Chicago’s first openly gay mayor — who is also the first black woman to hold the post — took office Monday with a promise to clean up corruption and tackle pervasive gun violence in America’s third-largest city.
Lori Lightfoot, who shocked the establishment with her come-from-behind electoral win last month, was sworn into office in a high-profile inauguration at a Chicago sports arena.
In a speech, the 56-year-old promised her cheering audience to change policing, improve economic disparities, and tackle corruption at city hall.
“For years, they said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready, because reform is here,” the former federal prosecutor said.
“I campaigned on change. You voted for change. And I plan to deliver change to our government.”
The progressive outsider’s electoral victory on April 2 was a tectonic shift in the politics of a city long known to function through insider dealing among Democratic party operatives.
Evan McKenzie, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Lightfoot’s win is the most significant mayoral election since Harold Washington became the city’s first black mayor in 1983.
“She has a powerful mandate to make changes,” McKenzie told AFP.
In her speech, Lightfoot challenged elected officials in the room — whom she deliberately turned to face at one point — to not stand in her way.
Lightfoot’s first act as mayor was to be the signing of an executive order curbing the power of city council members.
The council’s power structure has led to a history of corruption convictions against members, and two aldermen currently face criminal charges in separate cases.
The new mayor’s personal identity has also made her an important symbol in a city struggling with socio-economic challenges along racial fault lines.
“Given the race relations in Chicago, it’s just wonderful and there’s hope,” Wanda Dillard, a retiree attending the inauguration, told AFP before the event.
Lightfoot has promised an increased focus on economically-challenged, predominantly black communities where gun violence has made the city one of the nation’s bloodiest.
More than 750 people died as the bloodshed peaked in 2016, and more than 550 were killed last year.
While promising to tackle the violence, the new mayor also wants to reform the police department, which has a history of civil rights abuses. She has called some officers racist and said police tactics have left minority communities feeling as if police are “an occupying force.”
Lightfoot succeeds Rahm Emanuel, who served two terms as mayor after he was chief of staff to former president Barack Obama.