Not All Democrats are Created Equal: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
In February, 2019, the Chicago political machine took a hit. Or did it?
In a crowded mayoral primary that the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Toni Preckwinkle, was supposed to win, a “political newcomer” stole the show. Lori Lightfoot emerged as the big winner of the night, taking the top spot with nearly 100,000 votes. Preckwinkle, who finished in second, forced a runoff but would go on to lose in a landslide.
Preckwinkle’s candidacy was reduced to her association with an unpopular soda tax. By Election Day, Lori Lightfoot was perceived to be the only progressive on the ballot, despite Preckwinkle’s track record.
Labels can be misleading.
Chicago was ready for change. The city was and still is bleeding. Inequality runs rampant. Lori was to bring in the light and let it shine city-wide. She was an outsider with new, progressive, ideas. That was the message that voters bought into, but makes little sense after a closer look.
Political outsider? She worked in the Daley Administration.
Progressive? She attached her name to joint literature pieces to try to protect a long-time Alderman facing an insurgent challenge from a union-backed Democratic Socialist on the southwest side of the city.
To get elected, she accepted campaign contributions from major corporations, pro-business groups, and dark money organizations.
But what would happen when she actual stepped foot into office? Surely a progressive of her stature would fight for the working families of this great American city.
Shortly into her term, she allowed more than 30,000 teachers and school support workers to go out on strike for two weeks. When she tried to jam her first budget through City Council, the five Democratic Socialist Aldermen spoke out against something they thought favored the super wealthy over the communities that they thought needed to be invested in. How did the progressive Mayor respond? She created a website saying that her budget was the most progressive budget this city had ever seen with a way to message those same Democratic Socialists to tell them that they don’t have progressive values. Wait, what?
This is why we need to have a serious conversation about the Democratic Party and our two-party system.
Lori Lightfoot is a Democrat. But what does that even mean?
What does she value? Who does she fight for? Who does she care about?
Lori Lightfoot checks off the perfect boxes for the Democratic Party. She is a gay, black, woman at the helm of one of the largest cities in America.
She routinely gets into fights with Donald Trump on Twitter. She has more than a 70% approval rating.
Then why did she give us the same, tired, lip service on Black Lives Matters?
She took to social media to share photos of Dr. King but, in the real world, she may as well be another boring white guy in office who could care less about black and brown lives. She gave people protesting George Floyd’s murder a twenty minute notice before giving police the green light to enforce the just-announced curfew.
And, as tensions have heightened across the country, there has been a push in major cities to defund police. All this means is that we take a look at police budgets and try to figure out if we got the numbers right. The Chicago Police Department is set to receive a $33 million contract to operate in public schools. The Chicago School Board, who is appointed by the Mayor, was tasked with voting to keep the contract or putting that money somewhere else.
This seems like a slam dunk for a progressive Mayor in a city where you’re quite popular. Support for Black Lives Matter is at an all-time high. As a black woman in Chicago, you can sell the need for revitalized communities to white people on the north side who could care less. The political capital was there to take that money and direct it towards social workers and guidance counselors instead of jail and incarceration. The Mayor, however, openly opposed any divestment and the School Board voted to keep the contract.
Just this past weekend, Chicago was victim to several instances of gun violence. The national media loves to talk about gun violence in Chicago without talking about public schools, mental health services, food deserts, and jobs.
The Mayor took to Twitter to give us her thoughts.
If you ignore that School Board vote, you would almost think that she understands systemic biases and wants to do something to change things.
The Democratic Party tent is too big and we are not supposed to notice differences in ideology. We’re supposed to see Lori Lightfoot go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump but not do a deep dive into how she actually governs.
Until there are more than two major political parties in the United States, Democrats need to be primaried.
Maybe the people will decide they want a Mayor who values teachers instead of Twitter feuds. Maybe the people will decide they want a budget that invests in broken communities instead of someone who engages in a chest puffing contest with the people who point that problem out.
This, however, means that we need to start paying attention. Lori Lightfoot and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not be in the same political party. They both get to carry the progressive label, sure, but we need to be able to spot the differences between them. It isn’t enough to simply declare yourself a progressive or hit the President with a sick burn. That doesn’t earn you your progressive badge. You earn your badge by proving over and over again, through your actions and through your policies, that you fight for the community and for working families.
Lori Lightfoot has failed to do that.