Can Chicago’s New Mayor Lori Lightfoot Finish the Job That Rahm Emanuel Couldn’t?

On November 7, 2016, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was standing next to a patch of dirt in the city’s glitzy River North neighborhood, a towering construction crane behind him. Emanuel was celebrating a new milestone for his administration: A record-setting 33 tower cranes dotted the skyline in a testament to the city’s economic prowess and global stature. The mayor was ringing in the good news at the construction site of One Bennett Park, an 836-foot tower that is famed architect Robert A.M. Stern’s first building in Chicago. Completed in early 2019, One Bennett Park has already seen 10 condos sell for more than $4 million apiece.

But the news was eclipsed by a tragically familiar development: That same day in November, Chicago saw three people killed and 15 others wounded in shootings, including a 16-year-old boy gunned down in broad daylight next to a station for the city’s Green Line train.

Two and a half years later, Emanuel is wrapping up his second term, ending a tenure widely considered a boon to downtown but less helpful for many of the city’s struggling neighborhoods. Succeeding Emanuel is Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor and corporate lawyer who will become the first black female, and openly gay, mayor in Chicago’s history.


Credit: Damsea/Shutterstock

Lightfoot is taking over at a critical time. Emanuel helped the city recover from the recession, took politically painful steps to help steady the city’s finances and boosted its global status. But he left the heavy lifting on some of Chicago’s other problems—violence and crime, police abuses and racial and financial segregation chief among them—to his successor. Despite Chicago’s ever-growing importance as a center of global business and finance, the issues have been a drag on Chicago’s reputation for years—and have exacted a terrible human toll.

I think the new mayor will make progress in these areas. There’s no choice; she has to.

Lightfoot appears poised to tackle these long-standing problems. “I think the new mayor will make progress in these areas,” Dick Simpson, former alderman and current political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says. “There’s no choice; she has to.”

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