We Wilt Chicago

August 3, 2022

A critique of Mayor Lightfoot’s “We Will Chicago”

As if in answer to a piece written by this author published in June for Chicago Contrarian on her lack of vision for the City of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently released her draft “framework for the city’s future,” We Will Chicago on July 15. The 145-page manifesto (a word used deliberately), is the mayor’s “Plan” for shaping the future of the city.

Touted as a 10-year roadmap to guide Chicago, Lightfoot boasts that the Plan was devised by the staff in her office in collaboration with 25 organizations, 115 volunteers and, inexplicably, 100 artists. How the organizations and volunteers were selected was deliberately not revealed to the public, but one can hazard to guess that if there were any conservatives among the volunteers, they were, shall we say, marginalized. While the army of artists added their imprimatur to this stew, virtually no business leaders were involved in developing this proposal. The resulting master plan concocted by this leftist gaggle is what you would expect: Amateurish, unstructured, and divisive.  

There are three primary reasons why “We Will Chicago” is ultimately doomed to fail:

First, Lightfoot’s Plan is too sweeping and too unfocused. Most quality management consultants will tell you that their clients can only hope to tackle three to five goals at most. The Plan contains eight pillars, a total of 38 goals and 140 objectives. The dilution in and of itself reveals much about this project. Eight pillars, 38 goals and 140 goals is simply too large of a laundry list to pursue. Chicago simply doesn’t have the financial resources or human capital to implement such a substantial and scattered commitment. No organization can.  

In addition to the sheer size and scope of the Plan, Lightfoot’s draft fails to prioritize any of its numerous goals. In well-conceived plans, particularly one of this scale, we would expect to have some sense of prioritization or some order of magnitude. A workable plan would typically list goals in order of importance — where limited management time and resources should be focused. The mayor’s Plan assumes infinite amounts of both. For instance: The Plan lists Arts and Culture as its first “pillar.”  It is absurd to place cultural life as a top priority when companies are fleeing and 50-75 people are shot every weekend.  

With too many items to address and no prioritization, efforts will get diluted and very little is likely to be achieved, especially as other crises surface, as they inevitably will.  

Second, the Plan Lightfoot advances contains no measurables, timetables, persons or groups to be accountable for reaching any of We Will Chicago’s goals. Regrettably, many of the stated goals are amorphous; other objectives directly contradict one another. In one instance, one objective calls for the removal of “barriers and constraints to participating in the workforce and accessing good quality jobs.” A target so vague it loses all content, the goal makes no reference to any hurdle to a jobseeker attempting to enter the labor market. While jobs go begging, the only real barrier to employment is getting off the couch.

Similarly, the mayor’s ill-defined plan does not provide a metric to determine when this objective has been achieved. Another objective reads: “Strengthen and expand job training programs that provide employment opportunities after completion.” Yet another reads: “Reduce the financial burden of participating in workforce training programs.” Aside from the fact that neither can be objectively assessed whether or not it has been met, strengthening and expanding job training programs will likely increase the financial burden of participating in them instead.

Third, the most pernicious aspect of the Plan is that it is entirely reparatory. While it is true that redlining, segregation, and discrimination are an unfortunate part of Chicago’s past, the menace of racism that once divided this city has faded.

More important for the future of Chicago is to stop the population slide and build social cohesion, a priority that seems to slip Lightfoot’s attention. Chicago is a city of wonderful diversity and there is a greater need for a plan that fosters more unity instead of stoking division. The framework put forth by the mayor purports to be a roadmap for the future, yet insists on reaching into the darkest parts of Chicago’s past to achieve a “reckoning” of some sort. Moreover, the Plan goes so far as to seek a “formal recognition of one or more harms experienced by a group of people and the naming of who perpetrated the harm,” and continues to demand “an agreement that seeks to rectify a harm with policies and measures to prevent the harm from occurring from [sic] again.”  

Who precisely would be named since most of the aggrieved are long dead and buried? The Plan wishes to come to some sort of agreement? To whom would this “agreement” be between? The specific population harmed by racial discrimination has been adequately dealt with through legislation and continue to be monitored by administrative bodies like the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) and locally by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. These harms have already been corrected and have mechanisms in place to prevent them from recurring.

At a time in which it is important to unify, particularly in a city so ethnically balanced, the Plan’s framework seeks to divide. In one particularly egregious passage, the plan complains that “organizations led by people of color receiving half the grant funding that majority white entities typically receive.” This statement says nothing about the age of the organization, the purpose of the organization, the constituency they serve, nor does it take into account the robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in every institution in the city.

Inexplicably, Lightfoot’s Plan singles out black, Hispanic, and indigenous ethnic groups for prioritization. Indian, Pakistani, Middle Easterners and Europeans, for example, simply do not exist for Mayor Lightfoot. A workable plan for the city needs to be positive and unifying, built around the simple message of social cohesion as opposed to a plan that structurally pits residents against one another.

As highlighted above, “We Will Chicago” contains no priorities, except for one — to right historic wrongs and to elevate certain ethnic and racial groups over others. Pitting one group against another in a city so big and diverse is a prescription for resentment, population run off, and ultimate failure.

For all her ambition, Lightfoot's “We Will Chicago” proposal is notable for what is not included. Most noticeably absent from the Plan:

First, quantifiable goals. Every consulting firm worth its salt lives by the mantra: “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” Not a single goal or objective in the Plan is quantifiable. The provisions in “We Will Chicago” are mostly amorphous aspirations such as “Support business growth throughout Chicago, especially businesses owned by black and Hispanic people,” “Promote equitable public and private sector procurement processes” or “Promote Chicago’s assets nationally and amplify positive narratives about South and West side neighborhoods.”  Whatever their merits, these aren’t goals. Quite the opposite, they are inchoate aspirations without any measure of whether or not they can be achieved.

