David Greising: Lightfoot still has a chance to prove herself as mayor before 2023 race

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First, Arne Duncan decided not to run for mayor. The former U.S. education secretary said he wanted to stay focused on his anti-violence work.

Next, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley said he was out. He needs to stick with the congressional effort to protect Ukraine from Russia, he said.

The leaders among those still lining up are well known but well worn. There’s Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools chief with an 0-for-2 record in runs for mayor and governor. And Gery Chico may run — another former schools chief with his own 0-for-3 tally in bids for Senate and mayor.

The others hitting the hustings are less a “Who’s who” and more like a “Who’s kidding whom?” State Rep. Kam Buckner, police union President John Catanzara, Ald. Ray Lopez and businessman Willie Wilson likely don’t have a chance of beating Lightfoot.

The lack of formidable challenger is all the more remarkable because Lightfoot is politically vulnerable. As mayor, she steadily has sloughed supporters. She lost the progressives who got her elected and the law-and-order types who thought she could tame Chicago’s unruly police.

The spread of street violence has cost her the backing of lakefront liberals. And the business elites who funded her last time are astounded — and fed up — by her shortcomings as a manager.

The seemingly intractable nature of Chicago’s problems is leading some politicos to say no credible challenger has emerged because the job is just too tough. The violence, the pandemic, the rancor of the times all have made the mayor of Chicago an office no qualified person would want to seek.

To which I respond: What in the world are you talking about? The job itself is not impossible. Lightfoot sometimes just makes it look that way.

Yet a recent run of tidy wins indicates she might yet get a stronger handle on the job in time for next year’s Feb. 28 primary vote. And if she builds on that in two key areas — ethics and public safety — she might win back some of that lost support.

The mayor recently scored two City Council victories despite vocal and sometimes strident opposition. She pushed through approval of Bally’s $1.7 billion casino proposal, and she secured passage of a new curfew designed to cut back on violent crime.

Both of these wins were messy. Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, raised valid concerns about conflicts faced by Union Gaming Co., the city consultant that also has Bally’s as a client. Lightfoot’s optimistic casino revenue estimates likely won’t pan out.

Pushback about the curfew was valid too: Academic research and real-world experience indicate curfews often don’t work.

Whatever the mess, the wins still matter for Lightfoot. She needs every win she can get because Lightfoot seems unable to make progress on her biggest vulnerabilities: violent crime and her difficulties managing Chicago’s public schools.

Lightfoot is standing by ineffectual police Superintendent David Brown, and she and Brown both lack a vision, or even tactics, for how to address the crime problem. And the Chicago Teachers Union, with firebrand Stacy Davis Gates now installed as union president, will continue to vex the mayor’s efforts to address the challenges at the city’s public schools.

Against that backdrop, the casino and curfew wins are two points on her mayoral timeline. But they’re not yet a trend. And that’s why Lightfoot’s prospects, and the city’s, will be well served if she seizes on two opportunities lined up in front of her: ethics reform and fire safety improvements.

An ethics reform bill, introduced by Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, and backed by the Better Government Association’s policy team, would help rehabilitate Lightfoot with reformers whom she has disappointed. Smith’s bill is a solid step toward delivering on Lightfoot’s promise to clean up the city’s culture of corruption.

A confounding parliamentary procedure delayed progress on the measure at this week’s council meeting. Lightfoot could have prevented the standstill, but now, if she helps the measure move forward at next month’s meeting, she could be seen as a force behind the reforms and get credit from voters in the end.

Alongside ethics improvement, Lightfoot could finally come to terms with her failure to protect the poorest neighborhoods from deadly but preventable fires. The issue moved back to the forefront earlier this month when the Tribune and BGA won a Pulitzer Prize for an investigative series a year ago that revealed the city did not act on known safety hazards in buildings where fires killed at least 61 people. Most victims were Black residents in poor neighborhoods.

Those stories also exposed the failings of Lightfoot’s “scofflaw landlords” list, rushed into place as a response to the initial investigative reporting. An ambitious fire safety proposal — cribbed, if she wishes, from potential solutions included in the BGA-Tribune reporting — would be the right thing to do. It would also be good politics for Lightfoot.

With ethics reform and more ambitious fire-safety efforts, Lightfoot could build on the momentum of her casino and curfew wins. The city, and the mayor, would be better for it.

David Greising is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

via Chicago Tribune

May 26, 2022 at 06:41PM

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