Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking a rather unconventional approach to encourage residents to fill out the 2020 Census — employing a mascot dubbed the "census cowboy."
At a news conference Monday afternoon where she pleaded with residents to step up and let their voices be heard, the mayor acknowledged Chicago has a 55% census response rate — compared to 62% nationwide.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said some neighborhoods on the city’s West and South sides have seen response rates lower than 40%.
“Five minutes of time, that’s all we need, and we can change this thing entirely around," Lightfoot stated.
Lightfoot said community groups in Chicago are working to catch up, particularly before August when census workers are expected to begin going door-to-door to reach people who have not yet responded.
"We've got to do more hard work," she stated. "We've got a lot to lose. But it's important that we get this done and get it done as quickly as possible."
The census is conducted every ten years to help determine how many congressional seats each state gets and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending.
Chicago's census cowboy will be sent to the ten communities across the city with the lowest response rate in hope of securing increased funding for libraries, schools, senior facilities and other government entities. Lightfoot compared recruiting the cowboy to Batman in which officials in the fictional city of Gotham use the Bat-Signal to summon the superhero.
"So we are doing something similar for the census," the mayor stated. "...Let's do this Chicago. Let's make the census cowboy proud."
For every additional person counted in Chicago, the city stands to gain approximately $1,400, according to a newsletter from Ald. Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward.
In hope of getting even more people onboard, the city has decided to host a 2020 Census Ward Challenge until July 17. The ward with the highest increase in census responses will win free ice cream.
"No more excuses, no more complaints," Lightfoot said. "Let's just get it done."
The census deadline has been extended three months, until Oct. 31, due to the coronavirus pandemic.