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What Lori Lightfoot’s historic election means for housing, transit, economy

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What Lightfoot promised on the campaign trail

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot takes the stage after defeating Toni Preckwinkle.
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In the race for Chicago mayor, Lori Lightfoot swept all 50 wards and garnered 73 percent of the vote. Not many could have predicted that a few months ago for the newcomer who previously had never been elected.

When she replaces Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lightfoot will be the first black woman and openly gay person to be mayor of Chicago and a major U.S. city.

Jane Byrne was the first woman elected as mayor in Chicago and a major city in 1979. Then in 1983, Byrne was defeated by the city’s first black mayor Harold Washington. Lightfoot’s historic win could mean that government priorities are headed for a big change just as it did with Byrne and Washington.

Rahm’s legacy

Throughout Mayor Emanuel’s tenure, he’s focused on investing millions in mobility and the CTA through projects like the 95th Street station overhaul, the revamp of the Wilson station, restoration work on the Quincy station, and most recently the dramatic improvements at Belmont Gateway. The Chicago River, lakefront, and open space have received a lot of the mayor’s time and attention too. He’s also prioritized downtown economic development by praising megaprojects such as The 78 and Lincoln Yards. He focused on attracting tech companies and more downtown business—offering up a lot for the chance to be Amazon’s HQ2 and hopping on board Elon Musk’s 12-minute O’Hare tunnel.

Lightfoot campaigned on shaking things up and railing against machine politics. Now, with likely five democratic socialists elected as alderman and possibly seven long-time incumbents ousted in the runoff and municipal election, a big change might actually be possible.

Invest in neighborhoods

Lightfoot is critical of aldermanic prerogative which allows a tight grip on housing, zoning and development. Her plan for affordable housing indicates she wants to analyze and rigorously evaluate tax-increment financing (TIF) districts, amend the Affordability Requirement Ordinance (ARO), and increase affordable housing stock across the city, alter overly restrictive zoning codes, hold Chicago Housing Authority accountable, and create additional pathways to homeownership.

“We can and we will give our neighborhoods—all of our neighborhoods—the same time and attention that we give to the downtown,” Lightfoot said during her acceptance speech on Tuesday. “This is not us versus them. Or neighborhoods versus downtown. We are in this together and will grow together.”

As for economic development, Lightfoot prioritizes supporting small businesses and investing in areas that face significant economic challenges. One way Lightfoot plans to do this is by relocating centralized city agencies into neighborhoods.

“While neighborhoods like Lakeview or Fulton Market can rely on a large hospital or office buildings to attract other small businesses, many Chicago neighborhoods lack anchor institutions that can support neighboring businesses,” according to Lightfoot’s plan. A start, and an example of what this might look like, is the relocation of the Park District’s headquarters to Brighton Park.

Fair, robust transit

Lightfoot’s plan for transit centers around improvements for the bus system—growing routes, expanding bus rapid transit, and electrifying the fleet. Safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists, even creating incentives for people who commute to work in these ways. She also acknowledged that transit-oriented development (TOD) hasn’t been equitable and aims to change that.

Transparency and accountability

A hallmark of Lightfoot’s campaign is her promise to clean up city government. She’s called for major changes such as a mayoral term limit and a ban on outside employment for alderman that conflicts with public service. Lightfoot has knocked Emanuel for failing to deliver on transparency—she’s vowed to stay on top of FOIA requests and hold educational public town halls on proposed city budgets.

Based on her campaign promises, Lightfoot wants to run the city much differently than her predecessor. As she told her supporters last night—we’re about to see a city reborn.