Marking more than a year of pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot rallies Chicagoans: ‘Let’s stand up together’

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Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read
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In a televised speech marking more than a year since COVID-19 disrupted life around the world, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday praised Chicagoans for their resiliency and vowed to fight against rampant inequality in the city she leads.

Lightfoot sought to link the hardships of the past year with previous catastrophes, recounting that the city built “a great modern mecca” from the ashes of the Chicago Fire. The Great Depression led to the creation of a social safety net.

Now, she said, “This Great Pandemic has forced a reckoning with the inequalities and inadequacies of our time.”

“We have not blinked or shrank from the challenges that the moment demanded,” Lightfoot said. “Like generations before, we must continue to bring others along with us on this journey toward the next chapter in our shared destiny. We simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”

Lightfoot gave the speech one year after she delivered a similar address as the pandemic took hold. At times, the mayor’s remarks — delivered from City Hall — resembled a campaign kickoff or State of the Union-style address as she laid out policy priorities from helping residents with housing to getting Chicagoans back to work in construction jobs.

The mayor, however, has faced criticism from some who say she has not done enough to combat thorny issues during the pandemic. Access to vaccinations remains an issue for many Chicagoans, as do the city’s entrenched problems, including chronic street violence that is on the rise.

The city, for instance, spent nearly $300 million on police payroll using federal coronavirus relief money, drawing criticism from progressives and activists that it instead should have gone to help the homeless, among other priorities.

Lightfoot rebutted such criticism by saying it was “dumb,” as the federal CARES Act covered payroll that helped the city save millions of dollars.

Throughout the speech, Lightfoot praised Chicagoans for their sacrifices such as keeping their distance, putting off important life events like graduations, and adapting to working virtually.

In her speech, the mayor also recounted the sorrows of the past year while promising to continue working on her goal of creating a more equitable city. Chicagoans in 2020 were taught “that the unexpected can become reality very quickly,” Lightfoot said.

“Almost overnight, schools, businesses, bars, restaurants, parks and houses of worship were closed. Flights were grounded. Chicagoans were asked to shelter in place and ended up losing their lives, their livelihoods, their well-being, their emotional and mental health, their families, their safety, and in some cases their faith in our mutual, community bonds,” Lightfoot said. “But as this horrific virus swept through our neighborhoods, our city, oddly, eerily, fell silent. Silent enough that we could all hear the sirens wailing as ambulances raced from homes to hospitals carrying our neighbors who had fallen ill.”

But through what she called “that shroud of pain and grief, Chicago has continued to be the resilient city that we have always been,” Lightfoot said. “Tested, to be sure, but made stronger and never broken.”

Seizing on that theme, Lightfoot turned to boxer Muhammad Ali for inspiration.

“You know that I’m a sports fan, so let me leave you with this quote from the greatest, Muhammad Ali, who once said, ‘You don’t lose if you get knocked down. You only lose if you stay down,’” Lightfoot said. “So, let’s stand up together, Chicago. It’s time for us to rise together and build a better, more equitable and inclusive city.”

gpratt@chicagotribune.com