Chicago voters sent Lori Lightfoot a clear mandate in her landslide victory on Tuesday: Clean up Chicago’s mess now!
The mayor-elect certainly must be honored to have swept every one of the city’s 50 wards in her historic win. And though it shows how much we are pulling for her to succeed, the overwhelming win could serve to make the new mayor’s job more difficult. Everybody has a different idea about which of Chicago’s many problems she should tackle first, and how she should go about doing it.
Money, though, is by far the most pressing challenge that will hit Lightfoot as soon as she walks through the door of City Hall next month. She might have a lot of bright ideas about investing in neighborhoods, addressing the violence and mending relationships between communities and the Police Department, but how is she going to implement them without coming up with additional sources of revenue?
Throughout the campaign, both Lightfoot and her challenger, Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, managed to dance around one of the biggest financial obstacles facing the mayor: How is she going to pay off that looming $1 billion pension crises that awaits her at the end of her first term?
When it comes to our pocketbooks, there are a few things on which most Chicagoans typically agree. We want the financial crisis solved quickly. We don’t want to be inconvenienced while she’s doing it. And most of all, we don’t want our taxes raised in the process.
In other words, don’t come to us with any more quick fixes. We need our mayor to start thinking outside the box.
As exciting as it must be to take over the helm of one of the largest cities in America, most of us really wouldn’t want to be in Lightfoot’s shoes right now.
Chicagoans have a low tolerance for politicians who try to squeeze money from them. They are unforgiving when the people they elected to solve our problems turn to residents to bail their cash-strapped government out of a financial dilemma. The vengeance can be brutal.
Let me just say this: Preckwinkle. Soda tax.
Though this can only be backed up anecdotally, one of the things that may have caused Preckwinkle to garner only 26 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s runoff is that penny-an-ounce tax on soda pop she tried to stick people in Cook County with back in 2016.
While she was quite honest about her true motive — generating $224 million a year to help balance the county budget — she tried to sugarcoat it with a lot of talk about the health issues associated with drinking too much pop, lemonade and sports drinks.
The idea was so unpopular that the county ended up getting entangled in a lawsuit that forced the board ultimately to repeal the tax. The public made it clear that they would rather see hundreds of people laid off and a reduction in county services than pay an extra 68 cents for a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
Lightfoot should keep that in mind as she learns the ropes of Chicago politics over the next four years. Voters may be infatuated with her now, but Chicagoans have a way of turning on even their most beloved politicians once they make a misstep.
If there’s any question about that, consider how Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel made a couple of unforgivable mistakes that turned their names to mud. Both of them lost so much favor with voters that they couldn’t seek re-election without a good chance of an embarrassing defeat.
In 2008, in the midst of his final term, Daley gifted us with that horrible parking meter deal that will keep us bound and gagged for 75 years. Some of us still curse his name whenever we have to stick a credit card into the slot of one of those big black boxes.
Daley thought he could quick-fix the city’s burgeoning financial crisis by entering into a long-term contract with a private company to line our streets with their parking meters in exchange for $1.15 billion. Most of the money the city got upfront already had been spent plugging budget gaps before most Chicagoans knew what was going on.
Instead of hitting us in one fell swoop, Emanuel chose to stick it to us gradually, taking as much as he could from our pocketbooks by pushing through record property tax hikes, fees and fines.
As an example of just how expensive — and unpopular — some of the current mayor’s ideas have been, let’s take a look at the ridiculous cost of a city sticker violation. Everyone who registers an automobile in Chicago is required to spend $87 every year for a city sticker that basically does nothing but keep you from getting a ticket for not having one. That’s been going on for years.
But Emanuel raised the stakes for anyone who misses the deadline. If you fail to get your sticker within 30 days after purchasing a car or moving to the city, or if you miss the 30-day window for renewals, you are hit with a $60 fine and quite possibly will end up with a $200 ticket stuck to your windshield.
That definitely hasn’t gone over well with Chicagoans, who also have to dole out seven cents for a grocery bag if they happen to forget to bring their own.
Chicagoans didn’t hesitate to make it known Tuesday that they are looking for a leader who has some fresh ideas that don’t require them going into their wallets. But let’s be honest, Lightfoot has never held an elected office.
She is a novice when it comes to Chicago’s unique brand of politics. I’m just hoping she can figure out how to feed this looming financial beast quickly, before her impatient constituents can chew her up and spit her out.
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