In an exclusive interview with NBC 5, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that she can’t rule out layoffs for city workers due to a massive financial shortfall the city is experiencing due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Lightfoot, who has recently faced criticism for the city’s handling of unrest, demonstrations and looting in recent months, also defended herself as a leader in the extensive interview with Mary Ann Ahern, saying that she is still working closely with Chicago police to find solutions to challenges facing the city.
During the interview, Lightfoot said that tough financial decisions may have to be made in the city if lawmakers in Washington don’t pass legislation to help struggling cities and municipalities, and said that laying off workers to slash costs is a possibility.
“I can’t take it off the table, because we’re still working on solutions for the 2020 budget,” she said. “We’re still looking to Washington, but we’re gonna have to formulate some alternative plans if we don’t see that there’s any glimmer of hope of getting more support from Washington DC.”
The budget shortfalls caused by a drop in tourism and other business amid the coronavirus pandemic has hit Chicago hard, but the city is also in the national spotlight because of a recent upward trend in gun violence, as well as several high-profile looting incidents that have occurred in the city.
Residents and business owners are demanding action, or even threatening to leave the area entirely, and Lightfoot says she is sensitive to those concerns and committed to finding solutions.
“What we’ve heard loud and clear from residents, from business owners and business associations is they want to feel safe,” she said. “I have people asking me to bring in the National Guard, and I don’t think we’re at that point yet, and I hope we don’t get there. We’re going to do what is necessary to keep people safe and to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe.”
To that end, Lightfoot says that she remains committed to aggressively pursuing and prosecuting looters, comparing the approach to the way the police department would conduct a “murder investigation.”
“We will find these people working in partnership with our law enforcement partners, particularly the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office, and I’m determined that we will bring them out of the shadows and hold them accountable,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to treat this looting like a murder investigation. We’re going to throw every resource at it to make sure that we find those people and hold them accountable.”
Lightfoot has also been criticized for some of her administration’s policies to help combat unrest and looting, including raising bridges and restricting access into the downtown business district, but she says that the tactics are necessary to effectively keep businesses safe.
“These bridges are up to make sure we have the ability to stop car caravans,” she said. “I think the most challenges, particularly around the looting is these car caravans that gather. If the bridges are up, the cars can’t cross, and it shrinks the footprint that our police officers have to protect when we’re worried about there being some kind of trouble in the downtown area.”
While Chicago deals with a surge in officer retirements and resignations, Lightfoot says that recruiting efforts, while slow-moving, are ongoing, and that she expects to put a new wave of officers into service before the end of the year.
“I understand that it’s a hard, tough job. It takes a while to recruit, but we’re working on that, and I expect us to stand up another class before the end of the year,” she said.