As she exits office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot signs string of executive orders

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot used her last weekday as the city’s chief executive to issue a flurry of orders aimed at cementing some of her key initiatives that could force her successor to stay the course on some of her spending plans.

The executive orders that will be inherited Monday by Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson span subjects from replenishing city pension funds to burnishing immigrant rights.

Lightfoot gave no hint she was going to make the moves during a congratulatory tour of citywide projects earlier Friday, ahead of a celebratory exit from City Hall on Friday afternoon that brought out Lightfoot’s wife and more than 200 enthusiastic supporters who hugged and cheered her.

While U.S. presidents often issue executive orders around highly partisan issues during transfers of power, Lightfoot’s moves were unusual for City Hall. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, by contrast, didn’t issue any last-minute executive orders before he left office four years ago.

But the orders reflected Lightfoot’s desire to ensure her policy priorities remain in effect after she became the first Chicago mayor in 40 years to lose reelection.

Most of the orders were not especially controversial. One, for instance, requires the city to keep the Office of New Americans that she created.

Perhaps the most sweeping order requires the city to establish a “pension advance fund” from the 2022 and 2023 budget surpluses — about $640 million — that can only be used for advance pension payments through 2026.

Making progress in paying down city pensions above the minimum requirement was one of Lightfoot’s hallmark fiscal achievements, though the city’s four funds remain cash-strapped and it’s unclear how Johnson would receive that restriction amid the slew of progressive investments he touted on the campaign trail. While Johnson can undo the orders, Lightfoot’s move is seemingly designed to box him in by making him walk away from a measure she touts as fiscally responsible.

Officials with Johnson’s transition team did not return calls for comment about the orders.

Earlier this week, the mayor also declared a state of emergency over the influx of thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago since August.

Another executive order stipulates that crime victims who are in the country without legal authorization will be guaranteed the city’s assistance in applying for “U visas,” which the government awards if they cooperate with the investigation of the criminal activity, though a report by Injustice Watch found the Police Department regularly denied assistance under the program.

One executive order establishes a “Youth Commission” of 32 teens who must be between 14 to 19 years old and will be selected by the mayor via an application process. They will serve a one-year term that will entail advising the city on issues affecting young Chicagoans.

Other orders Lightfoot signed include requiring city departments to detail progress on ensuring residents have more equitable outcomes when dealing with city government, strengthening zoning oversight and setting up future evaluations for the utility billing relief program Lightfoot started.

Hours after the executive orders were finalized, the roughly 200 Lightfoot supporters gathered at City Hall. Many wore “Equity is our North Star” shirts and furiously waved neon plastic hand clappers in unison and set off poppers as they counted down the minutes before Lightfoot’s exit. Bagpipers rehearsed in front of City Hall’s gold-colored elevators just minutes before she was scheduled to leave.

When the time came, Lightfoot walked out hand-in-hand with wife Amy Eshleman, shaking hands and hugging supporters. She did not give remarks, instead exchanging private goodbyes with allied aldermen and other friends. Then she stepped outside City Hall, under the light and rain, and jumped into a vintage mahogany Cadillac convertible.

Lightfoot raised both her arms in the air as the Cadillac gently rolled north on LaSalle Street and faded into the horizon.

“We gon’ miss you, auntie Lori,” one woman shouted.