Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a central message in her speech for inauguration day: “It’s time for a new era of trust between the people of Chicago and the government that serves them.”
The new alderman of the 20th Ward, Jeanette Taylor, may agree with the sentiment, but she’s not happy with the way Lightfoot has started that era — in particular, by not valuing aldermanic input on big decisions.
“She ain’t no different than Rahm right now, is how I see it,” said Taylor. “And I’ll say it to her face and I don’t care if you write it.”
One key issue for Taylor is the way Lightfoot decided to curb aldermanic privilege, or the long–running (and often-criticized) Chicago tradition that allows aldermen the final say over issues in their own wards, such as permitting and zoning changes. On her first day in office, Lightfoot signed an executive order to limit that practice.
“Aldermen will have a voice, not a veto,” said Lightfoot in her speech.
Taylor said she does not think Lightfoot’s executive order will derail her own agenda, which includes forcing developers to host open houses for community input, creating job training opportunities and instituting a 20th Ward Chamber of Commerce. However, she thinks more aldermen would have stood behind Lightfoot if they were included in the decision-making process.
“My issue with her is that what she didn’t do is have a conversation with the 50 people who got elected with her,” Taylor said.
Constituent input is central to Taylor’s plan to encourage development “that makes sense” for the 20th Ward and is representative of community needs. She plans to prioritize listening opportunities before any future developments are decided. Examples include hosting block club meetings, open houses and other events.
“At the end of the day they won’t be able to say, ‘Jeanette did not open it to the community,’” said Taylor.
A community organizer for 12 years and mother of five children, Taylor said her political interests began when she joined a local school council at age 19. She said she wants to provide a community for her children that is similar to her own upbringing in the Bronzeville/Kenwood area.
“I want them to be able to walk safely to the store. I want them to live in a system [where] police officers actually serve and protect everybody. I want the institutions in our community to respect us. And that just has not happened for us,” she said.
The 20th Ward consists of several South Side neighborhoods, including Woodlawn, Washington Park, Back of the Yards and Englewood. Despite new additions to the area, like the Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn and the incoming Obama Presidential Center, Taylor said community residents still seek more economic development, employment opportunities and better schools.
“The community knows what it wants and what it needs. How many more liquor stores and beauty supplies and corner stores that sell Flamin’ Hot Cheetos do we need? The answer is none,” said Taylor.
At surface, Lightfoot and Taylor share similar values: safety and security for families. However, for Taylor, she’s also adamant that “showing up” is a big part of the process.
“I wish Lori would come to the Black community and talk to Black aldermen,” she said. “In order to be a mayor for the entire city, you have to do the work.”
For example, Taylor said she has been to transition meetings and block club parties to make herself available to her community — even giving out her personal cell phone number to residents.
“You can’t advocate, fight for and stand up for people who can’t call you,” she said.
Taylor’s critique is that, similar to previous mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lightfoot’s process so far has not been fully representative.
“[Rahm] went and found the pastors and a few organizations that he thought he got along with and that he thought was representative and said, ‘I’ve got the Black people.’ No, you don’t,” she said. “If you are going to be transparent and be different, you have to do different.”
Taylor plans to meet with Lightfoot and share these criticisms.
“Just like she made promises to her constituents, so did I. And I’m going to do right by my community,” Taylor said.
This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at www.citybureau.org