Photo Credit: Amber Marie Green
Lightfoot is facing stiff competition with eight challengers – including six Black candidates – looking to unseat her after one full term in office on Election Day 2023 in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
“Why me as opposed to anyone else who is running? I’ll tell you why. Number one there’s no other Black candidate that has a shot of even getting into the runoff and is never going to see the inside of City Hall other than being invited as a guest,” said Lightfoot in her opening remarks. “That’s the truth. You can look at the polls, you can slice the numbers 20 ways from Sunday, but fundamentally any vote coming out of Black Chicago that’s not for Lori Lightfoot is giving it to [Paul] Villas or Chuy [Garcia].”
The Defender joined journalists from The Chicago Crusader, N’DIGO, among other publications for a 90-minute sit-down conversation with the mayor held at the Chicago News Weekly office located at 8348 S. Stony Island Ave. in the city’s Avalon Park neighborhood. During the interview, Lightfoot addressed criticism levied against her by her political opponents, defended her record of accomplishments as mayor, discussed elements from her most recently passed budget, and more.
(Interview questions and responses have been condensed for clarity and length.)
Q: Do you support reparations for Black Chicago? If not, what does that look like?
LIGHTFOOT: Reparations is called INVEST SOUTH/WEST. Reparations is called the procurement reforms that we’ve done to make sure that larger chunks of the city’s 3.5 billion dollars are going into Black and brown Chicago. Reparations is called the $31 million that we put into mostly Black Chicago through our targeted financial assistance, meaning $500 a month for 5,000 families for a year and helping them overcome the financial challenges that they have to make sure that when that pilot program is over, they’re in a better position than where they were before. Everything that I am doing is focused on equity and inclusion. Some people want to call it reparation. That’s fine. I call it building Black wealth.
Q: What’s the plan moving forward for environmental issues in Chicago?
LIGHTFOOT: Let me start with how much money that we’ve invested in all things environmental, specifically focused on environmental justice, 188 million dollars, the largest investment in environmental policy in concrete things in the history of the city. But let me step back. When I came into office, it wasn’t just that the prior administration disbanded the
Department of Environment, we had stepped back from any leadership role, any environmental justice, environmental integrity, climate action, you name it. We were nowhere as a city… The other thing that we have done is make sure that we’re preserving Lake Michigan. It was very difficult to get done through the Trump Administration, but we finally got it done with the help of Senator Dick Durbin, which is to get the Army Corps of engineering to get the money to get for a study that is critical to doing the revetment work to stop the flooding that’s happening in areas of our city on the Far North Side, but also on the Far South Side that didn’t have that revetment for 20 some years. For example, every time there’s a storm on Lake Michigan, you can see the flooding three blocks in from the lake. Basements of buildings being flooded, cars being flooded, streets being flooded. We finally were able to get the work of revetment started.
Q: You received $29 million from Congressman Danny Davis for health care training. We were talking about health care disparities. Have you had a chance to reflect on that and put minorities into the pipeline?
LIGHTFOOT: So, a couple of things that we did along that line. I mentioned there were some silver linings, even in the very dark cloud of COVID. We knew that we needed to build up a community healthcare corps because I can come and knock on your door and you’re not going to answer. But if you’ve got a neighbor that you know and you trust, you’re going to open up that door. Not only are you going to open up that door, you’re going to have a conversation. And one of the biggest challenges that we faced during the first two years of COVID was getting people educated about the disease. We had to do a lot of myth busting. You may remember that a lot of Black folks said Black people can’t get COVID. The truth is the first person who died in our city was a middle-aged Black woman. We had to do a lot of work, but what we learned was we have to have troops on the ground who are trusted in the community to be able to get the message out, to be able to knock down people’s mess myths about the healthcare system and get them to be proactive about taking care of themselves. We couldn’t do that from the top down, we needed to do that at the block level. So, we hired 600 community health care workers in 2020 and mostly what they were doing initially was helping us reach out to educate, communicate, and the vast majority of them are Black and brown. I think an overwhelming number are Black. The idea wasn’t to just have 600 people that the city paid, but to get them real careers in health care and be that community healthcare force that we knew we were going to need on a going forward basis for public health. So, I think that that has been a tremendous success, but it’s given us insights that’s invaluable for us to know how we do service delivery. How do we reach people? How do we connect them up to services? We borrowed that model, if you will, from West Side United.
Q: Do you support an elected school board?
LIGHTFOOT: I do support an elected school board. I do not support the legislation that was passed. And I’m happy to spend another succession going chapter and verse on that, not in the least of which is they don’t account for that symbiotic financial relationship between the city and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). No one’s going to continue to pay what is in excess of half a billion dollars every year to CPS if they don’t have any say in the governance of CPS. I don’t give anybody money that I don’t have some say in how that money is being spent.
Q: How much money has Chicago received in cannabis taxes? How has it been allocated?
LIGHTFOOT: We get a tiny, tiny bit of cannabis money. It is three percent. That’s a conversation for another day whether or not that’s fair. I just happen to think it’s not. We get
three percent of the revenue for cannabis, and, as you know, the cannabis industry is just exploding. What are we doing with the money? We put it right back into violence interruption and prevention. All of those dollars are going there.
Q: One thing that I am sure that is still on your list is the mental health situation. You promised to do something about mental health.
LIGHTFOOT: Seventy-seven neighborhoods as of 2022 all have free mental health services.