Changing the Chicago Way?


My latest piece is online at City Journal, and is about the election yesterday of Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s next mayor:

"Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, defeating Cook County Board of Commissioners president Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot, who swept all 50 city wards, won by a 74-to-26 margin that rivals the biggest election routs of Richard M. Daley. She becomes the city’s first black female mayor, making Chicago the largest city ever to elevate a black woman (who is also gay) to executive power. In choosing Lightfoot, Chicago has clearly voted for change. Though she’s worked in government for years, Lightfoot is a political outsider by Chicago standards.

Lightfoot now faces the challenge of governing Chicago. Unlike outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, who took office after a decade of economic malaise, Lightfoot inherits a booming downtown economy that has reached record-high employment. Under Emanuel and Daley, the mayor governed in an alliance with the business community. Given Lightfoot’s professional background, there’s no reason to believe that she will disrupt that cozy relationship.

Lightfoot also benefits from a downward trend in the city’s violent-crime problem. The murder rate, though still elevated, was lower last year and has fallen by 30 percent so far in 2019—welcome news for the city. Other crimes are down, too. If the economy keeps humming and the positive crime trend persists, Lightfoot will have some breathing room to establish herself.

Not that there’s any shortage of other challenges. Chicago has enormous financial problems, headlined by unfunded pensions and high levels of debt. She faces a deficit of as much as $800 million in next year’s budget. She’ll have to negotiate contracts with the police, firefighters, and teachers. The teachers have been in a confrontational mood for years and went out on strike during the Emanuel years. Lightfoot gave little indication of how she’d solve the city’s financial problems during the campaign, but she has floated various ideas for tax increases, include a value-added tax on professional services—a surprising suggestion, considering her background in Big Law. Then there’s the challenge of spreading prosperity beyond the city’s downtown and North Side to other, left-behind areas—a task with no easy answers."

Click through to read the whole thing.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo: “Chicago sunrise 1” by Daniel Schwen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0