On the day of her inauguration, the loudest cheers from the supporters of Lori Lightfoot, the insurgent-turned-politician, happened in three instances. The city’s first Black queer female mayor received a resounding applause on Monday immediately after she was sworn in, surrounded by her wife and daughter; as she introduced her mother to the crowd, holding back tears; and as she unleashed a fiery call to end corruption in Chicago’s City Hall, invoking the name of Harold Washington – the first Black mayor of Chicago – and the history of the Council Wars in the process.
The Council Wars, led in part by Alderman Edward Burke, were a racist attempt by the aldermen of Chicago to stymie any proposals and appointments that Washington, a reformist Democrat, put forth to the council. Now, 36 years later, another Black reformist mayor takes the helm – and incidentally, she’s facing off against the very same Ed Burke. He is currently charged with abusing the tradition of aldermanic prerogrative, which grants aldermen the power to initiate or block City Council or city government actions concerning their own wards, to slow down approval of a local Burger King’s remodeling unless it hired Burke’s law firm to do its taxes.
Burke has become a symbol of Chicago corruption; Lightfoot had used his alleged misdeeds in a successful series of attacks against her runoff opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, for whom Burke was alleged to have solicited donations when shaking down the Burger King in question.
Washington was unable to fend off the effects of the racist Council Wars, but Lightfoot seems determined not to let that happen to her. Notably, a recent Chicago Tribune article declared her as “indebted to no one but her voters.”
“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” Lightfoot declared, to thundering applause and cheers. “Well, get ready, because reform is here. I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government.”
“We will give aldermen a voice, not a veto,” she added, after announcing that she would sign an executive order on her first day in office that would significantly curtail prerogative. Curbing aldermanic prerogative, a practice unpopular with Chicago voters, had become a highlight of the Lightfoot campaign’s policy platform.
Lightfoot had declared her intention to run before incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel stunned Chicago by not seeking a third term; Emanuel had become deeply unpopular in Chicago for both his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting in 2014 and his inability to end Chicago’s reputation for corrupt politics. Lightfoot’s campaign thus focused on both police accountability, hearkening to her experience as leader of the Chicago Police Board and the head of the Police Accountability Task Force, and on ending aldermanic prerogative.
Among other indicators of her reformist agenda, she nominated a progressive alderman to head the same committee once chaired by Ed Burke and stripped the committee chair assignment of an alderwoman who had supported Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board, in the runoff.