep us reaching for them.