Chicagos new mayor challenged to heal marginalized communities

Lori Lightfoots win inspired hope, but some see a continuation of previous administrations

Lori Lightfoots decisive win last week to be elected the first black woman and first openly gay person as mayor of Chicago has inspired hope among many in the city that she could bring reform to City Hall and better represent many communities that have long been ignored by local leadership.

But Lightfoot has also elicited concern among some activists here who have called her status as a reformer into question and suggested she represents a continuation of previous administrations policies agendas they say have been detrimental to black, brown and LGBTQ Chicagoans.

That such conflicting views of the incoming mayors record, values and agenda can co-exist seems to reflect a schism between city government and many of the communities it should represent and disagreements about how best to bridge those divides.

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Weve waited more than 30 years to have a champion [in office] who will represent all communities, said Reverend Ira Acree, a pastor in Chicagos predominantly African American Austin neighborhood on the citys west side. Im very excited to have an ally at city hall. Its been a long time for me.

For Acree, who endorsed Lightfoot, shes a potentially transformative figure who is serious about empowering Chicagos south and west sides: predominantly black and brown communities often ignored in favor of the citys downtown and north side. Acree believes her experience leading police oversight groups here could help her bring needed reform to the citys controversial law enforcement system.

Supporters cheer at Lori Lightfoots election night party in Chicago. Photograph: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Getty Images

Its a lot of work, said the pastor from the Greater St John Bible Church. But if anybody can do it, she can.

But for people such as activist Beni Hart its precisely Lightfoots record as a former prosecutor and head of Chicagos police board and police accountability task force that is cause for alarm. According to Hart, Lightfoot is a figure who represents some of the most repressive elements of the Chicago machine.

I was certainly disappointed [by her victory], said Hart, a writer and artist who outlined issues some have with Lightfoot in an Advocate op-ed last week.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 took over from Richard Daley, who, with his father, had ruled the city for more than four decades, with a similar promise to bring change to the city and serve the interests of all its residents. But over his time in office, his policies came under heavy criticism as favoring business interests and the predominantly white north side. Hes been especially scrutinized for his handling of issues between the Chicago police department and the citys marginalized communities, particularly over his fight to keep video of a white cop murdering an unarmed black teen Laquan McDonald from being made public.

Lightfoots police oversight task force had sharply criticized Emanuel and the cops in the wake of the killing, but Hart and other activists dont see much difference between the policies shes proposed and those of her predecessor.

Undeniably, theres a continuity between the Rahm Emanuel administration and the Lori Lightfoot administration, said Hart.

According to Elizabeth Todd-Breland, an assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the differing views of Lightfoot reflects the deep distrust many marginalized Chicagoans have in the citys police and a lack of faith that electoral politics and government is a space where change can really happen. Its also seemingly indicative of a generational divide within the communities, with younger activists seeking more than representational politics.

Theyre looking for fundamental transformation, Todd-Breland said.

[Lightfoot] did a great job of crafting herself as an agent of change and as a transformative leader, she continued. But for those who have a negative association with her work in law enforcement, that seemed like a completely false and disingenuous narrative.

Cook county board president Toni Preckwinkle, the other candidate in Chicagos April run-off election, attempted to tap into those concerns during the at-times-heated mayoral race. Chance the Rapper, whose father was an official on Preckwinkles campaign, said in his March endorsement that activists and community organizers dont necessarily feel comfortable or safe going into a city where Lori Lightfoot sits on the fifth floor and that her record has not been in the best interests of young black people in Chicago.

US congressman Bobby Rush, in endorsing Preckwinkle, said Lightfoot had made an alliance with the devil and that if any young black male or female is killed by a police officer, Lightfoots voters would have blood on their hands.

Lori Lightfoot won in a landslide victory to become Chicagos mayor, defeating Cook county board president Toni Preckwinkle. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Lightfoot has vehemently disputed that characterization of her record, countering that police accountability rose under her guidance. She won in a landslide victory, defeating Preckwinkle in each of the citys 50 wards an indication, it seems, of a strong mandate to enact her agenda.

But Hart and some other activists here challenge that narrative, pointing to the citys possibly record-setting low voter turnout in this months election something they say reflected low enthusiasm toward either candidate.

Black folks and poor folks in Chicago have long been disillusioned, Hart said, and that was particularly evident in this election.

Hart also said that Lightfoots strong support on the predominantly white north and north-west sides also raises concerns, and that community organizers will work to hold her accountable.

For Acree, though, her experience and vision make her the perfect mediator between police and the communities. She is going to set a model for how to bring police reform to urban communities, he said.

It remains to be seen which side is proved right after Lightfoot is sworn in as mayor, but many here are hopeful she can transform the culture in city hall and focus on the south and west sides where other administrations have not.

Asiaha Butler is a resident of the citys south side Englewood neighborhood, which has been significantly impacted by gun violence and disinvestment. She says any mayor who can help her community will go down as a legend, and hopes thats what Lightfoot plans to do.

As executive director of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, Butler said she has been asked to serve on the good governance committee of Lightfoots transition team a promising sign, she said, that voices like hers will be heard in the new administration.

Im hopeful, Butler said of the mayor-elects vows to be a leader for all Chicagoans. I really hope that it wasnt just campaign rhetoric.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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