Editorial | Chicago: Out with the old, in with the new

Editorial | Chicago: Out with the old, in with the new

With a new mayor, is it really a new day in the Windy City?

Inaugurations are usually festive occasions, particularly for newly elected public officials filled with optimism and confidence about their plans for the future.

That was certainly the case Monday when new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, was sworn into office and emphatically announced that "reform is here."

If ever there was a city in need of reform, it's Chicago. If ever there was a city whose culture of corruption and me-first tribal politics steadfastly resisted reform, it's Chicago.

Indeed, that very claim has been a laugh line for well over 50 years, ever since former political boss Mathias 'Paddy' Bauler danced a jig in his saloon in 1955 while proclaiming that "Chicago ain't ready for reform yet."

Bauler was celebrating Richard J. Daley's election to his first term as mayor. The colorful and corrupt politician was correct then. Lightfoot's challenge is to make certain that he's not correct now.

But times have changed, so perhaps the time is ripe for a new direction for a great, but troubled, city.

Lightfoot came out of nowhere in a multi-candidate February primary to become one of the two finalists in the mayor's race. An outsider, she crushed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the April general election.

To say her victory was sweeping is hardly adequate. She carried all 50 city wards, stunning the party powerbrokers who were convinced that Preckwinkle, chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party, was the top choice to replace outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanual.

Since the election, Lightfoot has promised to take on the entrenched interests on the city council and in the city.

"For years, they've said Chicago ain't ready for reform. ... I campaigned on change, you voted for change and I plan to deliver change to our government."

Good luck with that. She'll need it.

Chicago, like the state, is effectively bankrupt. It's bleeding residents. Too many of its public schools are failing. It's far too often a boiling cauldron of violence that's dominated by gun-toting gang members who kill each other over nothing.

Equally troublesome, the stench of corruption hangs over the city like smog over Los Angeles. Even as Lightfoot was being sworn in, federal prosecutors are preparing a new round of indictments targeting members of the council, most prominently longtime political powerhouse Alderman Ed Burke.

Indeed, before Lightfoot gets around to the business of governing, she'll have to assert control over a city council whose members are used to asserting the privileges of office and will resist her efforts to change the rules.

First on the agenda is removing problem aldermen from their committee posts and replacing them with her supporters. Second comes the problem of stripping aldermen of their power to micromanage their wards in ways that fatten their wallets.

"These practices have gone on for decades. This practice breeds corruption. Stopping it isn't just in the city's interest. It's in the city council's own interest," Lightfoot declared.

Chicago's "Lord of the Flies" political competition has always been fun to watch. But it's important to remember that what happens in this colorful and exciting city affects the rest of Illinois.

Everyone in Illinois has a stake in Lightfoot's tenure being successful. If she can bring municipal beasts to heel, it will be good for both the people of Chicago as well as the people of Illinois.

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