Lightfoot’s 2023 budget is her last chance to fulfill campaign promises

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After delivering her first budget address to the Chicago City Council at City Hall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her financial team sit down for an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Oct. 23, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned as a progressive reformer. In town halls and community meetings throughout the city, she promised to undo the harm caused by eight years of Rahm Emanuel. Lightfoot vowed to re-open the public mental health clinics Emanuel shuttered. She pledged to re-establish the Department of Environment, dismantled by Emanuel in 2012.

Now nearing the end of her first, and perhaps only, term, the mayor has yet to enact many, if not most, of her 2019 campaign promises. The few campaign promises Lightfoot has kept — like passing civilian oversight of the police or removing the carveouts from the city’s sanctuary ordinance — happened only after significant pressure from grassroots activists and community organizations.

Lightfoot has scheduled a final vote for her 2023 budget proposal to take place earlier than usual — Monday, Nov. 7, the day before Election Day. We can assume that on Nov. 9, Lightfoot hopes to turn her full attention to her re-election effort. If past administrations are any guide, Lightfoot is unlikely to pursue any notable legislation in the months leading up to the municipal election, meaning the 2023 budget is likely her final chance to keep 2019 campaign pledges.

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So how close does Lightfoot’s final budget for this term come to enacting those campaign promises? Woefully short.

Clinicians, mental health experts, community groups and progressive alderpersons have waged a multi-year campaign — known as “Treatment, Not Trauma” — to re-open the city’s shuttered mental health clinics and use them as community anchors for non-police mental health first responders.

Despite this multi-year campaign, Lightfoot’s budget fails to keep her promise to re-open the shuttered mental health clinics. Instead, the mayor’s 2023 budget proposal continues to direct funding to non-profit service providers to address our mental health crisis. It’s an unsustainable model that is leading to burnout among mental health practitioners working in precarious conditions with low pay.

On the 2019 campaign trail, Lightfoot promised to enact Bring Chicago Home, a proposal to raise the real estate transfer tax by 1.9% on properties sold for over $1 million, creating a dedicated revenue stream to help solve the homeless crisis in Chicago.

On Oct. 3, when Lightfoot unveiled her 2023 budget proposal, homeless Chicagoans and their allies turned the first floor of City Hall into a tent city in protest of Lightfoot’s failure to keep her campaign promise on homelessness.

Lightfoot campaigned on a simple slogan, “Bring In The Light.” Yet, despite her promise to usher in good government, her 2023 budget proposal continues the city’s $8.9 million contract with ShotSpotter, an alleged “acoustic gunshot detection technology” that has never been independently verified. Research and reports by Chicago’s Inspector General, Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center and Johns Hopkins University have all raised severe doubts about ShotSpotter’s effectiveness, leading other cities to cancel their contracts.

In the face of climate disaster and environmental injustice, Lightfoot’s 2023 budget fails to keep her promise to re-establish the Chicago Department of the Environment. Instead, the mayor proposes an “Office of Climate and Environmental Equity,” with less staff than her press office.

Lightfoot entered office with a mandate to enact progressive change and undo the harm caused by Emanuel. She had goodwill from the public, and progressive alderpersons like us stood ready to help her pass her progressive campaign platform.

The mayor has failed to keep her 2019 campaign promises, despite concerted efforts to help her keep them, including our proposing budget amendments that would help her enact the reforms she promised Chicagoans.

As Lightfoot seeks to pass her 2023 budget, alderpersons and Chicagoans would be wise to remember the old maxim: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Rossana Rodriguez, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Daniel La Spata and Jeanette Taylor are members of the City Council representing the 35th, 33rd, 25th, 1st and 20th wards.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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November 5, 2022 at 04:40AM

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