‘An unusual amount of turnover’: Mayor Lightfoot sees rush of defections months into term

Chicago News
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CHICAGO —  Several high-profile members of Mayor Lori Lightfoot have departed months into her term, catching many at City Hall by surprise.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas is out as Mayor Lightfoot’s floor leader. In his resignation letter, the floor leader, whose job is to count the votes and shepherds the mayor’s agenda through City Council, told constituents that he wanted to focus more on his committee work. Lightfoot foe, Alderman Raymond Lopez, says for the mayor, emissary to the City Council is a thankless job.

“Normally, you have a symbiotic relationship between mayor and floor leader pushing the same agenda forward and they never really had that from the get-go,” Lopez said.

Alderman Michelle Harris is taking over as floor leader, with George Cardenas serving as deputy floor leader. But Villegas is just the latest in a string of Lightfoot defections. 

Last week, Communications Director Michael Crowley abruptly resigned. He was on the job 18 months following the departure of Marielle Sainvilus, who left three months after Lightfoot was sworn in. Press Secretary Anel Ruiz left the administration late last year. Others in the communications shop, including Lauren Huffman and Pat Mullane, are also gone, in addition to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee, Chief Risk Officer Tamika Puckett and head of security Jim Smith.

The mayor also fired Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner amid fallout from the botched police raid on Anjanette Young’s home.

“I think there’s been an unusual amount of turnover,” said David Greising, President and CEO of Better Government Association. “Mayor Lightfoot came in as a straight-talking, hard-driving CEO of the city and she has no prior political experience. And that combination has led to a difficult time for people who work for her.”

Critics say Lightfoot’s style and personality are part of the problem. The mayor takes things personally and lashes out at opponents. On her first day in office, Lightfoot turned her attention to aldermanic prerogative. Alderpersons were furious, with tensions peaking last summer on a conference call with all 50 aldermen, where Lightfoot and Lopez traded profanities.

“The mayor has a very aggressive leadership style,” Lopez said. “I think that comes from her years as a prosecutor, as a lawyer pushing forward and always on the fight, always fighting someone or something. But that’s not how you govern. Governance requires you to build coalitions and include others.”

Greising says stability in government matters but Lightfoot has time to right the ship.

“This isn’t just the shuffling of deck chairs,” he said. “This is people who are doing really important business for the city.”

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