As Mayor Lori Lightfoot approaches the end of her first year as mayor of Chicago, she recently sat down with local community-based media organizations to discuss controversial and important topics including the upcoming legalization of marijuana, the Obama Presidential Center, and creating economic development in underserved communities.
During this roundtable discussion Mayor Lightfoot announced, that effective January 1, 2020, adults 21 and over will be able to possess, purchase, and consume marijuana legally. With this new legislation, there is a concern about how minority businesses will benefit from this new lucrative industry. The Illinois Black Caucus has been particularly outspoken in the lack of minority ownership in the recreational marijuana market and is currently trying to delay the sale of marijuana until next summer. Now, only existing medical marijuana shops were granted licenses to sell recreational cannabis in a lottery. In the lottery, 31 dispensaries received licenses to sell marijuana, and none of them were minority owned. She stressed a lack of capital as the biggest hurdle to minority ownership. Lightfoot would like the city to invest money to attract entrepreneurs to cultivation but also said there were business opportunities in retail, security, and trucking as it pertains to the growing industry. In addition to a lack of ownership, communities expressed concern over potential increases in crime, particularly robberies, since these businesses are primarily cash-based. Lightfoot agreed, stating that the city is preparing for the January 1st legalization date by ensuring a strong police presence at recreational marijuana facilities. “We must be prepared; there needs to be an orderly way for people to go in and out of these facilities. We need to have a police presence to ensure everyone’s safety and security”.
Mayor Lightfoot also discussed the Obama Presidential Center, a $500 million development slated to be built in Jackson Park on Chicago’s south side. While the center plans to bring jobs, and economic development to the area, residents, community leaders, and activists have expressed concerns about gentrification. A coalition of community organizations has asked for a Community Benefits Agreement to protect residents from potential displacement. It has been a political tug of way pitting the Obama Center, The University of Chicago against community leaders and residents. When asked about the Obama Presidential Center and the Community Benefits Agreement, Mayor Lightfoot reiterated the significance of the Obama Presidential Center’s location in Chicago. “Make no mistake about it; the Obama Presidential Center being in Chicago has the potential to completely transform those areas on the south side-if we do it right. And I’m committed to making sure we do it right.” She admitted the city was not as engaged previously and needed to step into the void and own the responsibility for the role the city should be playing, particularly around issues of affordability and the inflation of rental rates. “We are working on and will roll out a plan to make sure we are addressing the land speculation. We plan to address the fact that many older residents in the area do not have the resources to be able to keep up their properties.” Currently, the Lightfoot administration is “winding down the review process” and hopes to release the plan soon. Lightfoot believes this will help alleviate community concerns about the Presidential center going forward.
Chicago’s tech and business community are booming with companies such as Google, Grub Hub, Motorola, and more now making a home in Chicago. A thriving business and tech community brings jobs, opportunities, and economic growth. Still, minorities are often the last to reap those benefits. Mayor Lightfoot stressed the need to create meaningful partnerships with these companies and to have them engage with the community, creating economic and educational opportunities for all Chicago residents. The Mayor believes the city can help by challenging the tech and business community to partner with the city and invest in programs such as Invest South/West, the Chicago Public School System, and City Colleges to foster economic growth and to retain quality talent. She highlighted the Invest South/West investment initiative, which plans to bring together government, business, and philanthropic organizations and community groups to make investments in 10 neighborhoods as an example of engaging the community. “We need to be intentional in talking about it and not ignoring it. We cannot think the world is fine if the central business district, river north, west loop, and south loop are doing well. It’s not. We are a shrinking city, and we will die on the vine if we don’t expand opportunities to the neighborhoods.” We need more jobs and opportunities, and we need them to step up.”
Mayor Lightfoot said, “There are good things we are doing that will be beneficial for the people of Chicago. When asked how local news media could assist, she responded, “We need to get the message out, and we need you to do that. You all are incredibly important to the lifeblood and civic life of the city, and I want to make sure you continue to be present and thrive”. She stressed the importance of telling the story of Chicago and not allowing false narratives about Chicago to become truth, especially out of Washington, D.C. “We are embarked upon a rebranding both internally and externally.” We are going to market the greatness of this city because there are many things we can and should be proud of.”
In conclusion, we appreciate Mayor Lightfoot extending an invitation to the Chicago Defender for a very important dialogue and conversation. The Mayors commitment to transparency and a free and fair press is appreciated and we look forward to continued engagement and ongoing dialogue on important topics facing the city of Chicago.