A laudable goal in education might be to reduce chronic absenteeism among black students in the Chicago public schools from “X” percent to “Y” percent over the next five years. Such a goal would be achievable and measurable. Goals in a well-conceived plan would be written so it becomes known when a goal has been met and areas on which it is necessary to place a greater emphasis. Quantifiable goals are necessary to make mid-course corrections. “We Will Chicago” contains none of this, which means no goal will be achieved and no one will beheld accountable for achieving them. Another one of the many imperfections in this flawed plan, the fact the mayor uses such vague language or fails to specifically spell out goals is likely by design.

Taxes and Chicago’s tax base. Revenue is an important constraint to take into account in any massive project. Cash flow to an organization is like oxygen to the body. If a sufficient amount of financing is not earmarked, a plan will suffocate and die. With the needless destruction of small businesses during COVID, the exit from Chicago of firms like Citadel and Boeing, the decline in tourism, the damage hotels have suffered, and with the prevalence of remote work, the city’s tax base has taken a tremendous hit. While some of that gaping hole has been filled by federal COVID relief, Chicago cannot continue to depend on federal assistance continuing to flow in. Nonetheless, Lightfoot treats revenue in the Plan (as she has with her Soldier Field proposal) as if it were an infinite good. It is not. Inevitably, Lightfoot will be confronted with a harsh dose of financial reality and will struggle to find revenue to fund this ambitious plan. Eventually, Lightfoot will resort to raising taxes to finance this program.

The Plan leads off by asserting that the city needs a “reckoning” to address past harms. However, the most likely reckoning the Plan will inevitably face is the one that will occur when it runs into the fiscal reality of a greatly diminished tax base, COVID funds that will dry up, increased pension obligations, and a likely turnover of Congress that will shut off the federal spigot. The magic of printed COVID dollars will end. The Plan has much to say about environmental sustainability, but is stone silent on fiscal sustainability.  

Second, crime.  On the lips of every citizen and commentator across the country is violent crime wracking the city. Widespread criminal activity and social disorder is affecting tourism, the willingness of office workers to return to the Loop, and the restaurant and entertainment business. Lightfoot may try to ignore rising crime, but she can’t hide these horrific statistics. Because of her commitment to police reform the mayor has attritted the city’s police force as Kim Foxx has the state’s attorney’s office. Gangs that once only operated in small sections of Chicago now run the city with little fear that they will be caught, prosecuted and jailed. On top of the criminals are the homeless, who also present a threat to innocent citizens. Only last summer, the city was shocked when a homeless man stabbed a woman to death blocks from Willis Tower.

Yet, Lightfoot's Plan absurdly sets as its objectives the reduction of “contact between community and police and increase police accountability.” It sets this goal without taking into consideration the fact Chicago already operates under the Obama consent decree, the Police Board, and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. The Plan purports to confront violent crime via “Support coordination and deployment of rapid, community-based responses to outbreaks of violence.”  A veiled reference to the introduction of social workers or “violence interrupters” to respond to 911 calls, in whose fantasy world is this method going to work? The city is undergoing a preposterous social experiment, decimating, demoralizing, and exhausting its police force. As the city carries out this test, the city’s crime rates are providing abundant evidence of the results.

It's clear from a reading of “We Will Chicago,” Lightfoot has no intention of addressing the city’s most pressing issue, crime. Owing in part to her mismanagement, Mayor Lightfoot has inverted the criminal justice system. To the mayor and her advisers, Chicago police are the bad guys who must be held under control and accountable and the criminals are the long suffering victims. The Plan simply promises more of the same, all of which is destined to drive Chicago further into a hole.

Last, business leadership. Responding to Lori Lightfoot’s Soldier Field proposals on LinkedIn, one corporate CEO wrote: “Chicago has three major problems. Violence. Public schools. Taxes.” Not only did Lightfoot fail to get meaningful input from Chicago’s business leaders, her plan only tangentially deals with the first two issues and doesn’t even mention the third. Eyeballing the list of individuals and organizations involved in authoring the Plan, it is apparent that it is heavily weighted in favor of radical progressives. And it shows.

The language used in “We Will Chicago” provides a clue as to where Mayor Lightfoot intends to take this city. A plan peppered with Neo-Marxist terms, it applies the words “equity” or “inequitable” 41 times, the word “racial” or “racist” 34 times, and the infamous Neo-Marxist buzzword “resilient” several dozen times.  

Despite the proposal being replete with bad news, some good news can be found in “We Will Chicago.” The best aspect of the Plan is that it is unmistakably non-executable, at least not under the city’s current leadership. Even if the Plan was reworked to quantify goals and trim them down to a manageable level, Mayor Lightfoot has not demonstrated the negotiating ability, the necessary consensus building skills, or the executive acumen necessary to implement such a sweeping endeavor. One only need to look to the latest fiascos over the Chicago Bears, her proposed dome for Soldier Field, and the loss of Citadel as evidence of Lightfoot’s lack of executive ability or powerlessness to build consensus and execute a proposal as expansive as the Plan.

It’s still early to predict an outcome for the fate of “We Will Chicago.” Should Mayor Lightfoot be returned to office next February, and even if one agrees with the adoption of “We Will Chicago,” there will be scant demonstrable progress on any of the 38 goals laid out in this plan.  

Even if Ms. Lightfoot puts forth an effort to carry out the Plan, “We Will Chicago” is certain to become We Wilt Chicago.

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