Advice for Lori, from both sides of the aisle
As anybody even remotely familiar with Illinois knows, city and state politics here are chock full of colorful personalities, bluster and war stories. To wit, as Lori Lightfoot begins a historic term as the Chicago’s first openly gay, African American female mayor, we turned to well known Democrats and Republicans who’ve spent decades in the trenches. We posed two questions: What’s the best advice you can give Lightfoot as she begins her tenure as Mayor of Chicago? And, what was your mantra while you were serving?
Here are their responses.
Advice: "Always remember who you are, and where you came from. I think Mayor Lightfoot is very good at this. The purpose of government is to solve problems and help people, and all elected officials need to remember that."
Mantra: "Try to help people every day. Take seriously the issues that face your office. Work with people from different points of view, and try to find common ground. When you take on a job, take on the responsibility that goes with it."
Advice: "Work hard, be honest, and help people."
Mantra: "Use your power for good. And always remember that you are a public servant."
Advice: "Don’t forget about the suburbs, and that includes DuPage County. We’re a region that really needs to work together - two particularly compelling areas are economic development and the opioid crisis. The former is vitally important for the region. On the latter, we’ve been battling this thing that has serious and tragic consequences, and we’ve got to work with Chicago. I think very highly of her and I’m looking forward to working with her."
Mantra: "I try to figure out how we can advance a cause every day, and so I try to put aside the politics and the pettiness and the personalities which can be very hard. I try to keep my eye on the ball and make sure we're moving down the field."
Advice: "The key is to keeping the gyroscope of her focus on target, and not try to be somebody she’s not."
Mantra: "What would my mother think?"
Advice: "I think my mom would have thought Mayor Lightfoot is off to a good start. She has shown a good ability to stand up for what she promised, and where she had to negotiate - an example being the city’s ownership of a casino - she has very clearly stated her reasoning. My mom always said that explaining things quickly and clearly, before the news had a chance to cast it as “she changed her mind” or “she lost this fight” made a big difference. It took my mom a little while to learn that, but Mayor Lightfoot seems to know that already."
Mantra: "Lightfoot needs to keep up that sense of conviction and clarity as things get busier and the honeymoon period ends. And beware the City Council!"
Advice: "You have to have good people around you. That's the secret to governing. The right people with the right attitude. I think I did a pretty good job with that. You’ve got to work with people and you have to be a better listener than a talker."
Mantra: "I was a pharmacist all my life. My store was a great training ground for politics - people came in from all political parties, to talk and chat, and talk about their health. Success is really about how you talk to people, how you deal with them. Respect good ideas, whether they come from Democrats or Republicans."
Advice: "When dealing with the General Assembly remember that most every member, no matter what party, political ideology or district location has very valuable knowledge that they would be willing to share to help you achieve your mission. Ask, then listen carefully and you’ll be amazed at what you learn."
Mantra: "Attempt to create empathy and rapport with everyone, including those that seem unapproachable. Life’s too short so building meaningful connections will lead to a mutual respect overcoming most obstacles."
Advice: "Earn the title 'Mayor 99%' by prioritizing and spending a disproportionate amount of personal and Cabinet-level staff time and the city’s resources on strengthening and rebuilding neighborhoods. Because of an outsized — some would same nearly exclusive — focus by the last Administration on more affluent constituencies and neighborhoods, many under-resourced communities saw their infrastructure and social fabric either gutted or significantly weakened because of school closures, shuttering community-mental health facilities and other reduced investments that consequently drove down local housing and small business development while also contributing to higher crime rates."
Mantra: "My late grandfather came to this country as a young orphan from Romania and eventually built a remarkable family and a small men’s clothing business on the city’s South Side. He didn’t live to see me go into politics, but one important lesson he left me with was that it doesn’t cost any more money to be considerate of and listen to what people have to say. In other words, you can always learn valuable things from listening to people regardless of how much they make, what they do for a living, where they live or what their politics might be. It doesn’t cost you any more to show humility and treat everyone the same."
Advice: "Enjoy the honeymoon. It doesn't last."
Mantra: "Get all the facts. Hear all the pros and cons. Then do what you think is right."
Advice: "Remember the old truism— 'Politics is the art of compromise'."
Mantra: "It was an honor and a privilege to serve — and it’s about service— not about me."
*Editor's note: Schoenberg, Millner and Bassi are Center for Illinois Politics board members.
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